My freshman year of high school I had an English teach who had a bad habit of not really correcting the first drafts of any paper. Rather, she would bust out this big red pen and scrawl “SO WHAT?” at the very end of every paper in big letters. The lesson we were ultimately supposed to learn was how to properly analyze a piece of literature or a poem. I do not know if I ever really learned that lesson, but I am forever haunted by those words every time I try and write something.
With a 3-2 loss on Sunday afternoon at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, the Boston Bruins regular season has officially come to an end. Reflecting upon the last 82 games for the Black-and-Gold, there is no more fitting way to sum it all up than with those infamous words from Ms. Wood.
It is a notion that has found its way into nearly everything I have written about the Bruins this season. Since the beginning my take has been the only thing that really matters is what this team can do in the playoffs. The highs, lows or hardships the Bruins battled through throughout the course of the regular season were to a degree meaningless. This was a team good enough to make the playoffs. All that really mattered was whether or not they could perform when they got there. It is a notion Bruins fans have become all too familiar with over the last three seasons. It’s not about how you start. It’s how you finish.
Great, the Boston Bruins finished the regular season third in the Eastern Conference, winning the Northeast Division for the second time in three years. Great, Tim Thomas set an NHL record with his .938 save percentage this season. Great, Zdeno Chara led the NHL with a +33 rating, while two other Bruins – Adam McQuaid (+30) and Nathan Horton (+29) – also finished in the top-10. Many players had career years, while they team was fifth in the league in goals scored (244), second in goals against (189) and tied with Philadelphia as the best 5-on-5 offense with 175 goals scored at even strength.
None of these regular season accolades will matter when the playoffs start this week. The game always changes come playoff time and we now get to see the real Boston Bruins. Is this a team that can be not just a good team, what they’ve been all year, but a great team? A Cup team?
At least that is what the skeptic in me is saying. I do not think it is too farfetched for this team to win the Eastern Conference. There is a lot to like about this team. The way they are built. The talent on their roster. The way they play. They are a good team and a team that can be a great team if they get hot at the right time. I just don’t think they have it in them.
The clichés tell us that defense and goaltending win championships, which is true and the Bruins have shown Cup worth goaltending and defense at times this season. You still can’t win hockey games without scoring, though, and ultimately I feel as though this team’s lack of a legitimate scoring threat is going to be their undoing. The Bruins generate their offense off turnovers and opponent’s mistakes. Come playoff time when everyone is a whole lot more cautious and placing more emphasis on defense, the opportunities are going to be fewer and farther between for the Bruins. Without a player who is a real threat to score every time they touch the puck, all four lines need to contribute offensively game in and game out. The entire roster cannot afford to go into the emotionless funks they have been prone to throughout the course of the regular season.
The good news is if the Bruins actually do make it to the Stanley Cup for the first time in over 20 years, it is going to be a memorable road if only for their first round draw. After the events of the last few months, who better to draw in the first round than the Montreal Canadiens? Just in case the usual amount of hype and drama for the NHL playoffs wasn’t enough, we’re going to heap on the third Montreal-Boston, first round matchup in the last four years and the ongoing investigation by the Montreal police of Chara’s hit on Montreal forward Max Pacioretty in March? The matchup could prove to be intense and playing against the hated Habs with that intensity could give the Bruins the emotional spark they need for a strong playoff run.
If Tim Thomas can play to the level in April, May and June that he did in October and if the Bruins offense can play strong in the first few games against the Canadiens and get on a roll, then this team is poised to make a strong run in the playoffs. Even if they have a few shaky games off the bat, I expect this team to get past the Canadiens. It will be a long battle no matter what, but I’ll take my chances with the Bruins in seven. Despite their lack of success against Montreal the last two seasons, I find Montreal’s defense a little too suspect. Nor do I think they can matchup with the Bruins physically, should the B’s play to their full potential.
After that, it is anyone’s game. Of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference, none are without their shortcomings or questions marks. Can the Caps keep pace with how they’ve been playing the last two months? Do the Flyers have the goaltending? Can the Penguins survive without their studs? Everyone in vulnerable.
We are now about to find out. It is finally time for all those questions we have had, all those “wait and see” moments from this season to be answered. Time to see whether or not this Bruins team can be as good as their regular season numbers might make you believe them to be. It’s time for playoff hockey.
About the Author
Written by Matt Preston
I'm no Heminway or Haggerty, but keeping the dream alive, even if I'm pretty sure my Nana is my only follower. Self-deprecation is key, grammar is optional.