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14 Years in the Making

Posted By Matt Preston On Apr 12 2012 @ 12:21 pm In Boston Bruins | No Comments

Is it plagiarism if it’s your own work you’re ripping off?

Almost exactly one year ago earlier I rolled out my thoughts on the Boston Bruins as they were getting set to face the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the 2011 NHL Playoffs [1]. Just hours away from the puck dropping on Game 1 of the Bruins’ Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series with the Washington Capitals here in the 2012 playoffs, I can not help but feel exactly the same way about the Bruins chances heading into these playoffs as I did last April. 

Skeptical as I was about their chances in 2011, I felt they had the potential and a roster capable of making a run at the Stanley Cup. If they were to make that run, the Bruins were going to have to rely on a Herculean effort from goaltender Tim Thomas and the depth and consistency throughout their lineup to do so. 

Hit that one on the nose. 

369 days later? 

Given the Bruins returned 18 of the 21 regulars who played throughout that Cup run, should it really come as much of a surprise to feel nearly the same as last year? 

Once again, Thomas remains the linchpin of the Bruins success. He may not be headed for the Vezina as he was last year, but make no mistake that Thomas will have to put up another Conn Smythe worthy performance if Boston wants another shot at the Cup. 

Second overall in goals per game as a team in 2012 (3.17 goals per game) and doing so with the team’s leading point getter and goal scorer (Tyler Seguin) tied for just 25th and 31st in the NHL, respectively, once again the Bruins are a team built on balance and depth, and will need a great deal of secondary scoring over the next 16 wins. It is a blessing and a curse to have a team built like the Bruins as there is not just one line their opposition needs to worry about shutting down, but it also means they will need to have all four lines contributing and all three defensive pairs shutting things down on the back end. There will not be one skater that can carry this team alone. 

Everyone will have to do their part for the Bruins to make another run at glory. Unlike last year, however, that depth is going to be tested in this year’s playoffs. Last year, they entered the postseason a virtually healthy team, suffering from no more than the normal bumps and bruises of an NHL season. This year, they enter the postseason with more than a few question marks. 

Starting winger Nathan Horton was recently ruled out for the entire playoffs, still suffering the lingering effects of a concussion. It is a big blow, but it is a loss that can be masked thanks to the return from injury of Rich Peverley and late season emergence of Jordan Caron. Pairing Seguin with David Krejci and Milan Lucic has proven to be dynamic at times and is a combination that can match the productivity of the Horton-Krejci-Lucic trio, while Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand have rarely suffered a dip in play no matter who their third line mate has been this season. Add in the third group of Benoit Pouliot, Chris Kelly and Brian Rolston, a group that caught fire when they joined forces late in the season, and the Bruins have three lines that can threaten and produce on the offensive end, even without the man responsible for scoring two of the Bruins’ three, Game 7 winning goals last season. 

The key injuries to focus on when it comes to Boston are the lingering issues nagging defensemen Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid. Both are listed as day-to-day, Boychuk with a knee injury and McQuaid with the ever popular undisclosed upper body injury (most likely a concussion), but their status for at least this round of the playoffs is in doubt. Boychuk has been skating with the team this week, but the team has been mum on McQuaid. Thanks to the deadline acquisitions of Greg Zanon and Mike Mottau, the Bruins are prepared to withstand some injury on the backend, but the lose of both Boychuk and McQuaid could poke a very large hole in the Bruins greatest strength. 

While Boychuk plays a more prominent roll on the B’s second defensive pairing and has greater offensive capabilities, it could be the lose of McQuaid, the least likely of the two to play, and his tough, gritty style, something that would not be replaced by anyone brought in to fill his roster spot, that leaves a glaring hole on a team that needs to use its toughness and physicality to take control of games. 

The Bruins have shown in various streaks throughout this up-and-down season that they have the potentially to be a supremely dominant team, proving once again they have the capability to make another strong bid at the Stanley Cup. But, just like last year, will they do it? 

My skepticism is a habit that has proven hard to break, making me leery to bet the mortgage on a repeat, but it is not a terribly unsafe wager or even unlikely to see the Bruins in the Conference Finals. No matter what deficiencies there may be on the Bruins, one thing that sets them apart from years past is that last year they proved they are a team that is able to raise their level of play when the stakes are higher, making them a greater threat in the postseason than they were in the regular season. They have the potential and the talent and they now have the experience and intangibles of a championship team. 

Before the Bruins can lay claim to the title of first back-to-back Cup winner since the Detroit Red Wings in ’97-’98, however, they must get through the Washington Capitals. 

Despite failing to live up to many people’s expectations of them this season, Washington is not your typical seventh seed and pose a serious threat to the Bruins, a team the Capitals beat in three of the four games the two played this season. They still have the talent that led some to pick them as a legitimate Cup contender to start the year and still have one of the most explosive offensive attacks, even if they are trying to play a more defensive style in 2011-2012. 

There will be two main keys to the Capitals’ success against the Bruins. Much like it is one of the keys to Boston’s success, the Capitals’ secondary scoring will have to carry a heavy burden in this first round for Washington to advance. A shuffling in lines that split up Alexander Ovechkin and the duo of Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom has given Washington a second line that is as potent as many team’s first. Bruins coach Claude Julien will most likely be shuffling his defensive pairings to reunite Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, a combo that was brilliant in last year’s playoff run, and match them up as often as possible against Ovechkin, whom they have dealt with handedly as the Russian sniper has all of one goal and is -4 in his last seven games against the Bruins. This leaves the Bruins second unit to deal with Backstrom and Semin, who have feasted on the Bruins with Semin recording 14 points in his last 15 games against the B’s. A pairing of Boychuk and Andrew Ference should fair well, but the advantage would still go towards Washington and tips even more that way depending on Boychuk’s health. 

The Capitals’ second key is the biggest X-Factor of the series. Injuries to Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth has forced 22-year old Braden Holtby and his 21 games of NHL experience between the pipes for Capitals at the onset of the series. On paper, the Bruins hold an overly distinct advantage. Holtby, however, is young enough, raw enough and has so little pressure on him that he has nothing to lose based on his performance in this series and is in a situation where it is conservable he gets into a groove if the Bruins offense starts off on a cold streak and is able to steal the series. 

It will be important for the Bruins to get out to a strong, dominating start against the Capitals to rattle their confidence and their young netminder. If the Bruins go down 0-2 like they did in the first round last year to Montreal, it could give Washington the momentum they need to prematurely end the Bruins repeat bid. 

Even if I am an eternal skeptic, I will still take the Bruins over the Capitals in six games, before moving on to an all out street brawl with the Philadelphia Flyers in Round 2.

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[1] Almost exactly one year ago earlier I rolled out my thoughts on the Boston Bruins as they were getting set to face the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the 2011 NHL Playoffs: http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2011/04/10/now-its-time/

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