Ottawa Senators fans are likely already somewhat familiar with the team’s first-round opponent, the Boston Bruins. It could be from hearing about Brad Marchand’s name for good or bad. It could be from watching the four games the Sens won against them this season. However, it will be the first time these two teams face off in the playoffs. Whatever the Senators may understand of their division rivals from the regular season will need to adjust for the playoffs. Although the Bruins are a far cry from their 2011 Stanley Cup-winning team, they still have most of that team’s key players.
The Bruins have old and new players in their forward group that will be key to keep an eye on. They did not get the results offensively earlier but became the fifth-best offence since their coaching change. Despite the Senators adding plenty of playoff experience to their forward depth, the Bruins’ top forwards are seasoned playoff veterans.
Patrice Bergeron is still arguably the best two-way player in the game. He had a resurgence on offence since the coaching change, with 24 points in 27 games. Brad Marchand has the well-deserved label of a five-tool player, making him very difficult to contain. He hit career-high offensive numbers with 39 goals and 85 points in 80 games, putting him in contention for league MVP. A three-year absence from the postseason will bring about all the grit, nastiness and agitation that people know him for. David Backes rounds out the top line on the right wing, making it a difficult physical matchup.
David Krejci is the Bruins’ centre after Bergeron, and he provides a similar style. Although his points total went down, he matched his career-high in goals with 23. David Pastrnak will be a key factor for the Bruins in the series. This will be his first time in the playoffs, so his adjustment can be a deciding factor. He broke out this season, with 34 goals and 70 points in 75 games. He makes the Bruins’ second line very devastating, giving them a superior offence to the Senators.
The Bruins’ back end may be their weakest link, as their depth there is the biggest question mark. Additionally, two of their top four defensemen will likely be out to start the playoffs. Among them is Torey Krug, who produced the most out of the Bruins’ defence corps this season. He actually received his injury in the last game against the Senators last week. He likely will play none of the games in the first round.
Zdeno Chara is now 40 and has not played through the playoff grind in three years. Whether he can remain effective in a best-of-seven series remains a question mark. He no longer has the Erik Karlsson-level of importance on his team.
What could change the entire image of the Bruins’ defence is the arrival of Charlie McAvoy. The 14th overall pick in this past draft, the Boston University graduate will likely begin the playoffs alongside Chara. With their injuries on defence, the Bruins felt that it was necessary to burn the first year off McAvoy’s contract. The quicker he adjusts to the NHL game, the more dangerous the Bruins defence can get. Playing alongside Chara could accelerate his acclimation greatly, and they will be Boston’s top pairing.
With the Bruins’ defence in somewhat of a disarray, the Senators are the better team in this category. Their effective game plan of clogging the neutral zone can exploit this weakness to a greater extent.
Tuukka Rask is one of the best playoff goaltenders out there today. Since 2012, his 1.92 goals-against average and .937 save percentage both rank second. Craig Anderson is no slouch there either, as his .933 save percentage ranks him right behind Rask. However, the Bruins netminder has played nearly 1,000 more minutes (13 games) than Anderson.
That additional experience might be the difference in these two goaltenders’ performance the longer the series goes. It’s difficult to choose one goaltender over the other today because neither played in the postseason consistently over the last couple of years. The Bruins hold the slight advantage here just considering how close Rask brought them before.
Does the Senators’ 4-0 record against the Bruins this season guarantee their victory? The Senators definitely come into the series with more confidence than if they were 0-4. Both teams are very similar on paper, though their star power comes from different sources. The Bruins hold the advantage at the forward position, with Bergeron and Marchand among those with a plethora of playoff pedigree. The key for the Senators will be to prevent the Bruins’ defence from moving the puck up ice, something they’ve done well against the Bruins all season.