By Mike Miccoli, Boston Bruins Correspondent
It’s possible that in six months, when the 2013 NHL season is said and done, the Boston Bruins will have won their second Stanley Cup in three years.
It’s also possible that the Boston Bruins will fail to win the Northeast Division and will have to face a stacked team such as the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins or Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the 2013 NHL Playoffs.
Realistically though, the expectations for the 2013 Boston Bruins team should be somewhere between legitimate Stanley Cup contenders and strong front-runners for first place in the Northeast Division, making them among the top three teams in the Eastern Conference. If all goes well, then yes—the Boston Bruins have a real shot at playing deep into June for Lord Stanley’s Cup. If injuries begin to surmount and deplete the team’s offensive depth and Tuukka Rask is unable to stay healthy than the Bruins could very well see the latter of the scenarios listed above.
Here’s the thing with the 2013 NHL season; more than ever before, the 48-game schedule will be harder to gauge than any one of the years before it. Hockey games will be sloppy to start but will pick up almost abruptly after the first week or two of puck. Teams will rely on key ingredients for success such as chemistry, star power and hey–maybe even a bit of luck, to win games. Most importantly, the window for slumps and bad stretches of hockey will hurt teams more viciously than before.
When coaches and players say that every game counts, they mean it.
That’s why it’s hard to decipher how a team like the Boston Bruins will fare this season—there are too many variables.
First, let’s look at the Bruins’ 2013 NHL schedule. The Bruins will play Northeast Division rivals, the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres, five times while playing the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs four. Right away, the Bruins will have an extra two games against the two of the better teams in the division. For comparison’s sake, the Senators play the Bruins and Maple Leafs five times, while the Sabres play the Bruins and Canadiens. Even though it’s only two games, the four points could prove to be extra valuable in a division that was decided in the final 10 days of the 2011-12 NHL regular season.
All of the Eastern Conference teams will be on an even playing field by only playing in inter-conference games. However, you can then begin to look at the importance of home-ice advantage when it comes to the remainder of a team’s games.
The Bruins will play every other, non-division team in the Eastern Conference three times, facing off against the Rangers, Panthers, Islanders, Devils and Lightning twice at home.
Aside from the Rangers and the Lightning, the teams that will make two appearances at the TD Garden aren’t exactly known for their rambunctious home crowds. Statistically speaking, the New York Islanders finished 29th in the NHL in home attendance (although, you could make a case for the Bruins game at Nassau Coliseum basically being comparable to a home game), while the Florida Panthers and New Jersey Devils finished 21st and 24th for fans in the stadium.
That means that the Bruins will have to visit the Flyers, Penguins and Capitals twice—3rd, 10th and 12th in 2011-12 NHL attendances, respectively. That’s a bit of a difference and depending on how heavy you weigh the importance of the sixth man in winning hockey games, this could be a factor.
The fans should already know where the players stand after a quick, seven-day training camp and a mid-week scrimmage against the AHL affiliate Providence Bruins. The chemistry should be there for a Bruins team that went through minor alterations in an offseason that brought in new third-liner Chris Bourque and the 2011 9th overall pick Dougie Hamilton to fill the departures of Brian Rolston, Benoit Pouliot, Joe Corvo and Greg Zanon. A healthy Nathan Horton and Adam McQuaid easily make this an upgrade for Bruins position players.
Of course, the spotlight and story is on Rask who was thrust into the starting goaltending role now that Tim Thomas is taking a year off from hockey. We get it, too–Rask needs to excel right away and make a statement that, while he’s not Thomas, he’s good enough to lift the team on his shoulders to pick up some wins. Playing for a contract extension won’t hurt, either.
So do I think that the Boston Bruins will win the Stanley Cup? I don’t know. Maybe. Nobody really knows and it’s not fair for anyone to predict their version of the gospel truth of what will happen in what should be a whirlwind of a season. I can tell you that the Bruins will probably make the playoffs and probably win the Northeast Division. Other than that, this 48-game NHL season is really anyone’s to win.
And that includes the Bruins, too.