The Boston Bruins are in the playoffs once again. They have clinched home ice for their first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Bruins had a topsy-turvy road to the postseason but, thanks to a strong latter half of the season, they finished as one of the best teams in the league with 107 points.
Despite their success leading up to their first-round matchup with Toronto, Boston has some aspects of their game that need grooming. Winning a series against the Maple Leafs is no easy task, and if the Bruins wish to do that – and find ways to win beyond this series – they’re going to have to take care of a huge problem: inconsistency.
Especially through the first few months of the season, there were a number of times when the Bruins didn’t show up to play. This was evident in the very first game of the 2018-19 campaign when they were smothered 7-0 by the Washington Capitals.
While they went on to win four straight games after that embarrassment, the Bruins didn’t bring their A-game to the rink every night. There was the 1-0 loss to the Nashville Predators in November. Despite it being a one-goal game, the Bruins were out-shot 40-26 and seemed to be a step behind through the contest.
There was another sloppy 1-0 loss, this time to the Dallas Stars in overtime. In this instance, the boys in black and gold were again a step behind and undeserving of the victory. All together the Bruins were shutout five times this season and on 31 occasions, Boston failed to score more than two goals. In those 31 games, they went 10-14-7.
After the holiday break, the Bruins played some outstanding hockey. The injury bug seemed to have worn off – they lost pieces here and there, but it was minor compared to what the team had to endure throughout the months of November and December. Tuukka Rask also returned to form and went 19-5-3 after the holidays, finishing the season with a 27-13-5 record.
The depth also kicked into gear. We saw the Chris Wagner, Noel Acciari, and Sean Kuraly trio energize the crowd and their team and even score on a consistent basis. The Bruins also made two additions at the trade deadline, adding Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson to the roster. While it took the forwards time to find a home in the lineup, they have proven to be nice depth pieces that should be reliable in the postseason.
The Point Streak
The Bruins’ 19-game point streak was fun to watch and is a huge reason why they are where they are entering hockey’s second season. However, there were a number of bumps along the road. Many times during that stretch, the Bruins played a full 60 minutes and dominated. However, even in some of their victories, it looked as though they took a few shifts off.
On Feb. 9, they defeated the Los Angeles Kings 5-4 in overtime. Nine minutes into the third period, the Bruins were up 4-2. There was a small collapse at the end and while Patrice Bergeron was able to pot the overtime winner, it was a closer call than it should have been.
On Feb. 18, they were up 3-0 against the San Jose Sharks. Joe Thornton got on the board in the last three seconds of the opening frame and Joe Pavelski potted a power-play goal 2:24 into the second period to make it 3-2. After some more back-and-forth scoring, Boston gave up a short-handed penalty shot to Logan Couture in the late stages of the second frame. The Sharks eventually claimed a lead in the third period and the Bruins were down 5-4 late in the game. Heroics from Wagner and Charlie McAvoy nabbed them the 6-5 overtime win. However, if it wasn’t for these collapses (some of which spanned nearly half a period), the game wouldn’t have required overtime.
That’s not to say that the Bruins didn’t earn their 15-0-4 record during that span. They held their opponents to one-goal-or-less on seven occasions, including a total of the three shutouts. However, there was some luck involved in a handful of decisions throughout those 19 games.
Only showing up for 50 minutes (or less) is a good way to lose a hockey game in the postseason. From here on out, the Bruins will be pinned against only the best of the best starting with the Maple Leafs on Thursday night.
Even with a wall in front of them, Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Mitch Marner are likely going to make some sort of dent. If the Bruins are to consistently give them a window of lackluster play to work with, they ought to get their golf clubs polished by Easter.
If these inconsistencies continue, this team won’t survive their first-round series, let alone a series against the Tampa Bay Lightning (or a Columbus Blue Jackets team that managed to solve them). Bad starts, late-game collapses, and any long-lasting mishaps in between will usher Boston toward the exit signs.
The Bruins have been capable of consistent, 60-minute play at times this season. Now they need to make sure it’s locked and loaded for when it really counts.
I cover the Boston Bruins and NCAA Hockey here at The Hockey Writers. Born and raised 10 miles north of Boston, I developed a love for the game of ice hockey at a very young age. There’s really nothing better than this sport, though steak is a close second.