The Boston Bruins are heading to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They have a date with the Columbus Blue Jackets who shocked the world and swept the NHL’s first-place Tampa Bay Lightning in four games and who were rewarded with the league’s second-place team, the Bruins.
Before Game 1 takes place, though, it’s important to look back at the Bruins’ first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs and think about what was learned.
Bruins Power Play is Hot but Not Always Needed
When the Bruins entered the series against the Maple Leafs, it seemed pretty obvious that they’d need to find consistent five-on-five scoring if they were going to have a chance at competing. Throughout the regular season, their power play was white-hot but their five-on-five scoring wasn’t nearly good or consistent enough to provide confidence in them winning in the postseason should their power play run dry.
This was very evident in Game 1 when the Bruins would strike first courtesy of Patrice Bergeron and a power-play tally. The Bruins would go one-for-two on the power play and would ultimately lose 4-1 while also giving up a short-handed penalty-shot goal to Mitch Marner in the second-period.
They’d bounce back with a 4-1 victory in Game 2, scoring their first three-goals at even strength and capping off the victory with a Patrice Bergeron power-play marker at the 15:03 mark of the third period. This game showed that the Bruins could score at even strength if needed, but how consistent they’d be able to do so was still up in the air.
The team would finish out the series scoring seven power-play goals on 16 opportunities, good for a 43.8% conversion rate while allowing only one short-handed goal. This puts the Bruins in second place in the first-round for power play conversions behind only the Columbus Blue Jackets who scored five times on 10 opportunities against the Lightning in four games.
While the Bruins power play success was certainly an important part of their series against the Maple Leafs, they did fall flat at times and wasted prime opportunities to either tie a game or take a lead while up a player. Still, the power play finished out the series hot and proved it can be relied upon more often than not.
What was more important for the Bruins in this series, however, was the fact that the Maple Leafs went unpenalized in Game 7. The Bruins not only scored five times against Toronto (twice on an empty-net), but they scored three of those goals while at even strength.
If the Bruins are going to succeed in this postseason, they’ll need to show that they can convert at five-on-five consistently while also keeping a well-oiled power play firing on all cylinders. This includes limiting short-handed opportunities the other way.
Kuraly Drives the Fourth Line
If any one skater could be considered the Bruins’ MVP for the series, it would have to be Sean Kuraly. That may seem like blatant hyperbole considering he’s a fourth-line player and only played in three games in the first-round, but the Bruins were noticeably better with him in the lineup than they were without him.
Kuraly’s presence in the lineup gave the team options with their fourth line, a line that often looked like a liability prior to No. 52’s return. With Kuraly driving play on that line, head coach Bruce Cassidy was able to match his fourth line up against any line Toronto played without hesitation as he knew they could be accountable defensively while allowing the team’s top line to capitalize on other match-ups throughout the game.
While Game 7 featured the Bruins’ top line and pairing playing much of the hard minutes in the game to try and nullify the Maple Leafs attack, Kuraly’s line is more than capable of being used whenever and however necessary to create positive opportunities. This was evident when Nordstrom would open the scoring in Game 1, assisted by Kuraly and Kuraly scoring in the third period, assisted by both Acciari and Nordstrom.
The Blue Jackets will pose a much different threat to the Bruins as they still bring speed to the table but they’re far more physical than the Maple Leafs were. The Bruins matchup better with Columbus, though they would lose their first matchup with the Blue Jackets 7-4 on March 12, but they bounced-back very well to win season-series 2-1, outscoring the Blue Jackets 12-10, including a 2-1 victory in overtime on March 16 and a 6-2 victory on April 2.
The Bruins’ fourth line will be used even more heavily in this series as both teams look to capitalize on their huge first-round victories.
Tuukka Rask Silenced Critics
It’s Tuukka Time in Boston.
While Rask has often been the most polarizing and controversial figure among Bruins’ fans and media over the last few seasons, he did his part to silence the critics in the first round and play his best playoff series since the 2013 postseason.
Rask would finish out the series allowing 16 goals through seven games, good for a 2.32 goals-against average. He’d make 207 saves on 223 total shots by the Maple Leafs, giving him a very crisp .928 save percentage and doing everything in his power to keep the Bruins in games that they probably had no business being in.
This was evident in Game 7 when the Bruins outplayed the Maple Leafs in the opening frame and dominated the third period with the perfectly played contest. Unfortunately, the second period wasn’t as good as the other two frames and the Bruins would allow a goal, though Rask would limit the damage despite the Bruins being out-chanced 19-7 in the second. Rask would finish the game with 32 saves on 33 shots.
It’s easy to be critical of Rask for a variety of reasons, but much of the criticism he receives is unfounded and unmerited. There’s an unnecessary amount of hate thrown his way each and every season and regardless of how well he played for however long of a stretch, there will always be people waiting for him to slip up in one way or another.
With Rask’s performance throughout the series and especially Game 7, though, Bruins’ fans seemed to unanimously agree that he finally proved people wrong.
He’ll need to keep this up moving forward if the Bruins have any chance of beating the high-powered Blue Jackets, especially after they dismantled the Lightning with such ease in Round 1. He’ll be doing so against one of the best goaltenders in the league in Sergei Bobrovsky as well.