The Boston Bruins will enter Game 4 against the Washington Capitals with a 2-1 series lead following three consecutive games ending in overtime. A major reason the Bruins are in this position comes courtesy of some of the additions that general manager Don Sweeney made both in the offseason and midseason prior to the Trade Deadline.
Entering the 2020-21 season, the Bruins were still considered contenders for the Stanley Cup despite losing both Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara, the team’s two top left-shot options on defense, expectations were still at an all-time high. Given the age of their core, these expectations made a lot of sense.
Even with the departure of Chara, the Bruins still had a 35-year-old Patrice Bergeron, a 34-year-old David Krejci, a 33-year-old Tuukka Rask and a 32-year-old Brad Marchand, among others left on the roster. This meant that Sweeney was going to have to make moves to bolster the roster to accommodate this timeline and rapidly closingwindow.
Smith Proving To Be a Steal for the Bruins
In the offseason, Sweeney would smartly sign Craig Smith to what is seemingly one of the best unrestricted free agent contracts in recent memory. Smith would sign a three-year, $9.3 million contract to join the Bruins and was expected to be a major boost to their depth scoring. Though the start to his tenure may have been slow from a scoring standpoint, his contributions and impact on the team were felt right away. In time, he’d do a better job at helping the Bruins on the scoresheet by scoring eight goals and 18 points in 16 games from March 18 through April 18.
Though Smith’s offensive production would falter after that, going pointless in 10 of his last 12 games while recording two assists on April 29 and a hat trick on May 1, his impact was still felt. If there was ever a time to slump offensively, it was certainly going to be in the month leading up to the playoffs rather than in the playoffs themselves.
Fast forward to the postseason and Smith has found his scoring touch again, recording points in two of the team’s three games against the Capitals – including an assist in Game 2 as well as an assist and the game-winning goal in Game 3.
One of the more intriguing stats regarding Smith and the Bruins is their win-loss record when he records a point. In games that Smith has recorded even one point, the Bruins are 19-3 including the playoffs. In games that Smith didn’t record a point, the Bruins were 15-12-7 in the regular season and 0-1 in the postseason
Is it an all-encompassing stat? Of course not. Still, Smith’s importance to the Bruins this season has been noteworthy. Interestingly enough, in Game 1, Smith was held off the scoresheet and the Bruins would lose the game in overtime. He’d record three points in the following two games and the Bruins would come away with victories.
While Smith was the Bruins’ big offseason addition, the team was still in need of a major pickup at the 2021 Trade Deadline to help solidify their top-six. This had been an ongoing issue for years in Boston but Sweeney finally seemed to strike gold when he acquired Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar in exchange for Anders Bjork and a second-round pick in 2021.
Hall Has Returned to MVP Form
When the Bruins acquired Hall, expectations were spread all over the place. On the one hand, the Bruins were acquiring a former MVP winner who had proven he could be a superstar in the past. More recently, however, Hall had scored just two goals and 19 points in 37 games as a member of the Buffalo Sabres and didn’t look to be the most passionate player in the world on most nights.
The situation clearly wasn’t right for Hall and though his performance in Buffalo may have left a bad taste in the mouth of many fans, Hall got a fresh start in Boston and has been thriving ever since.
Following his trade to the Bruins, Hall would score eight goals and 14 points in 16 games, never being held pointless in consecutive games. In the playoffs, Hall has already scored two goals in three games, including the game-tying goal late in Game 2.
Hall has become the Bruins best goal-scorer since joining the club which has been a welcome surprise given the needs of this team. With Hall and Smith in the fold, one player has certainly reaped the rewards and that has been the Bruins’ second-line center in Krejci.
Since the Trade Deadline, Krejci would score six goals and 21 points in 16 games. Though Krejci was still having a respectable season before the team made the deal to acquire Hall, giving him two legitimate top-six wingers to consistently play alongside for the first time since the 2013-14 season has gone a long way for the Czech center.
Though Krejci only has one points in three playoff games for the Bruins so far, he’s been excellent so far this series and would even log 29:27 of ice time in Game 3, a team-high among forwards and second only to Charlie McAvoy on the team as a whole.
It hasn’t been only Smith and Hall who have changed the complexion of this Bruins team, though.
Mike Reilly and Curtis Lazar Stepping Up for the Bruins
Outside of Smith and Hall, the additions of Lazar and Mike Reilly have also been felt for the Bruins. Lazar has been excellent on the Bruins fourth-line and though there’s still some room for debate about the personnel being deployed on that line as a whole, Lazar has done his job well and his lineup spot shouldn’t be questioned. When the Bruins are at their best, they have four solid lines they can deploy in a well-balanced attack. Having Lazar in the mix only helps them in that regard.
Statistically, he isn’t going to wow fans. That isn’t his job. He doesn’t have to post points to be a productive player, though, and he’s proven that throughout his career. He may never live up to the first-round billing that he was given in 2013, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a help to the Bruins during a deep playoff run.
In regards to Reilly, the Bruins were able to identify a good, mobile defender who would cost them only a third-round pick in 2022 to acquire. Though the Bruins young defenders were able to step up this season and fill in some of the holes left by the offseason’s departures, the team needed another mobile defender who could skate alongside Brandon Carlo.
In acquiring Reilly, the Bruins were able to shift Jeremy Lauzon down to their third pairing while moving Matt Grzelcyk up to their top pairing to play alongside McAvoy. These changes went a long way as well, especially considering the pairing of Grzelcyk and McAvoy is far-and-away the team’s best.
Reilly hasn’t looked as composed so far through three games in the playoffs, but if he can get back to doing what made him so crucial to the Bruins when he was first acquired, then the Bruins could be a real force to be reckoned with throughout the postseason.
Brandon Share-Cohen has covered the NHL and various professional sports for six years. Working with The Hockey Writers, Brandon works extensively on covering the Boston Bruins in addition to his role as the News Team Lead.