The opening round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs was a rollercoaster ride for the Boston Bruins. After taking a commanding 3-1 lead against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Bruins allowed Toronto to even the series at three games apiece. The B’s ultimately prevailed in the decisive Game 7, leaning on several key players along the way – from seasoned veteran Patrice Bergeron to rookie sensation Jake DeBrusk.
Now, the Boston Bruins will square off against the Tampa Bay Lightning, who narrowly beat out the Bruins for the top spot in the Eastern Conference in the regular season. But, as everyone knows, come playoff time, the regular season is merely a memory.
To prepare for the second round, we assembled our Bruins writers — Drew Johnson, Brandon Share-Cohen (BSC), Joe Ochs, and your’s truly, Cam Hasbrouck — to discuss which players in black and gold will be X-factors against the Lightning. Here’s what they had to say:
Drew Johnson: Tuukka Rask & Danton Heinen
Tuukka Rask was fairly solid during the series against Toronto but he is going to have to be even better if the Bruins expect to defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning. Rask has made the saves he has been expected to make but not the ones that, in some cases, he needs to make. The goaltender will need to steal goals from the opponent and in turn, steal wins for Boston. If Rask can get back to his elite level of play, which includes making key saves on breakaways and odd-man rushes, the Bruins will have success against Tampa Bay. It is, after all, something we have seen from Rask throughout the majority of his career.
Danton Heinen will be key to the Bruins’ success against the Lightning. After being scratched for Game 6, the rookie forward answered the bell with a big goal in Game 7. Not only did he find the scoresheet, but he played a solid all-around game with speed, hitting and back-checking. He showed signs of confidence in handling the puck and keeping plays alive in the offensive zone. Heinen will need to continue this and add to his points total which sits at just one after appearing in six games this postseason.
BSC: Charlie McAvoy & Jake DeBrusk
While McAvoy may not have had a great series against the Maple Leafs, the Bruins will need him to bring his A-game against the Lightning if they plan on winning. A team that features one of the most complete lineups in all of hockey, the Lightning are a group that will require all hands on deck to compete with. Going beyond that, the Bruins will need their best players to play like their best players.
Playing top-pairing minutes alongside Zdeno Chara isn’t something that McAvoy’s done by accident this season. His skill set and ability make him as good a defender as there is in the NHL and that’s the type of player the Bruins will need to have playing at his best if they want to contain Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and the like.
Jake DeBrusk is having the type of breakout postseason that can propel a player into stardom. While the Bruins top-line will need to continue producing, DeBrusk has become a legitimate X-factor for the Bruins (along with Matt Grzelcyk who is flying under the radar as an excellent defender).
After playing like a star in the first postseason series of his career, DeBrusk will need to carry that momentum forward and make a similar impact in the second round. The energy he’s brought with every shift has been impossible to miss and it’s part of what makes him so fun to watch after facing so much adversity in his career.
Joe Ochs: Tuukka Rask & Charlie McAvoy
Identifying playoff X-factors for the Bruins is like trying to find a needle in a stack of needles. Every time I try to zero in on one or two guys I talk myself out of it because I can think of no less than six other guys equally as integral to the team’s success versus Tampa Bay and beyond.
The Bruins were able to finally vanquish the Maple Leafs because of AND in spite of about half of their roster, with players landing in both camps from game to game. But if I HAD to pick two guys to zero-in on I would have to choose Tuukka Rask and Charlie McAvoy.
Rask is an obvious choice. Picking a goaltender as an X-factor is no different than picking a quarterback – it’s simply the most important position, and success in net (much like success in the pocket) typically leads to good things in the playoffs.
If he can stabilize after an up-and-down first round, it would go a long way toward improving Boston’s chances of surviving what appears to be a pretty lethal gauntlet between now and June. Teams that receive anything less than great goaltending this time of year don’t go far.
Charlie McAvoy rounds out the X-factors, as the rookie phenom is clearly still feeling the effects of his knee injury. He was simply not himself in the first round, losing his footing and balance with regularity, eschewing his trademark physical play more often than not and seemingly suffering from a minor crisis of confidence because of it; can you remember EVER seeing McAvoy have so much trouble simply clearing pucks out of his own zone?
If his performance in round one is evidence of a lingering injury and not just rust, it would put Boston’s blue line at a serious disadvantage against the high-octane Lightning. But if he (and his Finnish teammate) can regain the form that launched these Bruins back amongst the league’s elite…buckle up. This series figures to be a dandy.
Cam Hasbrouck: Tuukka Rask & Charlie McAvoy
I’m not the first one to mention Tuukka Rask as an X-factor for the next round, but that isn’t a surprise. The Bruins goaltender was good in the first round, but good doesn’t win you Stanley Cups. There are a lot of people out there who are ready to jump on Rask the minute he makes a mistake, and I’m not one of them. In general, I think Rask is a fantastic netminder, but like any goaltender, he has his moments that leave you scratching your head.
The thing is, you can’t find yourself scratching your head in the postseason, because by the time you do, you’re already gone. The Bruins will need Rask to be game-changing against a high-powered Tampa Bay offense if they want a shot at the Eastern Conference Final.
Moving over to the defense, Charlie McAvoy will have to elevate his game once again in order to shut down Tampa Bay. As the other writers mentioned, McAvoy didn’t look like his old self against the Maple Leafs. The Bruins may have gotten by Toronto without their young defensive stud, but they may not be so lucky against Tampa Bay.
McAvoy needs to be the shut-down defenseman that he’s capable of being in the second round, or else the Lightning’s explosive offense could become very problematic for the Bruins.
Honorable mention goes out to Jake DeBrusk, who was absolutely electric in the opening round.
Cam is a Broadcast Journalism student at the University of Maryland. He’s the Boston Bruins Beat Writer at The Hockey Writers, and is an avid college hockey fan. Find him on Twitter @CamHasbrouck!