With the Boston Bruins officially eliminated and after giving some time for the dust to settle, it’s time to revisit my 2021 playoff predictions. Previously, I revisited my 2020-21 season wish list and found that I was a little ambitious with my expectations for this team. Going into the 2021 Playoffs, I did my best to temper my expectations and didn’t see them going very far. While the Bruins met most of my predictions, they didn’t exceed them, and they once again lost in the second round for the third time in four years.
Even with their great run after the trade deadline and terrific first-round performance against the Washington Capitals, this was not a roster built for a deep playoff run and it showed against the New York Islanders. Their lack of depth, particularly on defense, was glaring.
There were obviously more contributing factors to their second-round exit. The Bruins needed a lot to go right for them, and the pieces ultimately didn’t fall into place.
Prediction 1: Playoff Krejci Makes an Appearance
In the 2020 Playoffs, David Krejci was arguably one of the better forwards for the Bruins in a pretty dismal performance by the team as a whole. In the three years the Bruins made it to the Stanley Cup Final with him on the roster, he was a major factor in propelling them to that point. The team needed the second line of him, Taylor Hall, and Craig Smith to bring the same dominant play from April into the postseason. While all three had their good moments and the second line was much better than last season, they weren’t the absolute force the team needed.
Krejci played well. In 11 games, he had nine points, though only two of them were goals. The power play, which they struggled with in the first round, was one of the few bright spots in the second round and he continued to be a big part of that success.
But was he “Playoff Krejci?” Ultimately that is a bit of a subjective call. Nine points in 11 games are nothing to sneeze at. But, overall, his play wasn’t at the level he was at in April or previous postseasons. His career average shooting percentage in the playoffs is 13.4%. This year, it was only 6.3%. In Game 6, he registered two assists but was still a minus-3. He was a zero in the plus-minus column for the playoffs, where throughout his career, he has largely been a positive player.
If this was it for Krejci’s time in Boston, and as he heads into free agency this summer, there is a real possibility that it is, then what a shame this was how it ended. It hasn’t been easy for him in Boston in recent seasons as he’s had a rotating cast of subpar wings, and yet, he always managed to come up big when the team needed it the most: the playoffs. Some guys are built for the postseason, and he’s one of them. It’s unfortunate that the second line wasn’t able to continue their ridiculous play from the final stretch of the regular season into the postseason.
Prediction 2: Tuukka Rask Is the Starting Goaltender
Another Boston cornerstone who may be on the way out. The thought of Tuukka Rask not starting in the playoffs this year was a crazy one. Jeremy Swayman had an impressive start to his NHL career, but there was honestly no real chance of him starting between the pipes this postseason.
Frankly, Rask wasn’t the biggest issue for this team. There are some valid criticisms of his performance, but there are probably three or four bigger contributing factors to the Bruins’ second-round exit.
In 11 playoff games, Rask had a .919 save percentage (SV%) and 2.36 goals-against average (GAA). This was below his career average .925 SV% and 2.22 GAA. But he was playing behind arguably the weakest blue line of his career with a torn hip labrum, so being a little below average is almost expected. He still had a positive goals saved above average of 0.3.
Was he the better goaltender in comparison to Semyon Varlamov in round two? No. But would Swayman have been? Probably not. Ultimately, he played well enough to be the starter but didn’t play to the astronomical level the Bruins would have needed him to pull a team without any depth to the Stanley Cup Final.
Rask has stated that he wants to stay in Boston. In my opinion, if the Bruins can get him on a decent, team-friendly deal for two to three years to help ease into the Swayman era, then they should wholeheartedly re-sign him. There are also plenty of people who say it’s time for both parties to move on, and they have valid points.
At the end of the day, though, I don’t believe 10 games is enough to feel fully confident giving Swayman the reins quite yet. His time is coming, but the team, and fans, need to be patient.
Prediction 3: Jake DeBrusk Has a Good Playoffs
Was he as good as the Bruins needed him to be? No, but they also didn’t give him a lot of opportunities. He averaged only 13:33 of time on ice throughout the playoffs. Still, he had three points, including two goals, in 10 games. In 41 games in the 2020-21 regular season, he had only five goals, so he got nearly half in a quarter of the games.
In Game 1 against the Capitals, DeBrusk was arguably the best forward for them. He scored a goal and played with the high intensity, high energy you’d expect out of playoff hockey. In Game 6 against the Islanders, the third line of him, Charlie Coyle, and Karson Kuhlman was one of the few bright spots of the game and showed real potential. The third line was largely a black hole for most of the season, but there was finally a spark of life there with the three of them together.
DeBrusk was not phenomenal and he wasn’t faultless, but after the season he had, this was a good showing for him. There were few expectations, but he managed to get on the scoresheet twice and was shooting again. He had a shooting percentage of 15.4, much higher than his 5.4% from the regular season. His game has always revolved around goal scoring, he needs to actually be shooting to score.
Before we move to the final prediction, I did not think DeBrusk deserved being benched in Game 5 against the Islanders. There needed to be a lineup change, but I thought Chris Wagner should have been the one taken out in favor of Kuhlman. This was a rough season in general for Wagner, but the postseason did not make things better. Let me know in the comments below if you agree or not.
Prediction 4: Bruins Win a Playoff Series
Another prediction that is correct, but given the core group of players the Bruins have, it’s frustrating that they can’t build a stronger team around them. The expectation shouldn’t be for them just to win one series, but multiple. The window is closing in Boston. This week, all personnel indicated that they want to make another run at the Cup in closing statements this week. As the team is now, though, that isn’t going to happen easily.
The Bruins were great in the first round. After a disastrous Game 1, they pulled it together to win Game 2 and they didn’t look back. The top line had help from the rest of the forwards and the blue line wasn’t quite as banged up as they were in the second round. They showed the potential for what they could be, but ultimately, this team didn’t have enough depth to go far.
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For this team, just winning the first round of the playoffs isn’t enough. A few years ago, they were able to rebuild on the fly by incorporating young talent, like Charlie McAvoy and David Pastrnak, with their aging core. Since then, they’ve seen the departure of Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug and the continued aging (though they don’t play like it) of Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. With Rask and Krejci entering free agency, it can’t be said enough that there isn’t much time left for these guys to win another cup together.
2021 Free Agency Is Essential
This offseason will be important and the Bruins need to be aggressive in getting pieces to push this team over the edge. Just reaching the playoffs and winning the first round will not be enough in 2022.
The pressure is on for GM Don Sweeney. He needs to try to re-sign Krejci and Rask to team-friendly and make a big splash in free agency to bolster the blue line and draft well to restock the depleted pipeline. The Bruins have their highest first-round pick since selecting Urho Vaakanainen at 18th in 2017. Trying to sign Hall to a new contract will also be an important task.
Stay tuned to The Hockey Writers throughout the offseason as we continue to cover the Bruins’ moves this summer, look back at the 2020-21 season, and ahead to the 2021-22 season.
I’m Hannah Garfield, a graduate of Elon University with degrees in Film and Media Analytics. I’m a lifelong, passionate Boston sports fan and love all things Bruins.