Prior to the National Hockey League season being paused on March 12 amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Boston Bruins were on top of the standings with 100 points. After a mid-season funk that saw them let the Tampa Bay Lightning back into the Atlantic Division picture, they were able to separate to an 8-point lead with 12 games left. Boston was on pace to win the Presidents’ Trophy and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.
At the end of May, the NHL announced their Return to Play Plan. The Bruins will be one of four Eastern Conference teams that will participate in an intra-conference round-robin tournament that will determine their seed and opponent at a neutral site. Their opponent will be from one of the four best-of-five qualifying round series that is slated to begin at the end of July. If the Bruins are going to have a deep playoff run as they had in 2019, these are three keys to keep an eye on.
3. Marchand Stays on Best Behavior
It’s no secret that Brad Marchand has had some moments that he would like to have back during his career. The two biggest might be back in the 2018 playoffs when he licked opponents’ faces during their two different series.
In their first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Leo Komarov was his first victim. In the second round, Lightning forward Ryan Callahan was his second. The league issued a warning to Marchand to stop the licking or he would face discipline. Last season in a Game 3 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference Semifinal, he avoided a penalty and suspension for a cross-check to the back of the head of Scott Harrington.
This season, Marchand has been better behaved and has become a key piece to the Bruins’ offense. He leads the team in assists with 59 and is three power play assists behind defenseman Torey Krug (26) with 23. He has formed good chemistry with David Pastrnak and played a part in him scoring a league-leading 48 goals, tied with Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. Averaging almost 20 minutes a night of ice-time before the pause, he is second on the team with a plus-25.
If Marchand can be the player he was before the pause and not have any of his antics, the Bruins will benefit greatly.
2. Power Play Production
When the pause happened, the Bruins had the league’s second-ranked power play behind the Edmonton Oilers. The power play can be a difference in the playoffs between advancing or being eliminated.
Pastrnak leads the first unit with 20 power play goals and 18 assists. Patrice Bergeron has 11 man-up goals, while Marchand and Krug have established themselves as the playmakers. The second unit doesn’t lack talent either as David Krejci is in double digits with 11 assists and Jake DeBrusk has 7 goals. The Bruins have had 13 different players find the back of the net during the man-advantage.
With three round-robin games against the Lightning, Philadelphia Flyers and Capitals before their playoffs officially begin, the Bruins will have three games to fine-tune their power play before their first best-of-seven series.
1. Tuukka Rask
Rask has had a Vezina Trophy worthy-season with a 28-8-6 record. He led the league with a 2.12 goals-against average (GAA) and was second behind Anton Khudobin of the Dallas Stars with a .930 save percentage (SV%). He was tied for second with five shutouts.
He is nine regular-season wins away from 300 in his career and has a career 2.26 GAA in 14 seasons. Despite his success during the regular season, one thing that has eluded Rask is a Stanley Cup championship as a starter. He has made two trips with the Bruins to the Final as a starter, but has come up empty both times. He backed up Tim Thomas in the 2011 playoffs when the Bruins beat the Vancouver Canucks in seven games for their last championship.
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In 2013, he went 14-8 with a 1.88 GAA and a .940 SV% in the postseason as the Bruins lost to Chicago Blackhawks in six games in the Stanley Cup Final. Last season, he was 15-9 with a 2.02 GAA and a .934 SV% as they lost in seven games to the St. Louis Blues.
At 33 years old and with one year left on his contract following this season, this is a big playoff coming up for Rask. If he’s able to play as he did in the regular season, the Bruins will be looking at long playoff run and the possibility of getting the monkey off of his back of winning a championship.
Time Will Tell
Marchand has done a better job this season keeping his antics to a minimum and that has helped him become one of the best Bruins players. The power play has been one of the best units in the league during the regular season and if it continues after the pause, then the Bruins will be that much tougher to beat. It is now or never for Rask if he looks to complete his resume with a Stanley Cup championship later this summer and into the fall.