By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
Some 18 months ago when the Bruins started training camp preparing for the 2017-18 season, the thought that the team general manager Don Sweeney was attempting to rebuild on the fly had as good a chance of becoming a real threat to win the Stanley Cup was pretty much the equivalent of my hopes of adding to the local barber’s retirement account – slim and none.
Since then, and the seemingly meteoric rise that the team that calls Causeway Street home, the infusion of young talent that has emerged for the Black and Gold – not the least of which has been David Pastrnak, who has teamed with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand to form the best forward line in the NHL over the past two seasons – has become a real force in the Eastern Conference.
And, while last April anything more than advancing to the second round of the NHL’s second season was looked upon as gravy, the same can’t be said for head coach Bruce Cassidy’s crew as they head towards their first-round playoff matchup against a largely over-hyped Toronto Maple Leafs team.
In one of the many cursory prediction pieces that appear almost everywhere before the puck drops on the hardest trophy to win in maybe any league, anywhere across the globe, some of NHL.com’s talking (and typing) heads are actually going against the chalk pick of the predetermined Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, and giving the B’s the best chance to knock off the President Trophy winning Bolts in the East this spring.
And frankly, there is no reason why they shouldn’t.
“The Blues are my pick among the Western Conference teams for the reasons I laid out above. If it’s not them, it’s the Vegas Golden Knights for similar reasons of balance, size, depth, the ability to lean on the Lightning, and goaltending,” wrote Rosen on Wednesday afternoon.
“For those same reasons, it’s the Bruins from the Eastern Conference. If the Lightning are vulnerable it’s against teams that grind, that win board battles and hang onto the puck. The Lightning will tear apart any team they face that wants to go run and gun against them. The Blues, Bruins and Golden Knights would at least have a chance to slow down the Lightning and make them defend more than they want. They also have top forward lines (Vegas with William Karlsson, Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault; Boston with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Krejci; St. Louis with O’Reilly, Tarasenko and Schenn) that could present problems for the Lightning. Bergeron, O’Reilly and Karlsson are three of the top defensive centers in the NHL partly because they’re so good at getting the puck and keeping it. In games when they have the last-change advantage, they would likely force one of Tampa Bay’s top-two lines to have to defend more than it would like.”
“Tampa is the obvious pick but (the Cup winner) is usually not the obvious pick,” said the player, who is from the Eastern Conference. “I think it’s going to be one of Tampa, Washington or Boston.”
Forced to pick one, the player chose the Bruins: “Matchup-wise, they’re the best bet to knock Tampa off. They play well defensively and they’re structured but they’re explosive offensively. The top line is as good as any in the playoffs. Depth has gotten better. They’re not elite on the back end but play a team system and the goaltending is good enough. They can defend the Lightning and still score on them.”
That being said, this is more of a business trip for the Black and Gold this spring, not like the trip to the amusement park for getting good grades that last year was for Cassidy’s crew.
The fact is, in the hard salary cap era of the current NHL, championship windows open and close quicker than ever before in professional sport highest paced game. If this year’s Bruins team can’t find a way past the seemingly otherworldly Lightning in the East – yes, they should make it past the Leafs in six games or less – the ’11 Cup core of Zdeno Chara, Bergeron, and Marchand may never have as good a chance again to play for Lord Stanley’s challis.
The Bruins are a very good team, their regular season record the past two seasons prove that. However, life in the NHL these days is about taking advantage of opportunities. And Sweeney and Cassidy’s club might not get a chance to take advantage of the opportunity that is currently in front of them anytime soon should they falter this spring.