Bruins fans, welcome back to the NHL Playoffs! It’s been since May 14th, 2014 since the Bruins were in the postseason. That day, they renewed acquaintances with the Montreal Canadiens, losing a disappointing 7th game at the Garden after winning that season’s President’s Trophy. Since then, the Bruins have melted down in the end of two consecutive seasons, changed coaches, and altered the style of play while dealing with injuries and going to college to get the talent to supplement the veteran corps. In short, being a Bruins fan has been a trying experience lately. This year, after Butch Cassidy tool the reigns, the B’s found an offensive touch that has eluded them lately. Now they enter their first postseason series in three years. They enter as an underdog against the Ottawa Senators, but they stand a phenomenal chance of taking down the Senators and wining their first postseason series in three years.
In the final 27 games of the season, the Bruins averaged 3.37 goals a game, good for second best in the NHL. They rode an offensive surge when they got more aggressive with their defensemen not falling back into coverage as the first move when the other team takes possession of the puck. They also rode Brad Marchand’s career year to the postseason. Their fisty and disliked forward finished fifth in league scoring with 85 points and fourth in goals with 39. David Pastrnak also scored plenty in his third year in the league, netting 34 goals and accounting for 70 points. Patrice Bergeron and David Backes join Marchand on the top line to give the Bruins a fearsome line that can score, defend and cover all over the ice.
In the same time that Boston went 18-8-4 under their new head coach, the Ottawa offense has dried up. They’ve got the lowest goals per game average of any playoff team with 2.51, trailing only San Jose’s 2.67. They’ve also only averaged 2.21 goals per game since February. They’ve been shut out four times since February, and have had many games where their offense has fallen flat. Erik Karlsson led the team in scoring with 71 points from his spot on the blue line and had 54 assists this year. Mike Hoffman and Kyle Turris were the lead forwards for goals and total scoring with Hoffman leading all forwards with 61 points. Turris had 55 points in the regular season and a team high 26 goals. There is talent in Canada’s capital, but Boston is a deeper and more potent defensive team.
On the defensive side, these teams are pretty close. The Bruins’ Goals Allowed Average was 2.56 and the Senators’ was 2.55, basically a wash. A deeper look at the respective defensive units show that Ottawa does have a slight edge. Karlsson is the best player for the Senators and is a prime candidate for what would be his third Norris Trophy(best defenseman). Dion Phaneuf, Chris Wideman, and Fredrik Klausson provide good depth and physicality on the blue line. The biggest advantage for the Senators is health. Marc Methot will play for the first time in many weeks after getting his finger sliced by Sidney Crosby back on March 23.
That defensive health contrasts strongly with Boston’s lack of it. Zdeno Chara, the captain of the team, is 40 years old and will not have his regular pair mate. Torey Krug will miss the entire series against the Senators with a lower body injury. To fill the void, the Bruins have gone to college to bring more depth. Highly touted Boston University Terrier Charlie McAvoy was signed to an ATO contract and the Bruins liked him enough to bring him up this year. They’ve put him on the top pairing with Chara. He joins fellow Terrier Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson who’s up on the forward lines after performing well against the Capitals in the final regular season game and his debut. Boston will be in some trouble without more depth on the blue line.
The goaltending situation favors Boston. Tuukka Rask and Craig Anderson are about even in terms of regular season stats. Rask holds the edge in GAA, at 2.23 to 2.28, and Anderson has a better save percentage, at .926 to .915. Anderson split time this season with Mike Condon, but Anderson is the slated starter for the series. Rask has the playoff experience and temperament to match any goaltender in the league. He’s led his team to the Stanley Cup Finals and was a force to be reckoned with. Anderson has only made it out of the first round once in his career.
Boston is a more tested team than Ottawa. They’ve shown more offensive firepower and have the mental edge with Rask in their net. Ottawa is healthier and is not trying to integrate as many pieces as the Bruins are. Ultimately, I’d pick the Bruins to win the series in six games. They’ve got a stronger offense, more momentum, and the net minding. They did lose every meeting against Ottawa this season. However three of those were under former coach Claude Julien and the last meeting was a shoot out victory for the Senators.