After a 4-1 win in Philadelphia Wednesday, Boston has a commanding 3-0 series lead. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Don’t look now, but the Boston Bruins may be the most dangerous team left in the NHL playoffs.
(I’ll give you a moment to wipe up whatever you just did a spit take with.)
I know what you’re probably thinking: Boston? The franchise many pundits believed would be among the best in the Eastern Conference this year? The team that, instead, put the “hide” in Jekyll & Hyde with their consistent lack of consistency during the regular season? The team whose fans seemed more excited at the beginning of April to draft either Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin than they did to start the playoffs?
Yup, those Bruins.
Before you start lobbing “you’re biased!” grenades, let’s be clear: I’m no true believer when it comes to the Black & Gold. Although I picked the Bruins to thrive in the weak East this year, a full season of watching them disabused me of that notion – and I thought they wouldn’t even make it out of their first round series against the higher-ranked Buffalo Sabres.
But here we are approaching mid-May and Boston is still around and in command of their second round showdown against Philadelphia, mostly because there’s an undeniable sense of urgency that has returned to a Bruins team that was sending out numerous search parties for it since October.
Consequently, the Bruins have the top penalty-killing unit of any playoff team (93.8 percent efficiency) and the second-best power play of any remaining playoff team (25.0 percent, behind only Pittsburgh). They’ve also got the best faceoff percentage of any active team (54.8) and haven’t lost a post-season game this spring when they’ve (a) scored first; (b) led after one period; and (c) led after two periods.
Best of all, they’re functioning as an actual team. After Wednesday’s games, no Boston player was in the top 10 in playoff points (late-season signing Miro Satan was tied for 12th in the league with 10 points) and only five Bruins were among the top-60 playoff point scorers.
Some may point to the quality of competition Boston has faced in the first two rounds and anticipate the B’s will fare far worse at the hands of the defending champions from Pittsburgh in the Eastern final. That’s a fair comment – but if defense and goaltending wins championships, the Bruins very well may be in the ideal position to claim the game’s ultimate silver chalice.
Indeed, if Boston can close out its series against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh beats Montreal in their series, guess what? The Bruins arguably will have the best goalie (Tuukka Rask, whose .928 playoff save percentage was second only to the Canadiens’ Jaroslav Halak) of any team still in the Stanley Cup hunt.
They’ll also have arguably the best defenseman (Zdeno Chara, whose 28:34 of average ice time per game was second only to Philly’s Chris Pronger) of any remaining playoff team, as well as a coach (Claude Julien) who was the most recent recipient of the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s best bench boss.
(As an aside, where are all those folks who were demanding Julien’s firing during the regular season? Now you know why hockey people rarely follow through on fan advice.)
And they’ve got Old Man (Mark) Recchi, who at age 42 has been playing throughout the post-season as if his AARP discount depended on it.
With key Boston center David Krejci injured and out for the remainder of the playoffs, more people than ever will be prepared to say ‘pffft’ and sneer at Boston’s chances of winning in the Eastern and Cup finals.
They do so at their own peril. These Bruins may not be the prettiest or grittiest team still chasing hockey’s biggest prize, but they’ve been adept as hell at just winning.
As the august philosophers from Metallica famously note, nothing else matters.
THN Puck Panel – Luongo frazzled by crease chaos while Rask shines
Host Ryan Dixon sits down with managing editor Edward Fraser and writer John Grigg to discuss... Dustin Byfuglien’s dominating crease presence… The uncharacteristic physical play of the Sedin twins… Tuukka Rask’s composure between the pipes… And Boston’s latest injury up front.
PRODUCER: Ted Cooper | PRODUCTION ASSISTANT: Jason Cassidy
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Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears regularly, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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