BOSTON (CBS) — It might be a little painful to force your brain to do this type of exercise, but like they say, no pain no gain.
Imagine, if you will, Alec Martinez’s game-winning goal for the Los Angeles Kings in double overtime of Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final from last Friday night. Martinez, a left-shooting young defenseman goes to the net and gets rewarded on the perfect bounce of a rebound to beat New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist with the Cup-clincher.
Now imagine, if you will again, the silver in the Kings’ uniform has turned to gold, and instead of No. 27 Martinez the back of the sweater says No. 47 Krug, and of course the player is a few inches shorter.
Outside of the obvious torture you could be exacting on yourself because you still haven’t gotten over the Bruins’ second-round exit from the playoffs at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens, it’s not too difficult to imagine the Bruins winning in the fashion the Kings did, this season or in the near future.
After all, the ways the Bruins and Kings have built their rosters are extremely similar, including the young, active two-way defenseman that both teams have in the likes of Martinez, Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton and Jake Muzzin, to support the play of their studs on the back end (Drew Doughty and Zdeno Chara).
You can argue about who copied whom in terms of the blueprint. The Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and the Kings have followed with wins in 2012 and 2014. The strategy starts in net with two of the greatest goaltenders alive, Jonathan Quick and Tuukka Rask, continues out to a diverse cast of defensemen and forwards. There’s strength down the middle, including on the third line, where both the Kings and Bruins shifted players from wing to center (Jeff Carter and Carl Soderberg) at just the right time and to significantly positive results.
Then both teams utilize those players in a style that generates offense from defense and relies on accountability and responsibility, not to mention the need for smart physicality.
The difference between the Kings winning the Cup and the Bruins watching the last two playoff rounds on television were obvious. Rask wasn’t at his best when the Bruins needed him most. The Bruins were caught shorthanded without Dennis Seidenberg on defense, while the Kings were actually able to hold out veteran Robyn Regehr because their defense played so well while he was out injured. The Kings finished their scoring chances, especially in close games. The Bruins hit the post more than those guys in Kenmore Square hit the bottom of their upside down buckets.
This is why for all the hooting and hollering since the Canadiens ended the Bruins’ season early, the Bruins’ roster really only needs some subtle alterations before 2014-15. They’ll need to once again place a capable backup behind Rask, and they seem to have that in Niklas Svedberg, whom they’ll have to re-sign as a restricted free agent.
With a healthy Seidenberg on the back end, the Bruins will just need to do a better job come deadline time to make sure there’s a greater safety net in case of injuries. The Kings were able to survive Jeff Schultz filling in for a few games. The Bruins probably considered playing with five defensemen as a reaction to how Matt Bartkowski and Andrej Meszaros performed.
And up front, the Bruins are going to probably look to get a little more versatile and younger in their bottom six. This might not require more than just promoting the likes of Matthew Lindblad, Matt Fraser and Justin Florek to be their version of Los Angeles’ Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli and Trevor Lewis. A thought process along this line is likely what spelled the end of Shawn Thornton’s tenure in Boston. Maybe Chris Kelly or Gregory Campbell also becomes expendable. The Bruins still have Ryan Spooner waiting to get his chance to regularly center a line. His best shot might be getting dealt somewhere there’s a need for help on the wing for the Bruins.
It’s worth noting that the Kings were 21st in the NHL in fighting majors in the regular season, according to hockeyfights.com. The Bruins were second. Watching the Kings, did you get the idea that they were any less tough than the Bruins? There are ways to build a roster that thrives on physicality and hitting without getting too caught up in the part of the game that’s played without gloves and sticks. In fact, three of the four NHL semifinalists finished in the bottom 10 in terms of fighting majors in the regular season. They didn’t stop fighting, they just didn’t make it part of their nightly platform.
The Bruins set out years ago to emerge as a perennial championship contender. They did that and won their title, but part of staying at or near the top is evolution. The Kings and Chicago Blackhawks evolved enough to win two titles apiece in the past five seasons with just the right amount of changes made to their rosters. Boston has to figure out how to make the right tweaks in order to join the Kings and ‘Hawks among the repeat champions of the post-lost-season era NHL.
So instead of sulking over the Bruins early loss and drooling over the Kings’ celebration, you should rejoice at the knowledge that the Bruins can use a scalpel instead of a blowtorch in their pursuit of what the Kings accomplished this season.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
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