BOSTON (CBS) — Finally, the Bruins are playing some playoff hockey. The B’s are back in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, three years after falling in the second round to the Montreal Canadiens in seven games.
Now, things are practically in bizarro world for the B’s. Claude Julien is now coaching the Canadiens and Bruce Cassidy is behind the bench for the Bruins, who made it back to the postseason after missing out for two straight years. Like they did in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the B’s draw Guy Boucher and his tough 1-3-1 defensive system – but this time, it’s against the Ottawa Senators in the first round.
The Bruins struggled against the Sens in the regular season, going 0-3-1 and scoring just six goals in those four games. They will need to turn things around in a hurry if they want to beat Boucher’s system, and they will need to do so with a banged-up defense that has 19-year-old Charlie McAvoy making his NHL debut. Here’s what to watch for as the Bruins play their first playoff series in three years …
David Pastrnak’s playoff debut
Brad Marchand has plenty to atone for after his suspension. Other top Bruins scorers have a lot to prove after their recent playoff disappointments. But among all Bruins forwards, no one is more intriguing to watch than David Pastrnak.
“Pasta” makes his playoff debut on Wednesday night after the 20-year-old broke out with 34 goals in the regular season. Scoring will be at a premium in the series, making his speed and skill that much more important to beating the Senators’ trap defense.
Pastrnak’s performance on Wednesday could give a glimpse as to whether the dynamic winger can elevate his game in the playoffs, a key intangible of championship-caliber players.
Charlie McAvoy’s NHL debut
The Bruins have another dynamic young player making his debut on Wednesday – his league debut, to be exact. Defenseman Charlie McAvoy, the 14th overall pick in the 2016 draft, got the call-up after injuries to both Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo practically forced the Bruins’ hand, and all eyes will be on the top prospect when he hits the ice for the first time in his NHL career.
McAvoy has big-game experience at lower levels, but obviously has never experienced the NHL game, let alone the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Still, he has the skating and puck-moving ability to potentially make things happen on the power play and against the trap.
McAvoy is expected to start on a pairing with Kevan Miller, but also practiced with Zdeno Chara and John-Michael Liles. He will always have a veteran backing him up so he can do his thing when he has the puck. If McAvoy can find a way to spark the Bruins offensively, it could be a boon for the team in this series and suggest a bright future for the 19-year-old.
Can Tuukka Rask get hot?
As it often happens in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a hot goalie can take a team on his back for a deep playoff run – sometimes surprisingly so. Tuukka Rask could make up for a lot of the Bruins’ deficiencies on defense if he can elevate himself in this year’s postseason.
Statistically, Rask is no slouch when it comes to his career playoff numbers. Since the team’s 2010 playoff collapse, when he was just 22 years old, Rask is 21-13 with a 1.88 goals against average and .940 save percentage. His GAA and SV% are fifth and fourth in the league, respectively, among all goaltenders with at least 15 playoff starts since 2010.
Rask has garnered some well-earned criticism after the Bruins collapsed down the stretch for the past two years, but he was much better down the stretch this season. It remains to be seen whether he can carry his late-season success into the playoffs, but if he can get on a hot streak, the Bruins’ chances of getting past the Senators (or further) will dramatically increase.
Can the Bruins solve the trap?
The biggest question for the Bruins as a team, by far, is whether they can find a way to beat Boucher’s 1-3-1 defense, better known as the neutral zone trap. It’s a suffocating system to play against that can frustrate opponents if they’re not patient – and lull TV viewers to sleep.
The Sens’ trap has particularly frustrated the Bruins this season, because the Bruins don’t have enough of the right kinds of players to solve it. They lack depth in terms of skilled, mobile defensemen who can make smart passes and speedy wingers who can get the puck through the zone consistently. That is why defensemen like McAvoy and Colin Miller, and wingers like Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, will be even more important than usual to the Bruins’ fortunes in this series.
The Bruins may struggle to solve the trap when the game is 5-on-5, but the Bruins would have a major advantage over the Senators if they can get on the power play. Still, the games tend to tighten up even more in the playoffs and that will make the trap a significant challenge for the Bruins to overcome.