One team got hot with a new coach down the stretch. The other team kept winning all season but never earned respect. Who will come out on top?
THE BRUINS WIN IF…
Boston went 18-8-1 after firing coach Claude Julien and installing replacement Bruce Cassidy. The Bruins were a great possession team even with Julien, doing a better job than any team of generating shot attempts while suppressing rival shot attempts, but they struggled to score goals because they didn’t shoot from high-percentage areas. Under Cassidy, they did a better job creating high-quality scoring chances, and the goals started flooding in. The suddenly explosive Bruins scored four or more goals in 13 of 27 games under Cassidy. They did so in 17 of 55 games under Julien.
Boston’s top-line forward talent easily trumps Ottawa’s. Brad Marchand had a banner season as Boston’s No.1 left winger, with 39 goals and 85 points. He and center Patrice Bergeron are peerless when it comes to tilting the shot attempt margin in their team’s favor. They are the most dominant possession forwards in the game right now. The Bruins are also far from a one-line team. Young David Pastrnak blossomed into a 30-goal man this year and has nice chemistry with David Krejci. David Backes and Ryan Spooner bring nice depth, too.
Boston has a proven workhorse goalie in Tuukka Rask, with emphasis on the term “workhorse.” His game swooned at times this season en route to 65 appearances, raising some questions of whether he was fatigued, but Rask finished strongly with a .925 save percentage over his final 20 games. He’s usually reliable.
THE SENATORS WIN IF…
The Senators join the New York Rangers as the two weakest 5-on-5 possession teams in the entire playoff field of 16, per corsica.hockey, and that’s why so many pundits, including this one, are picking against Ottawa. If the Sens beat the Bruins, it will likely be on the backs of two or three key players. Erik Karlsson is the obvious first name. He’s the best defenseman in the world, capable of completely controlling a game. He makes everyone around him better, he’s the best offensive blueliner of the past two decades, and he even finished second in the league in blocked shots. Karlsson was banged up down the stretch and still might not be 100 percent healthy. If he’s anything close to it, though, he singlehandedly makes Ottawa dangerous every night.
The Sens also have a true game-stealing goalie in Craig Anderson. He’s an emotional leader on this team, having juggled his hockey life with helping his wife in her battle against cancer this season. There’s a reason Anderson owns the NHL single-season save percentage record at .941. He stands on his head at times. When Anderson is on, he’s as good as any goalie out there. The Sens’ forward corps doesn’t wow but boasts one of the game’s most underrated players in Mark Stone. He puts the puck in the net but is also a tremendous two-way forward, having led the league in takeaways.
Bruins: He’s not expected to play in Game 1 and perhaps beyond, and that makes Torey Krug, or the lack thereof, an X-factor in this series. The Bruins already boast one of the NHL’s least impressive defense corps, and the group looks especially barren without Krug, its top puck mover, not to mention impressive rookie Brandon Carlo, also ruled out for the series opener. John Michael-Liles and Zdeno Chara will have to turn back the clock. Young Charlie McAvoy, the Bruins best all-around prospect, could draw into the lineup. He has a great future, but is he ready to dive right into the playoffs with no NHL experience? The Bruins’ blueline is the main weakness for Ottawa to exploit in this series.
Ottawa: Can Alexandre Burrows out-pest Marchand, Boston’s super-pest? The Bruins need Marchand to avoid funny business and focus on scoring and avoiding yet another suspension. The Sens, however, can unleash the experienced Burrows in a true agitator role. It’ll be his job to poke and prod any Bruin he can get his hands on and bait them into bad penalties. The Bruins and Sens ranked among the NHL’s most penalized teams this season, so the Sens would be wise to slow the game down and force Boston into an ugly street fight.
With Brad Marchand on the left wing and Mark Stone on the right wing, two of the game’s best two-way wingers will literally be going head-to-head here all series. Marchand is obviously the better player considering he’s in the MVP conversation, but Stone can definitely hold his own here. He’s on par with him in terms of pushing play, both being absolutely incredible with 18 net shots going their way whenever they’re on the ice, he’s just not as efficient a scorer. That wasn’t always the case, but Marchand really broke out this year to become one of the league’s best wingers and that’s evident by the two total value stats at the bottom where he’s in the top percentile. Stone can maybe reach that level one day, but he’s not there yet and he’ll have his work cut out for him this series. He’s Ottawa’s best forward and his ability to silence Boston’s will go a long way. (Dom Luszczyszyn)
BRUINS in six games.