The drama that enveloped the first round of the playoffs has been largely replaced by its polar opposite in the second; a sweeping vacuum of lopsidedness and foregone conclusions – not that fans of the winning teams mind that in the least.
For the most part, the winners have succeeded because they consolidated their powers within and answered questions that lingered; San Jose is getting monster play from Joe Thornton and stability in net from Antti Niemi, while Tampa’s terrific trio of Sean Bergenheim, Steve Downie and Dominic Moore gave the Bolts unforeseen depth up front.
But there’s one team that hasn’t peaked yet and I would posit that as a harbinger of goodness to come. The Boston Bruins are on the precipice of sweeping the Philadelphia Flyers and have now gone two rounds without any semblance of an effective power play. In fact, of the 16 teams that made the post-season, only Pittsburgh had a worse percentage on the man advantage, converting once in 35 tries (2.9 percent) and giving up a shorthanded goal in the process. Boston has scored once in 32 attempts (3.1 percent) and also surrendered a shortie.
So in essence, an opponent could take a penalty against the Bruins with the knowledge they were just as likely to score in the ensuing two minutes as the Boston attackers who outnumbered them.
Why is this a positive for the B’s? Because it’s almost statistically impossible for them to get worse on the PP as they advance to the next round, which they inevitably will thanks to a collapsed Flyers squad. And when that facet of the game is corrected, you’ll have a Boston team that already boasts three scoring lines, a commitment to defense and a Vezina-winning goaltender in net.
Speaking of room for improvement, another burr in the sides of B’s fans has been blueliner Tomas Kaberle. Since coming over in a much-ballyhooed trade from Toronto, the stoic Czech has underwhelmed. That same Boston power play floundered under his influence, which is strange, since that was so much of his game with the Maple Leafs.
But don’t complain, Bruins faithful. Kaberle may not have been remarkable so far in the playoffs, but he too has room for improvement and his ceiling is higher than any of the other options. Think about it: you have a No. 1 defenseman playing the fifth-most minutes (18:06 per game) among Boston blueliners. If he can up his game, all of a sudden the pressure is alleviated from minute-munchers Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, both of whom are dangerously close to playing 29 minutes per contest.
As for the price Kaberle came at – specifically big prospect center Joe Colborne and a first round draft pick, plus a conditional pick – it will all be worth it if Boston wins the Stanley Cup. Yes, Colborne is starting to round into form as a dangerous pivot in the Toronto organization, but the Bruins aren’t starved for young talent (Brad Marchand being the latest breakout star). Plus, that draft pick will be in the No. 27-30 range thanks to the Bruins’ march to the conference final and potentially beyond.
Ending nearly 40 years of Stanley Cup starvation is worth paying a high price for. Kaberle is an unrestricted free agent this summer, but if his presence in any way helps the Bruins lift the chalice, Boston can say “see ya” on July 1 with a clear conscience.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Fridays, The Hot List appears Tuesdays and his Rookie Report appears every other Wednesday. Follow him on Twitter on twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.