WILMINGTON, Mass. – One part of their team the Boston Bruins feel confident in as they wait for the second round of the playoffs is special teams.
Through Saturday, the Bruins ranked second on the power play and first in penalty killing among the 16 teams who reached the NHL playoffs. And the three teams who already have advanced – Boston, Vancouver and Detroit – all excelled on special teams in their first-round series.
“It’s huge. We know how tight 5-on-5 is going to be in the playoffs, and that was an example of it,” Marc Savard, a key member of the power play and the penalty kill, said Saturday. “We knew we had to step up, and we feel good.”
Boston will play the second round against the lowest-seeded remaining team. That would be the New York Rangers if they eliminate the Washington Capitals. The Rangers lead the best-of-seven series 3-2 and could clinch Sunday. If not, Game 7 would be Tuesday night. The Bruins also could play Pittsburgh or Carolina.
Boston’s Aaron Ward has played on three Stanley Cup-winning teams and he’s learned that special teams can be the difference.
“The special teams, in the playoffs, it starts with defence. And if you’re doing well on your penalty kill, that’s a key,” he said. “I think it’s obviously just a bigger boost when you get anything from your power play. The playoffs are such tight-checking games. Most times teams will start putting their best players out there to kill penalties and any inch you can gain is a big one.”
During the regular season, the Bruins ranked fourth on the power play and 12th on the penalty kill. Last season, Detroit rode the NHL’s best post-season power play to the Stanley Cup. And the Red Wings and Eastern Conference champion Pittsburgh ranked fourth and third, respectively, in playoff penalty killing last year.
The Bruins began this year’s playoffs by succeeding on four of 16 power plays and all eight of their penalty kill situations against the Canadiens. It’s obviously easier to kill penalties when you’re doing less of it, and Boston was short-handed less than any team in the league through the first four games of the first round.
“Part of success for a power play is when you start to get that flow, when you get a feel for it,” Ward said. “If you’re only getting out there once or twice, it does have a mental factor on you because you have to maximize your opportunities.”
The Bruins also benefit from depth among skill players that can help their power plays.
“That’s why we have two good power play (combinations),” Savard said. “It gets frustrating sometimes when one’s not going. But you’ve just got to suck it up and get off the ice and let the other guys have a try at it.”