An easier path to the final thanks to the much weaker Eastern Conference and incredible depth at all positions means Boston fans should keep June wide open – there’s a great chance the their Bruins will be in the Stanley Cup final once again.
When the Boston Bruins qualified for the Stanley Cup final in 2011, I managed to purchase tickets for Games 3 and 4 for Wayne McDonald. He’s my brother-in-law, but not in that “worthless brother-in-law” sort of way. Good guy, accountant in Sudbury, does my taxes every year. And he’s a lover of everything Bruins. I’ll never forget him outside the TD Garden that June night before Game 3, acting like a little kid. “Except for when I got married and my kids were born, this is the best day of my life!” he said.
I mention this story because I paid for the tickets. Figured it was appropriate payback for all those years of doing my taxes for nothing. But with the B’s looking primed to go to the Cup for the third time in four years, I’m beginning to wonder who’s getting the better of this deal.
It’s easy to pick a team to win the Stanley Cup when it’s coming off a 12-game winning streak, the way the Bruins did in March. But there’s more to it than that. The Bruins are the class of the East and will have an easier road to the final than say, about, oh, any one of the eight teams in the West. In the past five years, the Bruins have averaged more than 15 playoff games a year and lead the league with 78 games in that span.
But most of all, the Bruins are going to win the Cup in 2014 because of the embarrassment of riches they have in terms of depth. Think about it, the Bruins traded Tyler Seguin over the summer, only to see him blossom into one of the best offensive players in the NHL, and they still managed to get better. He could have been the first true offensive star the Bruins drafted and developed since Joe Thornton, but the Bruins could not wait for him to mature and keep his friends off his Twitter account. Seguin has more goals and more points than any other player on the Bruins.
But Boston has an incredible pool of talent. The last time the Bruins won the Cup, their two leading scorers were Milan Lucic and David Krejci, who each had 62 points. Lucic scored 30 goals in 2010-11. Only once in the post-expansion era, when Patrik Elias scored 57 for New Jersey in 2002-03, has a team won a Stanley Cup with a leading scorer who earned fewer points in a full 82-game schedule. And three years later, the Bruins are looking very much the same. They don’t have one go-to offensive player; they have about eight.
Beating the Bruins is like trying to plug a leaky dyke. Just when you have one hole covered up, another two or three spring open. During the 12-game streak, the Bruins scored 47 goals and gave up just 17. Iginla had 10 goals and 14 points in that stretch. Playing on a line with Lucic and Krejci, Iginla was on pace for his 12th 30-goal season.
Patrice Bergeron, who centers the second line between Brad Marchand and Reilly Smith, had 13 points in 14 games in March and was getting warmed up for another long, productive playoff run. Then there’s the third line, one that got a new look when Carl Soderberg moved to center and scored four goals and 10 points during the winning streak while playing with Loui Eriksson and Chris Kelly. Eriksson, who has struggled to find a place in the lineup all season, has been enjoying terrific chemistry with Soderberg and gives the Bruins a third line that has both a defensive conscience and an offensive thrust. Then there’s the ‘Merlot Line’ of Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton, which might be the best fourth line in the league.
Then you get to the defense corps, where Zdeno Chara is playing fewer than 25 minutes a game for the first time since he joined the Bruins eight years ago. That’s like saying Apple’s profits are down slightly, but you get the idea. One reason the Bruins lost in the final last year was Chara wore down. Playing with Dougie Hamilton, who has made major strides and has taken on a more prominent role, Chara can now get more out of his minutes because he doesn’t have to do all the heavy lifting.
The play of Johnny Boychuk and Matt Bartkowski has been a bonus, particularly in the absence of Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid for extended periods. That leaves the newly acquired Andrej Meszaros, along with Torey Krug and Kevan Miller to provide depth.
And once you get beyond all that, you have to deal with Tuukka Rask, one of the NHL’s elite goaltenders. He’s one of the most intense stoppers in the game and his resolve is even stronger after his meltdown in Game 6 of the final last year.
There is absolutely no doubt the better teams in the NHL are in the West, but that’s a depth issue more than a reflection of the best teams in each conference. The Bruins are as deep, talented and well rounded as any team in the NHL. And with an easier path to the final, they are primed to win the Cup.
Better get that credit card ready for action again.