The Boston Bruins have never been underrated.
They've never let themselves be, really. The trademark brashness that has defined the Bruins for practically their entire existence makes it difficult to view them as an underdog, regardless of what their roster may look like in any given year, as their rough-and-tumble style tends to thrust them to the forefront of contender conversations for on an annual basis.
This year's playoffs are a different story, though.
The Bruins are more of an afterthought in the lead-up to the postseason, guaranteed to begin their first-round series on the road against a higher-seeded opponent, all while most pundits around the hockey world tend to rank them as the consensus fourth-best team in their own division.
For the first time in a while, the Bruins are both literally and narratively an underdog.
But underestimating them would be a serious mistake.
Arguably none of the 2022 qualifiers will enter the playoffs with a bigger discrepancy between its floor and ceiling than the Bruins. This is a team that could just as easily bulldoze their way to the Stanley Cup Final or bow out in the first round with a variable whimper.
The strengths of the Bruins are perfectly suited to the playoff grind.
They are a remarkably experienced team, boasting a core of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, and newly acquired Hampus Lindholm that have all either already won Cups of their own or gone on extended runs towards one in the past.
In the most crucial moments, Bruce Cassidy will be able to toss out a unit comprised almost entirely of players who have, as the saying goes, "been there before". The presence of Marchand is also quite the asset, too, with the feisty winger's trademark physicality and untouched penchant for getting under opponents' skin capable of throwing an entire opposing roster off their game in a seven-game series.
Pastrnak's offensive capabilities are enough to sway entire games by themselves, as well. In the postseason, when one's tendency to conjure up a goal out of thin air becomes the difference between winning and going home, Pastrnak often takes his play to an entirely new level. The 25-year-old has an eye-popping playoff track record for a player of his age, having already suited up for 63 games in his young career while racking up 27 goals and 68 points in the process.
Alongside Pastrnak stands Bergeron, whose abilities on the opposite side of the puck are perhaps just as valuable.
Throwing the annual Selke favorite at opposing top lines for each shift in a seven-game series is quite the luxury for a coach to have. Bergeron is a not-so-secret weapon in these high-stakes affairs. And with the margins so tight in the playoffs that a dry spell from a team's top producers can send them packing, Bergeron is the type of player that only continues to excel as the weather grows warmer.
Up top, the Bruins can match up with just about anybody. But that comes at the risk of being "top-heavy", too.
Behind that vaunted trio of forwards, and an enviable top-pair of McAvoy and Lindholm is not as much as you'd see on some other contenders.
The Bruins' forward depth is serviceable, with the likes of Taylor Hall, Charlie Coyle, Erik Haula, and Craig Smith playing key roles in the middle-six. Offensively, though, only Hall finished this past season with 20 goals, leaving the next highest-scoring Bruin outside of their Big Three as Jake DeBrusk, whose publicly open trade request still seems to be on the table.
The blueline is where things get particularly hairy, with no defenseman outside of the top pair being capable of producing meaningful offense of their own from the back-end. McAvoy and Lindholm are among the best one-two punches in the league. That's without a doubt. But the remaining group, comprised of names like Matt Gryzelyck, Mike Reilly, Brandon Carlo, Derek Forbort, and Connor Clifton don't inspire much confidence and will likely leave the real workload to fall on the shoulders of the stars.
Can they withstand that through the upcoming grind?
Depth is the name of the game in the postseason, especially on defense. And the Bruins don't have it.
Their last line of defense, however, is undoubtedly the biggest wildcard of all.
Neither Linus Ullmark nor Jeremy Swayman is a bad goaltender by any means. Statistically, they were both actually pretty great this season, each finishing with above-average numbers in terms of save percentage and goals-saved-above-average.
But there were also moments where each looked glaringly human, particularly when it came to Ullmark, whose midseason slumps cast the five-year commitment given to him over the summer into some doubt.
Then there's the experience factor. For as battle-tested as the Bruins' skaters are, their goaltenders have a grand total of one playoff game between them -- a Swayman relief appearance in 2021 in which he gave up one goal on three shots in 19 minutes of work.
Now, one of those two will be tasked with backstopping the Bruins on a lengthy run despite never having even started a playoff game in their respective lives. Perhaps Ullmark or Swayman catch fire and craft another remarkable story of an unproven goaltender grabbing the reigns and leading his team to the promised land. It's certainly been done before. Crazier things have happened. But that lack of tangible experience can't be discounted, either, and could ultimately squash the Bruins' title hopes before they even really begin.
Regardless, the Bruins will be a team to watch the playoffs start next week. Whether it ends with a parade or on a golf course is anyone's guess.