The talk is already there.
They’re big. They’re bad. And the way to beat them is to simply outskate them and take advantage of your power plays.
But it would be a mistake to look at these Boston Bruins and still see the team that won the Stanley Cup three years ago.
The skeleton of that group is there, sure, with captain Zdeno Chara towering over everyone on the back end and Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand filling in the top two lines up front.
But the intervening years have allowed GM Peter Chiarelli to overhaul almost everything else, making his team a little younger and a little quicker and better suited to compete with the kind of teams they’ll run up against in these playoffs.
It worked in Round 1, where the Bruins suffocated a beat-up Detroit Red Wings team in allowing just six goals over the five games.
Whether it’ll work in Round 2 against a Montreal Canadiens team that always gives Boston fits will determine whether this group is placed in the same stratosphere as the 2011 team.
Based on their regular season alone, it deserves to be.
Despite losing No. 2 blueliner Dennis Seidenberg in December for the season with a knee injury, the Bruins scored more goals and allowed fewer than they did three years ago. They were a better possession team, better at even strength and on both special teams, relying less on goaltending to cover up their mistakes.
The reality is the Bruins team that won it all three years ago had holes. They didn’t have a mobile blueline and the power play was awful, especially in the postseason, which is partly why they had to eke out three seven-game series to get it done.
None of those was closer than when they faced the Habs, a first-round bloodbath that featured Bruins defenceman Andrew Ference giving a one-finger salute to the Montreal crowd in Game 4, Lucic thrown out for a hit from behind in Game 6, and Nathan Horton’s long slapper winner in overtime of Game 7.
Since then, the Canadiens have gotten the better of the matchup; going 8-5-1 in the last three regular seasons is one reason for optimism in Montreal.
The other? Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask’s numbers against them are well off his norm, with just three wins in 17 appearances and a .908 save percentage.
But what Montreal can’t expect is a repeat of 2011, when the Bruins nearly lost the series due to undisciplined play and failing to score a single power-play goal in seven games, an NHL record for futility on the man advantage.
This is a team with more mobility and youth, especially on the back end thanks to Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski, who give the Bruins a much more aggressive presence in the offensive zone. It also has a revitalized Jarome Iginla coming off a 30-goal season on the top line and Loui Eriksson – three times a 70-point man – on the third, two vets who are complemented nicely by newcomers Reilly Smith and Carl Soderberg.
And it has a style that’s no longer just about being the bully, even if that remains the reputation.
“We’re big – we’re physical,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said at one point during the first round, reacting to the idea that the series would come down to the Wings speed versus Boston’s strength. “That’s the way we built our team, and we shouldn’t apologize for it. … “But I’d consider us a pretty good skating club, too. We didn’t score that many goals and allow that many goals because we weren’t able to skate.”
The hockey world may still be caught up a little in what they were, but these Bruins are a different breed than three years ago, a team that still leans on Chara but doesn’t need to win with brawn, and that often gets great goaltending but has enough finesse to outscore teams without it.
They can skate. They can score. And, as a result of their evolution, they remain the favourite to win the East for the third time in four years.
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