Based on how well they’ve played in the second half of 2017/18, it goes without saying the Boston Bruins look like true Stanley Cup contenders again.
Last time the Bruins had a nice late run was in 2013/14 when they won the President’s Trophy before losing to the Montreal Canadiens in seven games in the second playoff round.
While it’s hard to predict the future, Boston appears well-positioned for a deeper postseason run this time.
At least the first step is out of the way where the Bruins punched their Stanley Cup Playoffs ticket for the second straight year in their 2-1 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night.
They'll finish with at least 100 points for the 22nd time in franchise history.
Boston (45-17-10) currently has a solid hold on the No. 2 Atlantic Division spot. They sit six points back of the Tampa Bay Lightning and seven points up on the Toronto Maple Leafs.
A force to be reckoned with
Boston’s summer started early for two consecutive seasons after the second-round loss to Montreal in 2014, which followed their run to the Stanley Cup Finals a year earlier. The Bruins lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games in 2013.
The Bruins fell to the Ottawa Senators in the first round of last year’s playoffs after firing coach Claude Julien and replacing him with Bruce Cassidy, but there were signs this team was heading up after a couple years of mediocrity.
Enter the Bruins’ new young depth players who have been outstanding this season.
Not only has netminder Tuukka Rask found his touch again, but Anton Khudobin has been a decent backup. Adding guys like Jake DeBrusk and Charlie McAvoy has been key to the team’s turnaround.
DeBrusk has 39 points (14 goals, 25 assists) in 64 NHL games in his rookie campaign, while McAvoy has been a young stud on Boston’s blueline with 32 points (7-G, 25-A) in 59 contests in his first NHL season.
McAvoy’s emergence also bodes well for the Bruins’ future on defense, as captain Zdeno Chara and Adam McQuaid are aging and will decline sooner rather than later.
Harvard University student Ryan Donato’s NHL career has also gotten off to a solid start. The 21-year-old centerman has four points in his first two games.
Former mid-round picks like Danton Heinen, Anders Bjork, Sean Kuraly and Matt Grzelcyk have all brought plenty of depth, as well.
Not to mention Patrice Bergeron is still a two-way beast down the middle, and Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Torey Krug and David Krejci have been productive.
Salary cap management
Many Boston fans may deny there was any decline of the Bruins in recent years, but a reality check would suggest they had to part with some key players at the time for salary cap relief.
Showing former general manager Peter Chiarelli the door didn’t hurt though. With all due respect, he built the Bruins’ 2011 championship team that fell just short of repeating in 2013.
But handing out lucrative contracts like candy to Krejci, Bergeron, Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, who’s now with the New York Islanders, proved to be Chiarelli’s undoing, as well as the team’s downfall. Having no room to sign anyone who could improve the squad ended up hurting big time.
Although general manager Don Sweeney likely had some tough decisions to make, so far they’ve paid off, even with the Bruins tight against the salary cap now. That’s the price of being a contending team.
Krejci, Bergeron, Pastrnak, Marchand, David Backes, Krug, and Rask are all inked to expensive, long-term deals, but Boston’s young stars on entry-level contracts have mostly been bargains thus far. It took dumping someone like Johnny Boychuk to eventually get there, however.
This team’s intangibles
Several of the Bruins’ key players are the same ones from the 2011 Stanley Cup win. Seeing them still produce bodes well for the playoff grind, when teams need as much production as possible.
Boston also undoubtedly has the right mix of size, strength, and skill to dominate a best-of-seven series. If Rask is on his game, the Bruins will be an even tougher team to beat.
Even though the team has been bitten by the injury bug a lot lately, they’ve still been competitive. Boston is 6-2-2 in their last 10 games, and they’ve done that with McQuaid, Rick Nash and others on the sidelines.
That depth and resilience is another feather in the Bruins’ cap for when the playoffs begin.
What do you think? Are the Bruins poised for their seventh Stanley Cup? Have your say in the comments section below.