The arduous grind that is the NHL regular season is less than a week from completion. While the Western Conference’s playoff picture is still blurry, the East has been crystal clear since Thanksgiving. Since arguably the beginning of the season, it could be said the Boston Bruins were a playoff lock this year. Their strong, veteran offensive core combined with an exciting, youthful defensive and goaltending group has made this team fun to watch game after game. Despite the anti-climactic end to this season, there are still several storylines to keep an eye on as the Boston Bruins enter the playoffs.
Top Boston Bruins Playoffs Storylines
Boston has three games remaining in the regular season and will wrap up proceedings this Friday night. Two of these games are potential playoff previews (vs. Florida Panthers, at Toronto Maple Leafs) while the other will probably serve as a day-off for some veterans in the lineup (vs. Buffal0 Sabres). If the standings remain the same, Boston is set to play an injury-riddled Carolina Hurricanes squad in Round 1. Despite the table being set, there are plenty of storylines for the Boston Bruins heading into the playoffs.
This year’s Hurricanes team is not the only one with injury concerns. In recent games, the Bruins have been without David Pastrnak, Hampus Lindholm, and starting goaltender Linus Ullmark. All three players returned from injury this past Saturday against the New York Rangers but were sat the following day facing the Montreal Canadiens for rest. While it’s good news these key players have returned to the lineup, they might not be 100% entering the playoffs. Ullmark’s injury concerns in particular make the next storyline much more intriguing.
It’s uncommon for an NHL squad to trot out rotating goaltenders in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but the Bruins are poised to do just that. “As I’ve said all along, you may see both,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy, “simply because neither guy has played an NHL [playoff] game, and we have to manage their workload [compared] to what they’ve done in the past – but again, that could change.”
LWOH has documented Cassidy’s sentiments long before now. Neither of the active Bruins goalies has suited up for a full Stanley Cup Playoff game. Ullmark’s last playoff venture was with the Rochester Americans of the AHL, and Jeremy Swayman has played 19 total minutes of playoff hockey. Cassidy knows how green his goaltending room is. Keeping them in tandem will keep pressure from burdening just one of the “Hug Brothers”. Since both guys have played well this season, why force a decision? Both goalies have been solid for several key stretches this season. Coach Cassidy does not want to change that formula.
Which Left Winger Comes Up Big
Boston’s top two left-wingers have had drastically different fortunes over the past few weeks. Brad Marchand, who typically averages at least one point per game, has mustered only four points in the past eight games. Contrast this with Taylor Hall, who has scored two goals in the past four games and is picking up steam, and the Bruins are left with some questions. Most of Hall’s success this season has come on the second line with Erik Haula and David Pastrnak, but if Marchand cannot return to form, does he move up a spot?
The Bruins are hopeful for the best of both worlds. With the recent return of Pastrnak, Hall will have all the pieces around him to maintain success. Meanwhile, for a veteran like Marchand, the Bruins hope the playoffs renew his form and bring back their top playmaker.
Is This the Last Ride?
Perhaps the top storyline of all is whether this is Boston’s last chance to win a Stanley Cup with its current core. Franchise legend Patrice Bergeron is a free agent after this season and may retire, and although Marchand is still a top-tier LW, he is 33-years old. Since the early 2000s, the Bruins have relied upon a core of top-tier leaders to steer the team to success. If Bergeron decides to hang them up after this season, it would signal the end of an era in Boston. Bergeron is a fan favourite in Boston and will likely have his number retired by the team when he decides it’s time. That time could be as soon as weeks from now. Expect the Bruins to push all its chips in to win one for the captain.