Tis the time for research papers for my last year of university. They are taking up quite a large chunk of my time, by I also make sure to take some time for myself, smell the roses, and chat a little hockey. Today, I’m going to sound like a bit of a fanboy, as I want to gush about my respect for a certain hockey club. Though I have and always will be a Maple Leafs fan, I cannot help but have an admiration for the mighty Boston Bruins, the true beasts of the Eastern Conference.
On Monday, the Bruins coasted to their ninth straight victory, with a convincing 4-1 win over Minnesota, and in doing so pulled five points ahead of the Penguins for top spot in the East, with 97 points. Is anyone at all surprised by this though? If you are, you shouldn’t be, because nobody else in the conference can match up with Boston’s pool of talent, and the Blues and Blackhawks may be the only teams in the entire league on par line-for-line with the big, bad B’s. Going through their roster and what they have accomplished this season, I really do not see any squad, even the Sidney Crosby-led Penguins, that will pose a threat to defying Boston return trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Many have said that success on the ice starts from the net out, and it just so happens that the Boston Bruins have one of the best in the business in Tuukka Rask (damn you John Ferguson). I’ve seen many lay claim to Rask not being an ‘elite’ level goalie, but his stats this year and general style of play show that claim to be ridiculous. Tuukka’s record right now is 31-14-4, he owns the best GAA in the league among current starters (2.07), is second in save percentage among goalies with 30 GP (.929%, Ben Scrivens is slightly ahead at .931), and he leads the NHL in shutouts with six. The numbers speak for themselves, yet when you watch him go to work, you understand why is a world-class ‘tendy. He’s so calm and collected, moves effortless from post to post, possesses an excellent glove hand, and is rarely caught out of position. I would not hesitate to dub Rask one of the three top goalies in the game today alongside Carey Price and Ryan Miller.
It also helps that Rask arguably has the best team defensive unit in front of him, a group extremely talented at both ends of the ice. Even with injuries to Dennis Seidenberg and Adam MacQuaid, I don’t see another top-6 that can compete with the Bruins. I said months ago that if I was given a player to build around, I would select captain Zdeno Chara. His dominating play always seems so effortless, whether it be with his smothering defensive game, or the way he drives opposing goalies nuts with his 6’9 frame on the power-play. It’s not just Chara that makes the Bruins D such an imposing threat, it’s the perfect mix of offensive presence (Torrey Krug has continued to light the lamp, and the patience and poise of Dougie Hamilton are a pleasure to witness) and stay-at-home defense (with workhorses Johnny Boychuk and Matt Bartkowski) that make this unit almost perfect. Not to mention trade deadline acquisition Andrej Meszaros, who adds even more depth to both of those categories.
Finally, we have the forwards, and is there really any four lines elsewhere that can stack up with what the Bruins bring to the table (well, maybe the Blues)? There were questions surrounding this team after the off-season losses of Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley, and Nathan Horton, but the Bruins have seen no shortage of goals. In fact, along with the Habs and Jets, they have at least nine players in double digits in goals (Iginla 25, Lucic 21, Marchand 21, Smith 19, Bergeron 19, Krejci 16, Chara 16, Krug 14, and Soderberg 12). Only the Rangers have more with 10, though Rick Nash is the only of those 10 with at least 20 goals.
Their first line may be my favourite line in the NHL, as well as the scariest in all of hockey in two different fashions. First, they’re going to beat you on the scoreboard, as Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and Jarome Iginla have combined for 166 PTS, 42 of which were on the PP. Second, they are going to beat you down physically every shift, becoming as suffocating defensively as they are explosive offensively. The second line is just as likely to light the lamp, with the best faceoff man in the game in Patrice Bergeron, the always pesky, yet talented Brad Marchand, and Reilly Smith, who has played above expectations with 45 PTS. Loui Eriksson may have had his season go a bit wonky (no thanks to John Scott), but he fits in nicely on the third line with young scoring threat Carl Soderberg, and the always gritty Chris Kelly. Their fourth line may be the best fourth line in the game, doing everything right that the last line should do: a little offensive contribution, but also the ability to constantly wear down any line that comes at them. Kudos to Dan Paille, Gregory Campbell, and one of my personal favourites, Shawn Thornton, for doing just that.
The Bruins have it all: great goaltending, the perfect defensive unit mix, and four solid lines that can do it all. I really don’t see any team in the East capable of stacking up with this team and stopping these powerful Boston Bruins. Boston fans, be prepared for another berth in the finals come June.
(Photo credits to: cbc.ca, bleacherreport.com, icenationuk.com, and faceoff.com)