By: Ben Pagani
The Bruins clinched the playoffs with a 4-0 win over the Lightning on Wednesday. After two years of barely missing the playoffs, they are back in them. Their opponents in the first round (depending on where they finish) will most likely be the Senators, Capitals, or the Maple Leafs. I will break down all these possible matchups, and explain how the Bruins have a chance at the cup.
If the Bruins lose their next two games in regulation, and the Maple Leafs win at least one of their remaining three, the Bruins will play the Capitals. The Capitals won the Presidents Trophy for best record in the league this season. They have an outstanding offense with Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Marcus Johansson, and Evgeny Kuznetsov. They also have an amazing defense with Dmitri Orlov, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Kyle Alzner. Not to mention, a very solid puck stopper in Braden Holtby, who is 2nd in goals against. The Capitals are 3rd in power play percentage, but the Bruins are 2nd in penalty kill percentage, so we should see an even match in that category. The Bruins are also ranked 3rd in faceoff win percentage compared to the Capitals 14th. The main thing teams need to do to stop the Capitals is shut down their high powered offense. This is a problem due to the Bruins lack of depth at the defensive position. These teams will play each other for the first time this season on Saturday at 3:00 ET. It will be the last game of the season for the Bruins, and they will be without Marchand due to a two game suspension, but he will be back come playoff time. Playing the Capitals is worst case scenario for any team, so hopefully the Bruins can end the season on a high note.
If the Bruins win none of their next two and the Leafs lose all of their next three, or the Bruins win one of their next two and the Leafs win one, or none of their next three, or if the Bruins win both their next two and the Leafs win none, one, or two of their next three the Bruins will play the Senators (assuming the Senators clinch 2nd or 3rd in the Atlantic). The Bruins are 0-3 against the Sens this season, and they play again tonight at 7:00 ET. The Senators have many injury problems, which will strongly affect their play. Their best defenseman, Erik Karlsson is out with injury. An important piece to their offense is also injured in Bobby Ryan. And if that's not enough, other solid defenseman in Marc Methot and Cody Ceci are out too. This is a large advantage to Boston’s side. Another advantage to the Bruins is goaltending. Tuukka Rask is 9th in goals against compared to Craig Anderson’s 11th goals against percentage. The Senators are 22nd in powerplay and penalty kill percentage, so the Bruins will have great success in these categories. The Bruins will have to draw penalties and attack the Senator’s defense to win the series. I think the Bruins have what it takes to beat the Senators, that is why I’m not scared to play the Senators in the first round.
If the Leafs win at least one or more of their next three and the Sens lose all of their next three, or the Leafs win two of their next three and the Sens only win one of their next three, or the Leafs win all of their next three and the Sens win two of their next three, the Bruins will play the Leafs (assuming the Bruins clinch the number 2 or 3 spot in the Atlantic). The Bruins are 0-3 against the Leafs this season, and have allowed 4 or more goals in each game. This season the Leafs really turned around compared to last seasons near bottom finish. This is big help to young sensation Auston Matthews. Auston is tied for second in goals scored with Brad Marchand. Brad is also 4th in points while Matthews is 21st. Another thing to look for throughout this series is the Leafs powerplay ranking 2nd against the Bruins penalty kill ranking 3rd. All the stats I’ve talked about so far have been close, but the Bruins will have big advantages in the next two categories. First, the Maple Leafs give up the 3rd most shots per game in the league, while the Bruins give up 2nd to last shots per game. Next, Tuukka Rask is 9th in the league in goals against average, while the Leafs don't have a single goalie in the top 25 in goals against average. For the Bruins to win this series they will need to pour pucks on net, and stop Auston Matthews. If they do these things, I think the Bruins will come close to sweeping this series, and that is why I think the Maple Leafs are the easiest opponent the Bruins can face in round one of the playoffs.
Even though the Bruins don’t have good records against these teams, I think come playoff time the Bruins will be ready and hungry. I guess we can only wait and see how far Bruce Cassidy and the Bruins will go in this years playoffs. Playoff hockey is back in Boston!