By Michael Felger
A handful of Bruins thoughts for you as we get reacquainted with what a deep playoff run feels like . . .
1. Time will tell if Patrice Bergeron's concussion renders the Bruins incapable of exploiting it, but there nevertheless appears to be an opening for the B's in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Penguins weren't healthy. Alex Ovechkin and the Caps once again couldn't figure out how to play in the postseason. The Flyers, the Eastern Conference's best team for most of the season, were without tone-setting defenseman Chris Pronger for three games against the B's and, if you can believe it, their goaltending got worse. Out west, four-time Cup winner Nick Lidstrom and the Red Wings are the brink of elimination. Defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago was bounced in the first round.
What's left are some very good teams, but none that look to be dynastic. There are no mismatches left.
It's a big departure from what the B's faced the last time they had a team capable of reaching this level. They made the Cup finals in 1988 and 1990, only to be beaten by the Oilers of Gretzky and Messier. They advanced to the Wales Conference finals in 1991 and 1992, only to be stopped by Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and the Penguins. The B's were simply overmatched those years. They had the misfortune of getting good at the exact time others were getting great.
With all due respect, unless Detroit completes a miracle comeback, there isn't a team like that left this time around.
Before the Bergeron injury I think the Bruins were a hair better than the Lightning. Now they might be a hair worse, or even. Either way, it's close. The Sharks and Canucks were a notch better than the B's at full strength and that gap will certainly widen if Bergeron remains out, but it's not insurmountable. If the B's play their best, they can beat the Sharks and Canucks. They can beat the Lightning without Bergeron. They may not be a favorite in any of those matchups, but every series is within reach.
That wasn't the case against those Oilers and Penguins teams two decades ago. And, truth be told, that probably wouldn't have been the case this year had the road gone through Crosby and Malkin. And if the Wings win the next two against San Jose, then all bets are off should the B's and Detroit meet in the Finals.
But to this point, circumstances have broken in the Bruins' favor. Things have opened up.
Now we see if they can take advantage.
2. As for the Bergeron injury, the obvious fear is that it will have the effect on the B's that David Krejci's wrist injury had on them in the second round last year against Philadelphia.
The Bruins never recovered after Krejci's wrist injury, even though a healthy Bergeron played the rest of that series. Now the roles are reversed. Bergeron wasn't enough absent Krejci last year. Will Krejci be enough absent Bergeron this year? We'll see.
One thing is for sure -- the B's are better constructed to withstand such an injury this time around. It's something GM Peter Chiarelli made sure of at the trade deadline with the acquisitions of Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly. After two rounds, those moves are looking like two of the best of Chiarelli's tenure here (yes, I hated the Kelly trade at the time -- so give me another loss), as Chiarelli accurately gauged the B's size and durability issues up the middle and determined reinforcements were needed. He was right.
Last year, Krejci's minutes went to the likes of Marc Savard, who clearly wasn't ready, and Vladimir Sobotka, who clearly wasn't good enough. It feels like the B's are in better shape now.
3. If you're among those who believe that rookie Tyler Seguin will step right in and get Bergeron's minutes, I have a feeling you're going to be sorely disappointed.
Claude Julien didn't trust Seguin in the regular season; what makes you think he's going to trust him in the playoffs? The best you can hope for is seeing Seguin on the second power-play unit, although there's no guarantee of that, either. Otherwise, I expect to see him buried on the fourth line.
As for who moves up between Brad Marchand and Mark Recchi, it's either going to be Kelly or Peverley. Kelly got the nod for the remainder of the third period in Game 4 against Philly. However, Kelly, Marchand and Recchi are all left-handed shots, and some coaches shy away from having lines with all three players shooting from the same side. If Julien is one of them, then expect to see the righty Peverley up there.
But whether it's Kelly or Peverley with the second unit, I would expect Greg Campbell to get the call up to the third line to play with Mike Ryder and whoever is left from Kelly and Peverley. Julien loves Campbell for his defensive responsibility and faceoff ability. He trusts him -- and the coach has no such feelings towards the rookie. Julien doesn't even trust Seguin to play center; he prefers him at wing. So my guess is that Seguin will be down with Shawn Thornton on a fourth line centered by Dan Paille.
Either way, I can't fathom Julien giving Seguin more five-on-five ice time than Kelly, Peverley, Campbell or Paille. The rookie is going to have to earn his way up.
4. Speaking of the fourth line, they played a key role in the defeat of the Flyers, but let's not overstate it.
To listen to some fans and media, the Paille-Campbell-Thornton unit was the key -- which is silly.
Don't get me wrong. It's nice to have a deep, balanced team. And the B's will take whatever production they can get from that line. But what was more important against the Flyers: the play of the fourth line . . . or the breakout of the first line?
The B's scored 18 goals (excluding empty-netters) in the four games against the Flyers -- and Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic and Krejci were responsible for nearly half of them (eight). Krejci had nine points in the series and Horton had seven. Lucic finally broke out late with a pair of goals in Game 4. Lucic was a plus-7 in the four games while Krejci and Horton were each plus-6.
Look, I like roll players and dirt dogs as much as the next guy, but let's be real. The Bruins were a different team between the Montreal series and the Philadelphia sweep because the first line finally broke out. It also helped that Zdeno Chara regained his health and Tim Thomas maintained his level of play from the end of the first round. But when it comes down to what group of forwards were the key, it's not even close.
And if the B's are going to get past the Lightning, they will need to continue to get production from their stars. Start there. Not at the bottom of the roster. Julien's ice time should continue to reflect that reality.
5. Here's what scares me the most about the Lightning:
They head into the series having scored the most power-play goals in the playoffs with 12 (second-place Anaheim had eight). They are second in power-play opportunities with 45 (Philly had 49). They are third in power-play percentage at 26.7 percent (first among remaining teams). They are second in penalty kill at a stunning 94.4 percent (only Montreal at 100 percent is higher, and let's face it, they were playing the Bruins).
Get the point yet? The Lightning are all about special teams. They are all about drawing penalties. They are known as divers.
They are, in other words, very much like the Canadiens when it comes to this part of the game.
Here we go again.
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