By Joe Haggerty
Five Things Bruins Need to Win
BOSTON Its not a coincidence that Bruins players and coaches were both pulling the verbatim Last year was last year and this year is this year quote when asked about facing down the Flyers this week. There was enough talk about ghosts, revenge and storylines while the Black and Gold took care of the Montreal Canadiens with three overtime wins and plenty of sideshow drama, so Claude Juliens boys are instead happy to simply focus on beating Philadelphia on the ice.
Itll be good, old-fashioned playoff hockey with a pair of hard-nosed, blue collar Eastern Conference heavyweights ready to simply throw haymakers at each other, and the first hockey team to bleed out loses.
It should be a much better match for the Big Bad Bruins against the Broad Street Bullies, but here are five things that will have to happen if the Bs hope to advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1992. My prediction: Bruins in a seven game series that will once again entertain, amaze and produce agony all in the same bundle of 60-minute hockey games.
1) David Krejci needs to get it going after missing a boatload of golden scoring chances against the Montreal Canadiens. Krejci finished with only a single goal in seven games against the Habs, though that one score was a big one that opened up the Bs offense in their Game Three victory in Montreal. But Krejci needs to finish off chances like the wide open backhander from the left face-off circle in Game Seven that the slick Czech Republic centerman instead flipped over the crossbar. The Habs defense focused on shutting down Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton, and that allowed Krejci to squeeze off 13 shots and countless more scoring chances that never ended up on the net. Krejci was the leading scorer against the Flyers in the regular season with four points, and the entire tenor of last years playoff series changed when Krejci went down early in Game Three.
2) The Bruins will win if Zdeno Chara becomes himself again in the second round of the postseason. Chara finished with a single assist, a plus-1 and only two penalty minutes in six games against the Canadiens in the first round, and wasnt nearly his normal dominant self while still topping 28 minutes per game. Chara told CSNNE.com on Friday that he lost 10 pounds in the 24 hours surrounding the virus that led to his severe dehydration, and that he still sits about three pounds away from his playing weight of 255 pounds. The Bs defenseman looked a little weaker on his skates during the Canadiens, and didnt have anywhere near the normal oomph on his 105.9-mph slap shot despite squeezing off 21 shots in six games. Chara said hes just starting to feel normal after going through the dehydration issues that landed him in the hospital, and thats good news for a Bs team will need their 6-foot-9 defenseman to trump Chris Pronger in the upcoming series.
3) The power play has a failure rate of over 93 percent thats what we call it in Boston as long as its screwing the pooch on a regular basis since Tomas Kaberle has arrived. The PP squad nearly sucked the life out of Boston while going 0-for-21 against Montreal, and they made history by somehow winning through dominance in five-on-five play. The Bruins wont be so fortunate against a physical, snarling Flyers bunch that are just as domineering during five-on-five play as Boston is. Boston needs to find a workable solution with viable offensive pieces Krejci, Kaberle, Chara, Patrice Bergeron and Milan Lucic on the top power play unit, and will be dangerous if they can get anywhere near the 16 percent efficiency rate they enjoyed during the regular season.
4) Just like containing Mike Cammalleri in the first round was of maximum importance to a Boston defensive effort, the Bruins will need to keep wraps on Daniel Briere after the Flyers forward ran wild against the Buffalo Sabres in the first round. Briere potted six goals and brings the kind of speed and offensive creativity that can give Chara and the deliberate Boston defensive corps fits. Briere has 30 points (12 goals and 18 assists) in 23 playoff games last season, and is consistently Phillys biggest offensive weapon if he can find space within the defense.
5) Its as simple as this: if a trio of Flyers goaltenders that saw action in round one with Sergei Bobrovsky and Michael Leighton both flaming out cant stop 93.4 percent of the pucks shot their way, then Philly is going to have a hard time hanging with the Bruins. Carey Price was magnificent in the first round while putting up a .934 save percentage, and he matched Tim Thomas save-for-save once the Bs goaltender ramped up his game in the final five outings in the series. Brian Boucher is expected to start the series between the pipes, but his level of play during last years playoffs was pedestrian with a 6-6 record, a .909 save percentage and a 2.47 goals against average. Boucher played well in the first round against Buffalo, but the Bruins will be able to put up some goals with an offense thats deeper and more dangerous than the current edition of the Sabres could put together. Its the Achilles heel of the Flyers and its something the Bruins need to exploit early and often with the worlds best goaltender at their end of the ice.
Five Bad Signs for Bruins
The Bruins fell to the Flyers in seven games last season in historical fashion, and the Broad Street Bullies were the higher seed in the Eastern Conference last season so theres a very good chance the Bs could see their playoff road end against Philadelphia for the second straight season.
Theyre a bigger team and theyre more involved physically, admitted Zdeno Chara. For us itll be the same approach to play our best. We have a big team and a physical team and thats what is going to make this series very exciting.
Here are five things that could take the Bruins down if they happen.
1) Curt Schilling famously said that he thought Aura and Mystique were exotic dancers rather than any kind of hold that the Yankees had over opponents, but youll hear a lot of supernatural terms like that as the series unfolds between the Bruins and Flyers. If the chatter and collapse gets too deep into the heads of the Bruins players thirsty for revenge, then they could lose control of the series just as it happened against the Canadiens in the first two games of their series. The Bruins need to play with the same one game a time poise and coolness that signified their last playoff series, and showed that experience has been a great teacher. If that crumbles then the Bs wont be far behind.
2) Milan Lucic scored 30 goals in the regular season, but has gone an amazing 17 games without a goal through the end of the regular season and first round of the playoffs. The seven game playoff goal-scoring drought is the worst of Lucics sterling playoff career, and needs to change for the better if the Bruins are hoping to be successful. In the good news department Lucic should fit in much better with the style of play favored by both Boston and Philadelphia, and the Bruins need their big play forward to start producing.
3) Brian Boucher had a .934 save percentage in winning all four games of Phillys first round series against the Sabres. If the journeymen goaltender can stay that hot against the Bruins then they could be in for a hard-fought series. Boston needs to have a distinct goaltending advantage given the Philly edge in forward and defensemen depth when analyzing the rosters.
4) The Bruins need to find a way to discourage Mike Richards from running around and pulling some of the borderline actions from his bag of tricks a living on the hockey edge that almost got him suspended in round one. It was Richards who made threats to Savard about concussions during last years playoffs, and then took out David Krejci in Game Three with a body block hit near the blue line. The bone-rattling collision dislocated Krejcis wrist, and Bruins players noted afterward that Richards had been playing a little free safety in the neutral zone looking for someone to jump on before knocking out the Bs center. Somebody is going to have to step up and challenge Richards during the series as so much of Phillys spirit runs through the talented center.
5) If the Bruins are forced to bring the recent divorces of Phillys players into the on-ice conversation during the series as Patrick Kaleta attempted in an ill-advised move during the Buffalo series then thats a sign Boston is worried about all of the wrong things in the series. That means a guy like Brad Marchand has to toe the line without going over the edge just as he did during the first round against Montreal while piling up series offensive chances through the full series.