The Boston Bruins are in the playoffs again.
We know you know this, but it's still fun to say it, right?
They will face the Ottawa Senators, a team who the Bruins had severe struggles against in the regular season (the Sens swept the season series, which will give them a ton of confidence the Bruins will need to shatter sooner rather than later to have any hope of progressing).
So what do the Bruins need to do to beat the Sens? Here's 5 keys to the series.
- Bottle Up The Blue Line: The Sens have current Norris Trophy Holder and arguably best offensive defenseman in the world Erik Karlsson to lead their attack from the back, and when a player like that is given space to play, bad things (from a Bruins perspective) will happen very quickly and very often. The Sens love to shoot from the blue-line too, and will work the puck around on the PP to spread teams. This is a series in which defensive coverage of the attackers furthest away from the goal will be just as key as the forward coverage - the Bruins wings need to be consistently tight-forechecking and not give Karlsson and friends an inch of space for every second he's on the ice.
- Beat The System: A lot of Ottawa's success this season is down to the new defensive system established by coach Guy Boucher. Our counterparts over at Silver Seven Sens did an excellent and detailed explanation of how the system works and more importantly, what effect it has had on the Sens. The simple fact is, though, the Sens limit chances from the slot for the opposition very well indeed defensively, and are incredibly strong positionally offensively. The B's need to work out a way to break this system down...and the most effective way to do that is fight the way through the barricade and win each individual battle. Defensively, they need to be prepared for a team that often weaves intricate passing patterns in the offensive zone to pull teams apart, particularly on the powerplay - something easy to do when you have players like Derek Brassard and Karlsson. The Sens are a very organised team indeed, and Bruce Cassidy needs to make sure his players are prepared for a long battle in which brains are just as important as pure brawn.
- Stay In Your Lane: We mention above that the Sens are a very pass-focused team offensively. This is done with the intent of pulling the opposition all over the ice until they're out of position. The Bruins cannot allow themselves to be suckered into a puck-chase, nor can they be pulled into a situation where players are neglecting their position. Positional awareness in this series is going to be the key way in which Bruins can nullify Boucher's much vaunted System - especially when said system already gives the Sens arguably less quality chances to score offensively even when it's working, because they're waiting for the right ones rather than being trigger-happy like some other teams.
- Take Your Chances: This is likely not going to be a high-scoring series, with two of the league's best netminders facing off and a system designed to build on a solid base of defense for the Sens. The Bruins are likely not going to get 35 or 40 shots a night so when they do get them, they need to make them count. Wastage in this case could mean death.
- Road Warriors: The Sens have won their last six consecutive games against Boston, which means that the B's simply have to prepare for the eventuality of dropping at least one game on home ice on the way through this series. The best way to avoid this being too much of an issue is to win in Ottawa early and put the Sens on the back foot right away, because if the Sens get their momentum going, then it'll be harder and harder to break the losing habit against the team from Canada's capital.
The playoffs begin on Wednesday, so there's not a lot of time for the B's to work out how to best accomplish these key tasks, but accomplish them they must if their playoff run this year is not to be more of a disappointing footnote to the season than a Cup chase.
Bruce Cassidy has his work cut out.