After months of speculation whether or not the NHL would resume its season, it’s looking more than likely that we will see hockey once again this season. Which means we can start looking forward to the potential Bruins’ match-ups in round 1. About a month ago the Bruins round robin opponents were sized up, so let’s move ahead to the best and worst possible match-ups for Boston in the first round of the playoffs.
Obviously the Flyers, Capitals and Lightning are out of the picture as far as possible opponents for the B’s, but after them it’s pretty wide open who Boston could play, depending on their position after the round robin and the results of the qualifying round. While some match-up would definitely be more favorable, there are a few teams the Bruins probably want to avoid so early in the playoffs.
The future is starting to look much brighter for the Rangers than it’s looked in a quite a while. Besides the obvious in Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, the Rangers have a number of prospects in their lineup this year that look on their way to solid NHL careers. Adam Fox and Tony DeAngelo have looked great on defense, while forwards like Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko have shown brief moment of brilliance this season. In addition the Rangers have seemingly found Henrik Lundqvist’s replacements with emergence of Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev this season.
Despite the promising future for the Blue Shirts, a match-up against the Boston Bruins, would quickly draw an end to a much improved season. Besides the obvious experience factor, the Bruins are much better on defense, have better special teams, and arguably the best goalie in the league in Tuukka Rask. The Bruins are also 3 - 0 against the Rangers this season (outscoring them 13- 7 in the process), which included 2 wins by the Black and Gold in Madison Square Garden.
While it may surprise to see the 7th ranked Islanders as a preferred match-up for the Boston Bruins over some of the teams below them, the stats do not lie. Over the past three season the Bruins are 8 - 1 against NYI. Even more impressive is that the Bruins currently have a 10 game winning streak going against the Islanders in the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum and the Barclay Center.
The Islanders also have significant problems putting the puck in the net, while the Bruins do an excellent job scoring and keep the puck out of their own net. The Islanders scored only 189 times this season, good enough for 24th best in the league, and it will come as no surprise that they also possessed the 7th least effective powerplay in the league. While the Islanders, under the tutelage of Barry Trotz, do a great job preventing goals themselves, offence, and in particular depth, would make the Bruins the overwhelming favorites in this series.
* If you’re surprised not to see the Montreal Canadiens ahead of these two teams, as the best possible match-up for Boston, then you obviously don’t know your hockey history. The Bruins are 9 - 25 all time against the Habs in the playoffs including a 17 series winning streak from 1946-1987. The idea of having to face the Habs in round one should scare all Bruins fans *
If any team should be angry about having to play their way into the Stanley Cup playoffs, it has got to be the Pens. After finishing 5th in the East and 3rd in the Metro, the Penguins will have to fight for their lives just to make the playoffs against the Habs.
While it wasn’t the greatest season for the Penguins, injuries to key players (like some guy named Sidney Crosby) undoubtedly impacted their record. Fast-forward a few months, and the Penguins are as healthy as any team in the NHL; which would include the return of Jake Guentzel, who would have missed the playoffs if Covid-19 hadn’t cause a suspension of play.
When it really comes down to why the Pens are a nightmare first round match-up against any team, two names come to mind: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Not only is this pair two of the best ever to lace up skates, they’ve also been extremely successful over the last decade of so, bringing 3 cups back to Steel Town. The Penguins also had a great year from Tristan Jarry, a healthy Kris Letang, and made some substantial moves at the deadline to add offensive depth by bringing in Jason Zucker, Patrick Marleau and Conor Sheary.
Thank God they didn’t make the playoffs! The lowly Wings were 2 - 1 against the Bruins this year and 3-1 last season. Seriously, what is up with that???
Really? Aren’t the Bruins 3 - 0 against the Leafs in the playoffs this decade? Yes, they certainly are, which is why they are due for a series loss against the Buds. If you can recall none of the 3 series wins against the Leafs this decade came easily. In fact, it could even be argued that the Bruins were lucky to sneak by the Leafs in those 3 series, especially last season when down 3 games to 2 or in 2013 when the B’s were down 4-1 late in the 3rd period. While the Bruins arguably have had the better team in all of those match-up, its hard to say that without a little luck, or fate, or whatever you call it, that they should have won all three series.
Beyond the “ Bruins being due for a loss to the Leafs theory” there are also many other reasons the B’s don’t want to see Toronto in round 1. Firstly, the Leafs score a ton of goals (2nd most in the league) and have a pretty lethal powerplay. Along the same lines, the Leafs are not just a one line team. Shutting down the Matthews line will not be enough, as you’ll also have to shut down a line of John Tavares and Mitch Marner. Thirdly, if any team will have a chip on their shoulder, especially if they match-up against Boston this season, it will be the Leafs. The motivation not to lose to Boston in the playoffs again, has to be immense for every player on the Maple Leafs.
The last reason the Bruins, or any other team, shouldn’t want to face the Leafs, is that somehow they Leafs have gained home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, despite barely being in a playoff position when the season ended. Sure there are no fans cheering on the Leafs in the Air Canada Center, but there has been be benefits from playing in an arena, in a city, that you’re so familiar with. It’s kind of like the World Cup of Soccer, where although stadiums are packed with fans from all over the world, home teams seem to always do well in these competitions.
Given the vast amount of time-off every team has had and the unconventional, and perhaps unfair, format for this year’s playoffs, there really is no telling who the Bruins will face in round one of the playoffs. When their first round match-up is set, the same unpredictability remains constant. While for some fans this would be unsettling, but there’s also an excitement that comes with the uncertainty. Regardless of how you feel or who Boston ends up playing, we are just a few weeks from Bruins playoff hockey...buckle up everybody.