Do the Boston Bruins have what it takes to emerge from the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
It might be early in 2018, but the NHL postseason picture is starting to become clear. Especially in the Atlantic Division, where the Buffalo Sabres, Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens, and Detroit Red Wings each have below a 20 percent chance of making the playoffs. With the Tampa Bay Lightning dominating everything in sight and the Toronto Maple Leafs residing in hockey’s Mecca, it’s understandable why fans might not realize just how good the Boston Bruins are.
According to the standings, they hold a two-point lead over the Leafs (as of Jan. 3). But the standings are flawed because points are how places are determined. And the Bruins have an undeniable disadvantage – they’ve played three fewer games than the Maple Leafs.
Points suggest Boston is the ninth-best team in the NHL, which isn’t too shabby. However, they also own the fourth-highest point percentage, which calculates how many points a team has gotten out of how many were possible (two times however many games they’ve played).
The Bruins have amazing underlying results as well. They have the second-best team CorsiFor percentage at even strength (53.1 percent). Also, the Bruins have the second-highest even strength goals for percentage and the fourth-highest expected goals percentage. So now only is Boston getting results, their process is very strong.
How Are They Doing It?
This should come as no surprise, but the Bruins have an incredible top forward line. When Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak are together, they form one of the NHL’s most efficient top forward lines. Even though the Bruins have occasionally elected to spread the wealth by putting Pastrnak on a separate line, Bergeron and Marchand are arguably the two best linemates in the league.
What makes them a Stanley Cup dark horse is they’re finally getting their other forward lines to produce. Thanks to an infusion of youth, led by Jake DeBrusk and underrated Calder Trophy candidate Danton Heinen. If the Bruins can get healthy and stay healthy, few teams are going to be able to compete with their forward depth in the postseason.
Ultimately, the Boston Bruins’ Stanley Cup hopes rely on their defense and goaltending. The former should be fine. Zdeno Chara isn’t as good as he once was, but he’s still surprisingly good despite the NHL’s emphasis on speed. 20-year-old defenseman Charlie McAvoy seems to be his heir apparent, being trusted with tough competition and a ton of minutes. And like Chara, he’s flourishing
Torey Krug is an interesting offensive weapon whose defense is less than ideal, but the Bruins definitely need his upside in the lineup. Brandon Carlo saw time with Chara last season, but isn’t doing well with Krug in a second pairing role.
Kevan Miller has his issues as well, but he’s a perfectly capable fourth or fifth defenseman. The Bruins should probably trade for an ideal partner for Krug, pushing Carlo to a more appropriate third pairing role.
Goaltending is voodoo. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either really smart or outright lying. That said, the Bruins have a nice situation in net. Tuukka Rask seems to be getting hot after a cold start. And even if he falters, Anton Khudobin has been excellent, with a .923 save percentage in 14 appearances.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs tend to be a roll of the dice. Lucky teams win. Unlucky ones don’t. The Bruins have what it takes to be a serious Stanley Cup contender. The rest is up to the hockey gods.