By Michael Schroth
“Get the duck boats ready! After 39 long years, the Cup is back home! The Bruins are your 2011 Stanley Cup Champions!”
That was seven years ago, but I still remember what a long, emotional roller coaster it had been for my dad and I. We watched every single playoff game together, and boy were there a lot of them.
The Bruins knocked out their age-old archrivals, the Montreal Canadiens, in overtime in Game Seven. Then, playing the Philadelphia Flyers, who had swept the Bruins in the playoffs the previous year (the remembrance still haunts me), the Bruins exorcised their demons and annihilated the Flyers in four games. Sweet justice.
Next came the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bruins defeated them in a thrilling Game Seven that ended 1-0. In the Stanley Cup Finals, the Bruins took the Vancouver Canucks (who had led the series two games to none) to a seventh game and won 4-0.
Twenty-four games. That’s almost a third of the regular season.
My dad and I—naturally—went to Boston to watch the celebration parade. I remember the duck boats cruising down the street, parading all of my heroes through the masses of screaming fans. There was a lot of confetti raining down on us, black and yellow, and I remember scooping up some and stuffing it in my pockets. Incidentally, that parade was the first time I smelled marijuana.
In 2013, the Bruins once again made it to the Stanley Cup Finals, losing a tough series to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.
Since then, the Bruins’ playoff history has been underwhelming. In 2014, they lost in the second round to the Canadiens. In the ‘15 and ‘16 seasons, they didn’t even make it to the playoffs. Last year, they lost in round one.
Big Bad Bruins
The Bruins seem to be going through growing pains.
Since I’ve been a fan, there’s one thing the Bruins have never been: a lightning quick team. Some other teams across the league transition incredibly fast to offense, racing into the attacking zone and handing off the puck to their star players (Ovechkin from the Capitals and Crosby from the Penguins come to mind). The B’s have been able to compete because of an impressive defense, but they have often struggled offensively.
The Bruins’ typical style of hockey in recent years has been slow and methodical. They have relied on their defense to make plays, transitioning through the neutral zone painfully slowly, and keeping the puck in their own zone for far too long. When they finally enter the other team’s zone, they always seem to opt for shots generated from the blue line, sixty feet from the goalie.
On occasion, this style of offense works. You can generate points by shooting from the blue line and screening the goalie. However, this usually gives the other team plenty of time to get set up in their defensive zone. Too many times, the Bruins have just spent their power plays passing—rather than shooting—the puck. That’s not how you score goals.
This team has always been “The Big Bad Bruins,” characterized by a willingness to defend teammates, drop the gloves, and physically outlast their opponents. One of my favorite ex-Bruins, Milan Lucic, embodied this type of hockey perfectly. He’s big, tough, and knows how to fight.
But Lucic is gone, and so are many other Bruins from the 2011 Stanley-Cup-winning team. Chris Gere notes that “hard-nosed players like… Shawn Thornton, Andrew Ference, and Gregory Campbell” are all gone, too (see “The Big Bad Bruins Are Gone”).
2018 Season and Beyond
Now, the Bruins’ roster is inundated with extremely young players. But with youth comes fresh talent, and, perhaps most important of all, speed.
The Bruins have looked exceptional this year at doing what those other, offensively-oriented teams do so well: entering the attacking zone quickly, passing the puck up ice instead of lingering in their own zone, and setting up one-timers close to the goal rather than shooting from the point.
Their first line forwards are exceptional. Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak each have over 30 goals on the season. The coordination between Patrice Bergeron, arguably the most well-rounded and gritty center in the whole sport, and Marchand, who has emerged as the Bruins’ premier star in clutch moments, is uncanny. Each of them seems to know where the other is at all times, making for brilliant scoring opportunities. To see what I mean, one need only watch this clip from the Bruins’ win on March 29 over one of their toughest rivals in the East this season, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
That win, by the way, put the Bruins on top of the Eastern Conference for the first time in 1,445 days.
Chris Gere says that fans and coordinating staff should “embrace the notion that a team that possesses the puck, skates well, and puts a lot of shots on net is difficult to play against.”
The B’s may be fast and young, but they still take fights. They’re still physical. One need only take a look at Adam McQuaid, Zdeno Chara, and Kevan Miller to see we’re still a team of fighters.
And it’s been quite exciting to see the newbies taking up the mantel. Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk, Matt Grzelcyk, and Noel Acciari (to name but a few) have all found their place and are just as willing to take a fight as their older, more experienced teammates.
This article by Rich Cardinale expands on that idea, claiming that “Patience is paying off.” The Bruins are finally investing in the development of young players, he explains, and the payoff is tough goalscorers who can fill out the roster.
Let’s not forget who makes up the Bruins’ extremely strong core: Chara, Krejci, Bergeron, and Marchand are all huge impact players, and all of them are from the old 2011 roster.
Some have said that the Bruins team is too young. But watching those young players’ speed combined with the older players’ experience has been exhilarating.
One area in which we’ve seen significant growth has been the power play. In the past, the Bruins power play has been something of a joke. It was more exciting to watch them play five-on-five hockey than five-on-four. In game one of the 2013 Finals, the Bruins failed to capitalize twice on power play chances in overtime, costing them the game in triple overtime.
But now, with all the fresh talent on the ice, the Bruins have improved their ability to score goals with the man advantage. Between the ‘10 and ‘18 seasons, the B’s power play percentage has risen steadily, and is currently the highest it’s been since the ‘09 season at 23.5 percent.
The penalty kill hasn’t fluctuated much; it’s currently an impressive 83.3 percent.
That is to say nothing of our goaltending. Tuukka Rask is expected to start for the playoffs, and he’s been solid this year. Tuukka’s save percentage for the season is .919. Anton Khudobin has surprised fans with how dependable of a backup he’s been.
So what can we expect for the 2018 playoffs? Well, I’m not here to make predictions. I’m not a sports analyst; I’m a fan.
Maybe it’s because I’m a fan that I’m so excited for the playoffs this year. But maybe it’s because the Bruins are a markedly different team this time around. They’re not boring to watch like they have been in recent years. They are a team of determined goal scorers. They’re fighters.
Most importantly, they’re winners.
With any luck, the Bruins’ season will last into and through May so that I can watch them win at home with my old man.