With the world slowly returning to normal and the possibility that the NHL will be able to complete the season, it’s time to look at the teams that are favored to win the Stanley Cup. From now until either the season is cancelled or the playoffs begin, I’ll highlight one team per week and make the case for them to win the Stanley Cup. This week: The Boston Bruins.
If the NHL goes straight to the playoffs, the Boston Bruins will win the Presidents’ Trophy for finishing first overall and when you consider that they’re six points ahead of the second-place St. Louis Blues and were 0-7 in shootouts this season, there was really no doubt which team was the best through the first 85 percent of the regular season.
But as we’ve seen time and again, finishing first overall hardly guarantees playoff success. Historically, teams finishing first have about a 25 percent chance of winning the Stanley Cup, which gives them better odds than any other placing, but puts them in small margin compared to the rest of the field. And the Bruins know this as well as anyone. They’ve finished atop the NHL standings 13 times in their franchise history and have won gone on to win the Stanley Cup only three of those times, the 1971-72 season being the most recent.
So what does that mean for this year’s version of the Bruins? Not a lot, particularly since the playing field will be even more level when the playoffs begin because conceivably everyone will be rested and healthy (and probably a little rusty). Given their makeup, where they are in their development cycle and the template they’ve established over the past two seasons, there is no reason to think the Bruins do not have another deep playoff run in them. Yes, they went to the final last season and lost in an excruciating seven games, but likely a four-month hiatus before the playoffs begin will mitigate all the hockey they played before the league shut down in March.
“We want to be great all year long,” Bruins defenseman Torey Krug said before the season. And it has been mission accomplished, so far. The Bruins established themselves as the best team in the league early, losing only one of their first 14 games in regulation time, and posted four winning streaks of five games or more. They have depth of talent at every position, the co-winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy in David Pastrnak (who is one-third of the undisputed best line in hockey) and a defense and goaltending corps that made them the best defensive team in the NHL and gave them the league’s best goals differential. When you subtract the seven goals the Bruins were charged with in losing shootouts, they gave up just 167 goals in 70 games this season. The one thing that might have done them in was fatigue and that won’t be a factor in 2020.
But that doesn’t mean the sting of blowing a 2-1 lead in the final and losing Game 7 on home ice has worn off because it hasn’t. “It will probably always be there,” Krug said. “It’s how you manage it individually. Do you use it as motivation? Do you fall into a little lull emotionally that doesn’t allow you to move forward? These are all questions that are probably asked on an individual basis. As a team, you just have to find a way to regroup and move on.”
The Bruins have done exactly that and all the pieces are in place. Prior to the NHL pausing, they had the second-best power play in the NHL and the third-best penalty kill. Depth at all positions is their most prominent calling card, with their depth at forward enhanced by the acquisitions of Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase from the Anaheim Ducks at the deadline.
Unlike a normal season, the Bruins would almost certainly be on a collision course with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the second-best team in the Eastern Conference, in the second round. But under the proposed format for this year’s playoffs, the two would likely meet in the conference final if both teams took care of business in the first two rounds. That would be a fun series to watch.
The Bruins were one putrid effort in Game 7 away from winning the Stanley Cup in 2019. It would surprise no one if they put themselves in the same position in 2020 and managed to finish the job this time.