The Boston Bruins ended the regular season with the fourth-most points in the entire NHL. Their 50-20-12 record was only bested by the Nashville Predators (53-18-11, 117 pts), the Winnipeg Jets (52-20-10, 114 pts), and the Tampa Bay Lightning (54-23-5, 113 pts).
Expectations for a deep playoff run are running high, both in Boston and on the national level. Only Nashville has better odds to hoist the Stanley Cup than Boston, and the B’s are slightly favored over the Lightning and the two-time defending champions the Pittsburgh Penguins to win the Eastern Conference.
Having one of the best records in the league, and some of the strongest odds to make the Stanley Cup Final should mean that anything less than playing for another two months would be a huge disappointment.
Yet I’m telling you, Bruins fans, that regardless of the outcome, the 2017-18 season has been wildly successful, and the B’s are playing with house money starting on Thursday night at the Garden.
How does that make any sense?
The Bruins were NEVER supposed to be this good, this soon. They were projected by many to be a fringe playoff team (see here and here, and cover your eyes when seeing how wrong people were about the Golden Knights). This was the year that Boston shifted from an older roster to one filled with young talent, and we all expected those rookies and second-year players to have their ups and downs throughout the season. No one had the youngsters accounting for 61 goals, or that Danton Heinen would finish fifth on the B’s in points after not having a roster spot early in the season.
The Bruins are way ahead of schedule, which will likely be forgotten if they bow out in the first round to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
But losing to their Atlantic Division and Original 6 rivals wouldn’t be that big of a shock, especially since the B’s lost three out of four to the Leafs this season (1-2-1). The Leafs and Bruins have similar rosters, stocked with young talent along with a strong veteran presence, but Toronto has a bonafide superstar in Auston Matthews, and they play a faster style of hockey than Boston does. Toronto scored the second-most goals in the Eastern Conference, and they had three 30+ goal scorers (Matthews – 34 in just 62 games, James van Riemsdyk – 36, and Nazem Kadri – 32).
Another factor that could loom large in the success of the Bruins in the postseason is their brutal schedule during the last two months of the regular season. Boston has played 34 games since the beginning of February, with five in the first eight days of April, including that disappointing 4-2 loss on Sunday night after the regular season was slated to end. The B’s had two four-game road trips and one three-game trip in the last month of the season. Boston is entering the playoffs with losses in four of their final five games, and looked completely exhausted at times, especially against Tampa on April 3rd that ended up determining the top seed in the East. The B’s do get three days off before facing the Leafs, but thanks to that ridiculous makeup date for Sunday’s contest with Florida, their opponent will have more rest entering Game 1 in Boston on Thursday night.
Boston has dealt with a ton of injuries all season long, especially at the beginning and unfortunately the end of the year, which also adds to the fatigue and sheer wear and tear on this roster as they head to the playoffs. As soon as reinforcements seem to come back into the lineup, more players get dinged up, and we all know that at this time of year there are a ton of players who are likely dealing with some serious ailments that we won’t know about until the season is over.
A rough schedule, an abundance of injuries, and the inexperience of many key members of the roster could set the B’s up for failure as the second season begins.
It wouldn’t be a big surprise if Toronto beat the Bruins. It also would be that big of a surprise if the Leafs choked a three-goal lead in Game 7 yet again. In fact, I have Toronto in 7 on my NHL bracket, so in all likelihood for that reason alone the Bruins are going to win this series.
But if by some miracle I’m actually right on a bracket, Bruins fans shouldn’t be upset for very long. Boston is set up for both the present and especially for the future, with a seemingly never-ending supply of prospects that could be hitting the NHL in the next year or so along with the studs that are currently on the roster. The young guns have all excelled under Bruce Cassidy’s system, and unlike their previous head coach, Cassidy is more than willing to thrust inexperienced skaters into prominent and high-pressure roles. There will be a lot of guys learning a lot of things in the next few weeks, and the Bruins will leave these playoffs in a better place than they are right now regardless of the outcome.
We all need to remember how we thought that this season would end up when the Bruins were 6-7-4 in mid November. Their top goaltender was about to get benched for the next four games, they had a laundry list of injuries that kept increasing by the day, there was a constant stream of players coming up from Providence, and the team as a whole seemed to be in disarray. This was not a playoff team, and definitely not a team that was one win away from having home ice advantage in the entire conference.
Boston got on a four-month run that captivated the fan base, but likely shifted expectations in a large manner. The last two weeks may have shown that the Bruins are not quite as remarkable as the previous four months demonstrated… yet.
So don’t be disappointed if Boston’s run gets derailed early. These Bruins are good. And they will be for a long time.
This is just the start. And the start happened much sooner than anyone expected.
Adam Belue (@albinomamba44)