We’ve briefly talked about this on our podcast in the past, but as we move to the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals, this topic deserves some more attention. What makes the Boston Bruins one of the best built, adaptable, and successful teams in the NHL?
First, we need to look at team composition and the players on the roster. They have all of their bases covered (wrong sport, but point stands).
We know the league is getting faster (both skating speed and pace of play), and the Bruins are able to keep up with players like Marchand, Pastrnak, and Debrusk, as well as being able to substitute Kuhlman and Kampfer against faster opponents.
Historically, Boston has been called the ‘Big Bad Bruins’ for a reason. Physicality in hockey has always been an important part and, for some, a legitimate strategy. Though the roster may not be necessarily huge in comparison to past teams (Zdeno Chara notwithstanding), the Bruins do not shy away from and actively attempt to play rough. The recent series against Columbus was a great example, as right from puck drop in Game 1, the Bruins were throwing hits, taking hits to make plays, and using their physicality to set the tone for the game.
Although they may not have been the most prolific scoring team in the league this regular season (finishing 11th in total GF with 259), the Bruins possess one of the best and most productive lines in the league (Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak). And, as we’ve seen this postseason, enough depth scoring to supplement that top line. In fact, they have the second highest GF/G in the 2019 NHL Playoffs, behind only the Vegas Golden Knights. Trade deadline acquisition Marcus Johansson has been an excellent addition as a potent offensive and powerplay threat. And additional timely contributions from players like Charlie Coyle, Joakim Nordstrom, and their defense show the offensive taltent that this roster possesses.
Defensively, this team boasts future Hall of Famers Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara, both known for their excellent defensive abilities. Bergeron is generally regarded as the best defensive forward in the league and Chara is one of the best shut-down defensemen in the NHL over the last 2 decades. The presence of these two alone is an excellent start for the core of a solid defensive team. Now add in the indescribable impact on the rest of the roster as two of the leaders and veterans can lead by example and by teaching, and the other Bruins have definitely learned. We will never know just how important Zdeno Chara has been for the development of Torey Krug, Charlie McAvoy, and Brandon Carlo as they transitioned into the NHL.
Lastly, their goaltending tandem of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak is proven, reliable, dependable, and highly talented. Tuukka Rask is always considered a top 5 goalie in the NHL over the last 5-10 seasons, and he has stepped up in a big way through these playoffs, which is one of the main reasons for the team’s success this postseason.
Quite simply, the Bruins are one of the best built teams in the NHL. Because of the diversity of skills and qualities the players possess, they can excel in every situation.
Versatility and Adaptability
Next, we need to consider how versatile and adaptable the team is. Although they do have dominant traits as a defensive-oriented, physical team, their playstyle is very flexible and dependant on the situation. The three completed rounds of the 2019 NHL Playoffs are an excellent rundown of this.
In Round 1 of these playoffs against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Bruins recognized their opponent and adjusted accordingly. They knew the Leafs were a faster team, so they planned to dress faster players to counter that. On the ice, they knew they were going up against a stronger offensive team with a defense full of question marks, so their playstyle adapted to be a counter attack team that capitalized on mistakes. This was best exemplified in Game 7, where Boston was able to intercept countless stretch pass attempts by the Leafs, shutting down their offense, and score on some of the ensuing turnovers, including a poorly timed behind the back pass by Jake Gardiner.
Moving into the second round against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Bruins had to adapt again. The Blue Jackets, in their first round upset of the Tampa Bay Lightning, showed that their game is focused on the trap, shot blocking, and physical dominance. Boston adjusted by ramping up the physicality to match what the Blue Jackets put forward. As previously mentioned, they did this right from puck drop in Game 1 due to the roster’s ability to engage physically with the opponent. Boston accomplished this, which gave them more control over the game. Since Boston’s top line is so dominant in every aspect of hockey, they outperformed Columbus’ top players and propelled the Bruins to another series win.
Yet again in Round 3 against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Bruins showed another side to their game. Carolina excelled in the first 2 rounds by controlling the pace of play, attacking and pressuring relentlessly, and having an infinite supply of energy. This is a huge change from the defensively oriented, counter attack Blue Jackets. But, because the Bruins possess speed and physicality (and an extra shoutout to the excellent performance by Tuukka Rask), this challenge was overcome. They set out on a mission to not let Carolina control the pace of play so they were never caught on their heels reacting instead of proactively shutting the threat down. And in the odd shift where Carolina did manage some control and momentum, Rask was there to save the day.
The Stanley Cup Finals are going to be an exciting, action packed event featuring the St. Louis Blues taking on these Boston Bruins. We are going to be treated to two teams who have very similar strengths and yet again we will get to witness another iteration of this Boston Bruins roster.
How will they adapt and play against the Blues? Like the Bruins, the Blues are a physical, defensive minded team. So, similar to what they did against Columbus, the Bruins will have to engage physically very early on. Because of the Bergeron – O’Reilly matchup (two of the best defensive forwards in the league), the depth scoring for either team will be crucial for creating some separation. But, the Bruins will have to utilize their speed to outpace the St. Louis defense and put pressure on rookie phenom goalie Jordan Binnington. If the Bruins can get him moving he will throw himself out of position, unable to recover quickly enough and give up some goals. Boston must capitalize on that.
Here’s to another great season of NHL hockey with Game 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals taking place on Monday, May 27!