The Bruins’ play as a five-man unit
It’s been the Bruins team identity now since around the middle of December and has only gotten better since then. Bruce Cassidy has coached this team into playing better as a five-man unit than any team in the league.
What does this mean? Their defensive layers are nearly flawless. On the rare occasions that they pinch at the wrong time, there is always another layer coming around behind them. I can’t remember the last time this team’s layers broke down and led to a goal. Playing at the level that they have been, the only way to score on them is off turnovers and on the power play.
Not only that, but this chemistry is visible on offense too. When they break out into the neutral zone, it’s obvious that each player knows exactly where the others are and what they will do. In the offensive zone, they have a clear goal. Sometimes it’s to hit Bergeron at the bumper. Other times they’ll look for a cross-ice one-timer. When they get it out to the point, they collectively make the same decision to either screen in front or kick the wings out for passes. All of these objectives can switch on a dime, but the most impressive thing about this team is that when they do change, everyone’s in on it.
Here Clifton gives it to Heinen and then rushes the net hoping for a pass, but Heinen is forced to dump the puck in, so Clifton retrieves. Then Johansson and Coyle are looking for a pass to Heinen in the slot, but the Hurricanes have three men down low. Johansson reads this and skates all the way up to the point, where he has space to move forward, so everyone charges the net. The pass is to Grzelcyk who gets a chance and scores an (admittedly soft) goal.
Here we have an example of the defensemen jumping into the offensive play at the right time. On this rush, you have Pastrnak with two defensemen on the rush. The whole reason this happens is because Carolina is tired and sleeps on Krug and Carlo. They read this and when Marchand makes a play along the boards, they jump in. This both generates a chance for Krug that Mrazek has to make a miracle save on, as well as leads to some offensive zone time as Pastrnak retrieves the puck on the forecheck.
These kinds of plays are things that every team does, but the Bruins do better than anybody. That kind of chemistry is difficult for any team to handle.
Bruins have the better goalie
Look, I know everyone’s creaming themselves over Binnington this postseason, but Tuukka Rask is a better goalie in this series for multiple reasons.
The numbers aren’t even close. Tuukka Rask is putting together one of the greatest postseasons ever by a goalie (again). His save percentage is .946 and his GAA is 1.63 through three rounds. Binnington is also having a terrific postseason, just not quite as good as Rask, with a save percentage of .930 and a GAA of 1.84. Rask also leads Binnington in pretty much every advanced stat. He’s also been even better in the bigger situations, allowing only 1 goal in 3 elimination games these playoffs.
Tuukka is also a playoff veteran. He is playing in his sixth playoff run and his second trip to the Final. Having so much experience doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll play better, but it does mean he’ll feel more comfortable if and when something doesn’t go his way. He has also had a Cup ripped away from him at the eleventh hour in 2013. That matters a great deal both because it burns in the back of his mind and it means he will not repeat any past mistakes.
Bruins have a massive experience edge
Torey Krug was on the 2013 Bruins team that lost in the Final. Joakim Nordstrom won the cup with the Blackhawks in 2015. John Moore lost the 2014 Final with the Rangers.
The Blues have no notable playoff experience.
Like I said above, I don’t believe that experience makes any difference in how the teams are going to play in these situations. The difference in experience makes is shown when something goes wrong. The more experienced team knows how to deal with things like having to make comebacks, bad calls or bounces, fluke goals, injuries, etc. These things all happen over the course of a series and when they do, look for the Bruins to be the better team at overcoming this adversity.
Bruins have had no problem dealing with physicality
The exact template for how to approach this Blues team should be the way the Bruins played against Columbus. The Blues have found their edge in being a heavier team with equal ability to grind out games and win with their skill. They have an a strong, aggressive forecheck and a solid defense, which is why teams have had trouble generating offense against them.
They also have the mentality of a team of destiny, much like Columbus did after sweeping the “best Hockey team ever assembled,” as some people called it (hahaha). They’re like a 20-year old boy after 5 drinks. They feel indestructible.
The Bruins matched up to the heaviness of Columbus by relying on their skill. They knew they were the better team then and they know they’re the better team in this series. All it takes is executing. Combine this with the fact that they don’t shy away from physicality and win battles as well as any team in the playoffs, and it makes perfect sense why Columbus dropped three in a row to them.
Everyone wants Boston to lose
I’ve seen this movie a million times. We have now gotten to the point where people are not only rooting against Boston but are actually begging and praying for us to lose. People are trying to make deals with the devil in hopes that we will not be able to celebrate our SEVENTH Stanley Cup and have our THIRTEENTH parade since 2000. The hockey world is desperately looking for reasons to make it seems like the Blues are more likely to win this series so they can sleep at night.
We all know how it goes with Boston. You become increasingly more worried as the season goes on and they eliminate reasons for you to think they’re going to lose. You’re certain that it’s impossible for us to be able to celebrate yet again, but the seed of doubt in your head grows and grows until just before it’s over and you have a moment of acceptance that, “Yes, they are really going to win it all again.”
This is what I live for, and the painful memories of my 12-year-old self watching the 2013 Final burn in my head. I still see those two quick goals in game 6 of the Final in my sleep. We’ve been on the climb waiting for this opportunity ever since everything fell apart in the 2014-15 season. The quick turnaround by this organization has been tremendous to watch unfold.
Ready the duck boats and clear the streets of Boston. It’s time to complete the rebuild and bring the cup back home.