On Sunday night, Boston Bruins fans found themselves rooting for the Columbus Blue Jackets to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs in regulation to avoid a first round matchup against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington Capitals. The Blue Jackets rallied back from a 2-0 deficit to beat the Leafs 3-2 as Bruins fans breathed a sigh of relief that they would now see their team take on an opponent they’ve lost to seven times in the last eight contests between them. Weird how that works, right?
While playing the Senators appears to be a better matchup for the Bruins on paper, the results on the ice have been less than convincing. Ottawa owns the season series with a perfect 4-0-0 record against Boston this year. The Sens return to the playoffs with former Tampa Bay Lightning bench boss Guy Boucher in his first year as head coach of Ottawa. Boucher brought his patented neutral zone trap up north with him and frustrated opponents as he watched the Senators patiently compile 98 points on the year and finish second in the Atlantic Division.
The Bruins are also with a new coach as they return to the playoffs for the first time since 2013-14. Following the firing of former head coach and current Montreal Canadiens head coach Claude Julien, Bruce Cassidy was promoted from his assistant role and has guided Boston to 18-8-1 finish as the third seed in the Atlantic. Under Julien, the Bruins were scoring 2.56 goals per game. For Cassidy, that number has jumped up to 3.37. The added offense has not come at the expense of allowing more goals scored on the team either. With Julien at the helm, Boston was allowing 2.67 goals per game. The team under Cassidy has seen this number shrink to just under 2.30.
Both teams are banged up heading into the postseason’s first round. Ottawa’s top blueliner, Erik Karlsson, missed the last game of the regular season with a foot injury but is expected to be ready for game one, though he may not be at 100%. Karlsson’s usual defensive partner, Marc Methot, is likely to miss the first game of the series as he is still dealing with a broken finger from a Sidney Crosby slash. The Sens are also getting an emotional boost as Clarke MacArthur has returned after suffering a career-threatening concussion nearly 18-months ago. The story behind Ottawa’s success has been a strong year from goaltender Craig Anderson. The netminder has missed parts of the season to be with his wife, Nicholle, who was diagnosed with cancer. When he’s been in goal, Anderson has been solid, posting a 2.28 goals against average on the year.
For the Bruins, the injury situation appears to be more critical. Boston will likely be without its best puck-moving defenseman. Torey Krug, for the entirety of the series after he sustained a lower-body injury against these same Senators last Thursday. The Bruins will also be without another top defender as Brandon Carlo suffered a concussion against the Capitals on Saturday. While Carlo’s injury appears to be day-to-day, these two losses could have a severe impact on an already thin Bruins blue line. In response to this, the Bruins signed highly-touted defenseman and 2016 first round draft pick Charlie McAvoy out of Boston University on Monday. By playing in just one playoff game, McAvoy will burn one of three years on his entry level contract. Having McAvoy try to contain Senators’ top scorer Kyle Turris just weeks removed from playing against college competition is asking a lot.
To have success in the playoffs, the Bruins will not only need their young players to be ready for the increased intensity of playoff hockey, but also consistent performances from their core group of Tuukka Rask, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Krejci. Captain Zdeno Chara is also enjoying a bounce-back year as he enters the final hole on the back nine of his career. However, the regular seasons of playoff performers Matt Beleskey and David Backes have been underwhelming, as both players will need to step up in a big way to avoid a disappointing year. With the injury bug hitting the defense at the wrong time after the Bruins were relatively healthy all year, winning this playoff series will be a tall task for Boston.
Prediction: Ottawa in six
Game 1: April 12 – Boston Bruins at Ottawa Senators – 7 p.m.
Game 2: April 15 – Boston Bruins at Ottawa Senators – 3 p.m.
Game 3: April 17 – Ottawa Senators at Boston Bruins – 7 p.m.
Game 4*: April 19 – Ottawa Senators at Boston Bruins – 7:30 p.m.
Game 5*: April 21 – Boston Bruins at Ottawa Senators – Time TBD
Game 6*: April 23 – Ottawa Senators at Boston Bruins – Time TBD
Game 7*: April 26 – Boston Bruins at Ottawa Senators- Time TBD