I’ve been asked by numerous people the last couple days how I think the Boston Bruins’ current hiatus from game action — which by the time they start their second-round series will probably be no less than eight days — will affect the club’s attempt to advance to the Eastern Conference finals.
Well, at the risk of coming off like a homer, I don’t see any way a break this long is going to hurt this club. Sure, once they hit the ice for Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series later this week the Bruins will be a little rusty. That first period, no matter who’s protecting the other end of the rink, is sure to be a play-it-safe sort of affair. Picture the opening period of both the third and fourth game on the road against Montreal and factor in the Bruins’ inactivity and it might look for a half period or so as though the Bruins are one of those senior citizens that insists on driving 45 in the left lane of Route 128.
However, there are two things — beyond the fact that the time off has allowed the Bruins’ bumps, cuts and bruises to heal — that work in the Bruins’ favor as they inch closer to the end of practicing in playoff purgatory. First is that their next opponent will either be coming off a similarly long break or an exhausting seven-game series. If the Bruins welcome New York or Carolina to TD Banknorth Garden for a series-opener, the Rangers and Hurricanes might still be riding their high from triumphing in a do-or-die game on the road. But usually that high wears off after about a period, and the subsequent low usually makes a team look like it hasn’t had its morning coffee for a few days.
In the case of Pittsburgh, the Pens wrapped up their series Saturday afternoon. So they’ll have been off for almost a week when/if they arrive in the Hub. When you’re talking about layoffs, once you get past three or four days, they’re all the same no matter how many days they actually total.
Second, I’ve learned over the last six months that there are things that beat this Bruins team and things that can’t take it down. An off night by one of their goaltenders can take the Bruins down. If their power play goes on vacation or the defense gets panicky and stops playing the system, that will spell doom. But things that don’t take place during the 60 minutes of play don’t derail this club. Injuries and suspensions are mere nuisances, even when they remove a player the caliber of Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic or Andrew Ference, from the lineup. What’s that, a trash-talking tough guy on the other team is calling the Bruins players scared? No big deal, the Bruins will just make him pay on the ice. All-Star ballot snubs, late-night air arrivals … nothing that isn’t actual hockey keeps the Bruins from accomplishing their goals.
Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the Bruins went through the same type of scheduling oddity in late March. Remember, they beat New Jersey and then took five days off and then won five more games in a row. No, the game-less days are not going to be the Bruins’ undoing. Only an unfavorable match-up could do that. Right now, I’d say in terms of depth and hot play, the Penguins would be the one of the three possible foes the Bruins would want to avoid. But I’ll have more on that once we actually know who’s next on the docket.
For now, just rest assured that too much rest won’t ruin the Bruins’ run.