Two years ago, we saw the Bruins battle tooth and nail until the next-to-last game of the season to make the playoffs and then push the top-seeded Montreal Canadiens to seven games in the first round. Last spring, a 10-day layoff ended all momentum the Bruins had after their first-round sweep of the Habs, and they fell into a 3-1 hole en route to a seven-game loss against Carolina.
So recent history tells us that the Bruins are at their best when they have to fight for everything. Or at least that’s what general manager Peter Chiarelli is hoping.
“It makes you more battle-tested. That’ll help,” Chiarelli said of his team’s fight for the postseason, which again took until the 81st game, during a conference call. “It’s already on our minds. You worry a little bit about using energy in that stretch, but at that point you just want to get in. So you like the efforts of the players in that stretch and I think it just makes you more mentally focused going into the playoffs.”
There’s a school of thought that says the Bruins might have given all they had just to get in. We won’t know until the puck drops Thursday night in Game 1 and the series unfolds over the following two weeks. But what we do know is that goaltending, between the league leader in goals-against average and save percentage, Boston’s Tuukka Rask, and the runner-up in those departments, Ryan Miller of the Sabres, is going to be the most important match-up.
“You’re going to see good goaltending. You’re going to see probably collapsing Ds because of the good goaltending,” Chiarelli said. “You’re going to see a lot of traffic. And when there’s traffic and collapsing Ds, there’s tip-ins and those types of goals. So I think you’re going to see some of those types of goals deciding the games, notwithstanding really good goaltending.”
As always, the Bruins’ success or failure will come down to two things. They’re ability to get to the net and create traffic in front of Miller and grind out some goals after finishing the regular season last in offense. And then there’s the forecheck, where Boston can neutralize Buffalo’s speed and make a couple of the Sabres’ shakier defensemen cough up the puck. And it’ll be up to Zdeno Chara and Boston’s defense corps to be at the top of its game in making sure Thomas Vanek & Co. don’t get clean looks at Rask.
“From the match-up perspective, I think you’re going to see some tight defense, in addition to the fact that you’ve got two very good goalies,” Chiarelli said. “They’ll be hard games. They compete hard. They’ve got a goal-scorer in Vanek who seems to have found his mark in the last little bit. … They’ve got some pretty skilled forwards up front.”