Maybe the only thing worse that could happen to the Bruins other than not advancing farther in this year’s playoffs than the last two seasons would be to fall out in the first routed against archrival Montreal.
There are no guarantees that the favored Bruins will be able to shake the Canadiens, who, of course, took four of six games from Boston in the regular season.
Here’s a look at three things that could cost the Bruins in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with the Habs and beyond if they get past Montreal:
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli confirmed today that rookie Steven Kampfer will probably be out at least two weeks with a knee injury suffered over last weekend. That moves Shane Hnidy firmly into the No. 7 hole on Boston’s defensive depth chart.
Chiarelli put it nicely when he said Hnidy was “a little rusty” in his three regular-season appearances. No knock on the amicable Hnidy, who has become a fan favorite for his Norman Bates-like stare and his beat down of Matt Niskanen a few years ago, but he really has lost a step or more. If those three games were any indication, Hnidy is about on par with that men’s league defenseman your AHL farm team calls upon when it suffers four or five injuries and has nowhere else to turn.
The Bruins know quite well how injuries can stack up on defense. The way Andrew Ference, Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid play with reckless abandon and stand in the way of shots without a second thought, one of them is due to need some time off at some point. If the Bruins have to turn to Hnidy, they could be in trouble.
Even if they limited the veteran’s minutes, the rest of the Bruins’ defensemen have proven that when asked to play more than they’re used to, their effectiveness decreases. Chiarelli’s idea that Matt Bartkowski, who the Bruins couldn’t re-assign fast enough the last time he came up and struggled, or Andrew Bodnarchuk or Colby Cohen – two guys who never earned a call-up – would be viable options is just wishful thinking.
The Bruins’ man-advantage, which finished ranked 20th in the NHL, has allegedly improved over the last couple weeks. Yet Boston converted on just one of its last 17 opportunities before the regular season ended. Now the Bruins have to face Montreal, the seventh-ranked penalty kill, and maybe top-10 penalty-kill teams Pittsburgh, Washington, Tampa Bay or the New York Rangers down the road. During the regular season, the Bruins’ power play was just 3-for-24 against the Habs.
Honestly, the Bruins’ point men are not the problem. And the recent switch of Patrice Bergeron back to the blue line should make that unit more dynamic and active. This all is going to come down to hard work and determination around the net, especially from the threesome of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton. That group is going to have to win every battle in order to score or at least generate momentum.
If Rich Peverley continues to heat up offensively, that’ll help the second unit.
•Speed up front
I’m not for a second suggesting the Bruins’ forwards can match the Canadiens’ speed. What they need to do, however, is keep their feet moving and skate with maximum effort all the time on the backcheck and the forecheck.
The best way for the Bruins to slow Montreal down is by not letting the Habs escape their own end, or at least delay their breakout and make them pay the price to make plays. And with the Bruins’ defense corps lacking in the motor department, it’ll be vital that the Bruins’ forward help out when Montreal gets off and running.
I’m thinking mostly about Lucic, Horton and Michael Ryder – three players who can be effective when asserting themselves in those areas, but who sometimes go on hiatus. We might not see as much of the fourth line and its forechecking prowess as in the regular season, so the other lines are going to have to find another intensity level.