NHL.com is looking ahead to the Stanley Cup Qualifiers by examining five of the biggest questions facing each of the 24 remaining teams. Today, we look at the Boston Bruins.
The Boston Bruins were 44-14-12 (.714 points percentage) and will enter the Stanley Cup Qualifiers as one of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference. They will play a round-robin against the Tampa Bay Lightning (43-21-6, .657), Washington Capitals (41-20-8, .652) and Philadelphia Flyers (41-21-7, .645) to determine seeding in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The start date and hub city have not been determined.
Here are 5 key questions facing the Bruins:
1. Can they regain the momentum they carried into the pause?
The Bruins were 16-4-0 in their final 20 games before the NHL paused its season March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. They were rounding into form just ahead of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, holding the best points percentage in the NHL, and they will need to demonstrate that they can pick up where they left off, a team with a head of steam and the talent to take care of the “unfinished business” that coach Bruce Cassidy and multiple players have referenced since losing the Stanley Cup Final to the St. Louis Blues in seven games last season.
2. Is age just a number?
Brad Marchand created a stir when he said in April that the Bruins might be at a disadvantage when the season resumes given the amount of veterans on their roster. As the forward put it, “Older teams are really going to struggle.” The Bruins are led by defenseman Zdeno Chara, who at 43 is the oldest player in the NHL. Goalie Tuukka Rask is 33, and his backup, Jaroslav Halak, is 35. Center Patrice Bergeron turns 35 on July 24. Marchand, 32, and center David Krejci, 34, also are over 30. Boston will have to show that its veterans can match up with the young, fast legs of teams like the Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs in order to advance far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs — and prove Marchand wrong.
Video: BOS@OTT: Chara scores in 3rd period
3. Can Tuukka Rask duplicate his success from the 2019 playoffs?
Rask was a key factor in the Bruins getting to within one victory of winning the Cup last season. In 24 playoff games, Rask went 15-9 with a 2.02 goals-against average, a .934 save percentage and two shutouts. This season, he was in contention for the Vezina Trophy as the top goalie in the NHL, leading the League with a 2.12 GAA and ranking second with a .929 save percentage behind Anton Khudobin of the Dallas Stars (.930; minimum 30 games). However, Rask typically is a slow starter, and that can’t be the case when the Bruins begin the round-robin and playoffs. He needs to be at his best, fast.
4. Can Jake DeBrusk find his consistency?
DeBrusk was a force in 2018-19, scoring 42 points (27 goals, 15 assists) in 68 regular-season games and 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 24 playoff games. This season, though, the forward’s production dipped to 35 points (19 goals, 16 assists) in 65 games. More concerning, he lacked consistency and was benched several times. In April, DeBrusk said that the time away from the game had allowed him to “take a step back and understand what kind of player I want to be in this league.” The Bruins have been at their best when they’re not relying solely on their top line for offense, and a revitalized DeBrusk would go a long way toward helping them achieve their Cup aspirations.
Video: BOS@WPG: DeBrusk scores PPG in 3rd period
5. Where do Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie fit?
The Bruins acquired the forwards in separate trades from the Anaheim Ducks ahead of the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline. And although Cassidy attempted to integrate them before the pause, he had not landed on a permanent spot for either. Kase had one assist in six games with Boston, and Ritchie scored two points (one goal, one assist) in seven games. Kase could be a fit to play right wing on the second line with Krejci, and Ritchie could play on the third line with center Charlie Coyle. Cassidy must figure out quickly where they fit best when the Bruins begin play in the round-robin.
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