For the first time in 3 years, the Boston Bruins will be playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Despite their usual end-of-season bed pooping, the B's actually find themselves in a fairly decent position as we approach the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Dodging a huge bullet, thanks to the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on the season's final day, the Bruins clinched the third seed in the Atlantic Division. In doing so, the B's have avoided the President's Trophy winning Washington Capitals.
Their opponent, however, is the second seed Ottawa Senators.
The Bruins competed in every game with the Sens this year, only to fall short in all 4, going 0-3-1 against the scrappers led by Guy Boucher. But as we all know, anything can happen in the NHL playoffs. Everyone is now full throttle and playing for the ultimate prize: the Stanley Cup. Throughout this season, the amount of fire in this match-up, as well as hatred, is exactly why this may be one of the best Round 1 match-ups in the postseason bracket this year.
Now let's take a look at who some of the notable players will be in the series:
Most Valuable Player
Jordan: My MVP is going to be Patrice Bergeron. If you follow me on twitter, you'll see that I have Bergeron as my favorite Bruins player, and rightfully so. The man just hops onto another level come playoff time. Even if it doesn't translate into the scorecard. Bergy has been a horse in the playoffs, and I expect more of the same from him here. I can see him wracking up a point per game, and even netting a couple of clutch goals throughout the series, as well as being a monster on the dots as well.
Pete: Brad Marchand. Following his two game suspension, expect Marchand to re-join the team and play like a bat out of hell. Because of his spearing penalty, Marchand was stuck at 39 goals, which was ultimately a career-high, but he was not able to go out there and try to hit 40. Marchand has turned into a great all-around player. He used to just be able to score, but he now sticks his nose in there on the defensive end. I think Marchand is going to play motivated and ultimately lead this team to a series victory.
Nick: Tuukka Rask. The way Ottawa plays the 1-3-1 has given the Bruins fits all season. Couple that with the fact that their best puck moving D-man Torey Krug is likely out for the series, and it looks like goals are going to be hard to come by against the Sens. So in the Bruins are going to pull off the upset, Tuukka Rask needs to be lights out. Like shades of pre-Doomsday-prepper Tim Thomas lights out. If Tuukka can limit Ottawa's scoring ability, the Bruins have a fighting chance.
Kaley: I'd have to say David Pastrnak. With an obvious career-high 34 goals this season in his third year in the bigs, Pasta had a serious breakout season. We were all waiting for him to burst and become the talented player that we all know he is, and this season, he did just that. While he was severely underutilized by Claude Julien in previous months and seasons, he has finally blossomed into what he is now. He looks like a veteran out there, whether it's with his passing ability or his powerful checking ability or anything in between. While this will be his first playoff experience, I think that this is the perfect time for him to show the world what he's capable of and help win some playoff games.
Jordan: In order to succeed in the playoffs, especially in the NHL, you need a veteran leader who can help show the young guys the ropes. And no one has played more postseason games on this Bruins roster than the 40 year old D-Man, Zdeno Chara (141). Big Zee seemed to have caught a second wind this season under interim head coach, Bruce Cassidy, and took off from the puck drop of his first game under the new HC. Now Chara may not score a ton, don't even be shocked if he doesn't score at all, but being along the rookie defenseman, Brandon Carlo, having Chara back there will prove to be huge for the confidence of Carlo.
Pete: For me, it is going to be about the little guys. The fourth line, the Kevan Millers, and Adam McQuaids of the world. The stars (Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara) are going to be expected to perform. This game is going to be won or lost in two places: between the pipes and by the depth players.
Nick: Playoff series between evenly matched teams are often decided by bottom of the roster production. And as we all know by now, the Bruins are at their best when the fourth line is firing on all cylinders. The fourth line has been clicking for the last month of the regular season, and Riley Nash is going to make an impact on this series. Nash has been on the upswing in the last month of the season. Since the beginning of March he's been a +6, after going -7 to start the season. And while Nash, and line-mate Dominic Moore may not put up a ton of points in the playoffs, but they'll be solid on both ends and score a game changing goal at some point in the series.
Kaley: This is an odd one, but I think Drew Stafford could have a big impact in this series. Ever since he arrived in Boston, Deadline Jesus has given Boston a huge lending hand on the third line in the second half of the season when the team needed it the most. Instead of having Jimmy Hayes out there dilly dallying with no clue at all, having Stafford out there get the little things done helped the Bruins' offense a lot. While he's only scored a couple of goals with the spoked B on his chest thus far, he did have one huge score with about 15-20 seconds left in the third period in a tie game not too long ago, and he's more than capable of doing something to the likes of that again on a bigger stage. While he might not score a hatty every game, he'll do some of the dirty work and simply do his job.
Jordan: This one is a no-brainer for me: Tuukka Rask. Starting in all 4 games against the Sens, Rask went 0-3-1 with a 2.49 GAA and a .902 save percentage. Now while those numbers look solid, they can be misleading. Rask wasn't sharp in a couple of those performances, in fact in the second meeting between these 2 clubs, Rask allowed 2 goals in the first 5 minutes of the game. A game in which the Bruins lost 5-3. In order for the Bruins to make it past the first round, Rask needs to allow less than 2 goals per game.
Pete: It has to be Tuukka Rask. The Senators and Bruins are basically a wash at every position except for between the pipes. Rask is significantly better than Craig Anderson. Rask may be relied upon to steal a game or two, which should be a given considering he is a top-3 paid goalie in the league.
Nick: The X-Factor - and the biggest question mark in the series - for the Bruins in this series is the play of the newly promoted young guns. Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson was added to the NHL roster at the very end of the season, Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo went down and the Bruins were forced to sign Charlie McAvoy early, and we might even see Anders Bjork sign this week too. If these guys play in the playoffs they could end up being pretty big liabilities. But they were also all incredibly talented at their previous levels. McAvoy even served as an alternate captain for Team USA in the 2017 World Juniors. If these young guys can play up to the level of the NHL playoffs like Torey Krug did 2013, the Bruins could be cooking with gas.
Kaley: Defensemen. Simply the defensemen. With both Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo unlikely to see game action early on in the series, Boston will need guys like the Millers, Chara and even youngin' Charlie McAvoy to step up. I have no doubt in my mind that Chara can quickly help McAvoy get settled in and also help the rest, as well. Tuukka Rask should be full steam ahead, and I have faith in him, but the defensemen need to be at the top of their game, too. The Senators aren't some absolutely great offensive team that can't be stopped. I think that if the D-men collectively come to play, they'll be set.
Most Valuable Player
Jordan: Kyle Turris is my Sens MVP. In 4 games vs. the Bruins this year, he had 3 goals, including 2 in the Garden matchup on March 21. Turris is a guy that can be really sneaky for this Senators team, and if the Bruins aren't mindful of him, he can erupt for a big series. Obviously he's going to have a task dealing with Patrice Bergeron, but Turris is a more than capable player for this team and definitely has the talent to leave his mark on this series.
Pete: Erik Karlsson, or at least the Senators hope it will be. Karlsson's health is a huge question mark and he may come back in his first game during Game 1 and realize he can't go, but if he can, look for him to come out with a purpose. The Senators need him contributing if they want to win this series.
Nick: Craig Anderson OWNS the Bruins. He's started and won 4 games against the B's this year and allowed only 1.47 GAA with a .946 save percentage. If the Sens win this series, it'll probably be thanks in large part to Craig Anderson standing on his head.
Kaley: Without Erik Karlsson, the Sens would be in big trouble. He experienced a lower-body injury in the final games of the season, and missed five of their seven remaining regular season games down the stretch. Ottawa is lucky that didn't do them in, to be honest. If Boston fails to neutralize Karlsson, even though he's probably not 100%, that could do Boston in. While it isn't easy to keep Boston's first line in place, Karlsson is capable of doing just that. While he isn't the scariest dude around, at 175 pounds and 5'11", he can do big things. If the Sens want to come out victorious and advance, they need Karlsson, and big time.
Jordan: Alex Burrows. Burrows was on the Canucks team that lost to the Bruins in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals. A series that was loaded with drama from the moment Burrows tried to bite off the finger of Patrice Bergeron. From that moment on, there was a target on his back. Expect Burrows to quietly be effective in this series, and for there to be a lot of edginess when he's on the ice. But in order for the Sens to win this series, he has to be an effective leader since he's got the Cup experience.
Pete: Dion Phaneuf. The 2003 9th overall pick is winding his career down with the Senators, but was once a major force for the Calgary Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs. However, he has always been pretty shaky in the playoffs, especially in 2012-2013, where he posted a -6 +/- in 7 games. For some reason, I think Phaneuf can go off here. No rhyme or reason.
Nick: Bobby Ryan, Everyone looking at this series is focusing on the injuries to Erik Karlsson and Torey Krug. But with all his injuries Bobby Ryan has kind of been a forgotten man this season. He's had an injury riddled season and still has never matched the numbers he put up in Anaheim since he came to Ottawa. But he's still a career 0.5 point per game guy in the playoffs and is a dangerous player. If he's healthy he can be a big plus for the Sens.
Kaley: I'm going with Craig Anderson. I feel that Ottawa's fully healthy defensemen corps will be at least a little bit shaky, as they have been as of late whether at full-strength or not. Their D-men, more often than not, hand over many a possession to either weaker or stronger teams. If they keep that up, Anderson will be forced to be at the top of his game, which he has the ability to do, especially against the Bruins. Anderson recorded a perfect 4-0-0 record and a .946 S% against the Bs this season, giving up just six goals in those four games. Expect Anderson to be at the top of his game.
Jordan: Erik Karlsson's health is for sure the x-factor for this team. Karlsson missed the final meeting between these two teams, and the Senators looked very different without him, particularly on the power play. Karlsson, regardless of if he's 100% or not, is still a force to be worried about when he's on the ice. The only issue is if he'll be able to suit up.
Pete: I have to agree with Jordan here. When Karlsson is healthy, he is one of the best players on the ice between these two teams. According to reports, Karlsson is recovering nicely and should be a full go come Game 1. A rested Karlsson could be a huge advantage for the Senators.
Nick: For variety's sake I'll avoid the Karlsson argument. The most important factor for the Senators in this series is their formation. The Sens rely on their 1-3-1 to keep teams stagnant in the neutral zone. The question now becomes can the 1-3-1 hold up against playoff physicality, and stay strong throughout a seven game series. When the 1-3-1 is right, the Bruins haven't been able to stand up to it, and it could give Ottawa a huge advantage in this series.
Kaley: Not only Karlsson's health, but Ottawa's entire defensemen unit's health. All Marc Methot, Cody Ceci and Karlsson missed crucial games at the end of the season. All three of those guys should be good to go, but that doesn't mean they're all at full, individual strength. If those three are still roughed up and Anderson has to do it all on his own, one mistake and the Senators are done for. Sure, it's the playoffs and an injury isn't going to stop any hockey player's adrenaline from rushing, but two-thirds of those injuries were lower-body-related; something to keep tabs on.
Jordan: Despite the 0-3-1 record this year, I like the Bruins chances in this series. They've gotten closer and closer to beating this team every matchup, and with Marchand back, the Bruins are now at full strength. Barring a setback in the return of Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug from their respective injuries, the Bruins should be able to take one in Ottawa and win this series in 6 games. So for my prediction, I've got Bruins in 6.
Pete: I am extremely pessimistic with this series. For some reason, the Senators just seam to have the Bruins' number. The Bruins won't have Brandon Carlo to start this series, or Noel Acciari. Torey Krug's status is still up in the air, and he may be the difference between winning and losing this series. Nonetheless, I think BU standout Charlie McAvoy can fill some holes, and who knows what Notre Dame's Anders Bjork can do if he signs with the team and suits up for the playoffs. I have thought about this for awhile, and I think the Senators will win in 7 games, which pains me to say.
Nick: The Bruins have given me literally no reasons to believe they can win this series. They've been dominated by this team all season long and have no signs of breaking through. There would be no logical reason to pick the Bruins over the Senators. But, hockey is illogical as hell and I'll be damned if I don't pick the Bruins. Bruce Cassidy has had the Bruins playing overall great hockey since taking over. Tuukka Rask was nails in April and it could be the start of a hot streak. Riley Nash scores an overtime goal to seal a Bruins win in Game 7.
Kaley: From a rested and extra-motivated Brad Marchand to Patrice Bergeron's faceoff ability to Tuukka Rask's sudden fire burning inside of him in the final games of the season, the Bruins have the edge here. Ottawa's regular season success against Boston is all in the past and means jack squat in mid-April. These teams know each other well, as all of their games against each recently have been close, and I expect that trend to continue. Special teams and goaltending will make or break the series for either team. The Bruins have the edge in nearly every category that you can possibly think of. I'm taking the Bruins in 6 tight games.