The Runner Sports

Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview: Boston Bruins vs Ottawa Senators

After a two-year hiatus following nearly identical collapses, the Boston Bruins return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs following a resurgence behind the coaching change to Bruce Cassidy. They’ll meet fellow Atlantic Division foe Ottawa Senators in the first round.

The Senators have all but owned the play on ice over the previous two seasons. Ottawa swept the season series 4-0, and have won an overall seven of the last eight meetings.

Ottawa also makes a return to the playoffs after a two-year layoff.

Offense

For the second straight season the Bruins found themselves in the top five of shots taken per game, but unlike a year ago, the goal scoring actually took a slight step back. The Bs pour on an average of 33.2 shots per game, trailing only the Penguins. They converted on 232 goals or 2.83 GF/GP which sits them about middle of the league at 13 of 30.

Under Bruce Cassidy, the Bruins saw an offensive outpouring, however, averaging 3.37 goals per game in the 27 contests since he took over. The offense looked for freeing as the forwards had more freedom to operate in the offensive zone and the puck flowed more candidly than it had under the waning days beneath Claude Julien.

We may have finally seen the final form of Brad Marchand, who missed the 40-goal mark perhaps in part to the two-game suspension he received to close the season, ending with a season-high 39 on the year (4th in the league) and 85 points, which paced the team. If Marchand continues to find the balance between agitator and effective goal scorer, the Bruins will certainly be in a better place. Regressing to his former behavior where on-ice antics detract from his play, and they’ll quickly flounder.

The Bruins also feature three other 20-goal scorers in David Pastrnak, David Krejci, and Patrice Bergeron; another five players eclipsing the 10-goal mark.

Guy Boucher is never one to be hailed as an offensive savant, but his Senators have gotten the job done when needed. Like the Bruins, they feature 10 players who broke the 10-goal mark. Unlike the Bruins, Ottawa had just three skaters break 20, and none scoring more than Kyle Turris’ 27.

The Senators’ success isn’t predicated on goal-scoring, but they’ll have to manage something and plenty of the offense flows through the stick of the always elusive Erik Karlsson who had 54 assists on the season. Karlsson missed the final three games of the season with a banged up heel, but is expected to be available for the series.

They’ll also have Bobby Ryan, who returned following a three-game absence in the season finale.

 

Defense

Boucher’s teams are most notable for the employment of the 1-3-1 neutral zone trap. The Senators have perfected this and learned to drag the game down to a pace that’s flat out disruptive to many offenses. Breaking it isn’t easy either, especially if given any lead to work with. Much of the 1-3-1 is predicated on scoring first, and as a result, the Senators are 29-6-3 when scoring first this season. It allows the defense to truly sit back and ask the offense to come challenge them. They’ve strangled the Bruins with the tactic this season, allowing just six goals in the four games played, five of which came on the power play.

The Bruins’ aging defense has shown some cracks and weakness over the season, but have largely done what was needed to provide solid enough work in front of a great netminder. They’ll be banged up heading into this series as both Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo are expected to miss the opener at the very least. The Bruins signed Charlie McAvoy to an entry-level contract Monday, burning a year of team control, but left with little depth options. McAvoy was paired with Zdeno Chara in the final skate before the series begins Wednesday. McAvoy joined the Providence Bruins following his BU’s NCAA Tournament exit on March 29 and played four games.

 

Goaltending

Tuukka Rask has rightfully earned regard as one of the league’s top netminders, and despite a softened defense in front of him, remains just that. He’s dealt with some on and off short-term injuries this season but looks poised and ready for this series.

Behind him, Anton Khudobin has really come into his own when called upon posting a record of 7-6-1 in 14 games started with a .904 save percentage and 2.64 GAA.

Ottawa’s foundation has been in good hands this season behind the net pairing of Craig Anderson (.926 save%, 2.28 GAA) and Mike Condon (.914 save%, 2.50 GAA). Anderson in particular excelled this season against the Bruins, posting a .946 save percentage.

 

Special Teams

Possession and providing breakout opportunities against the 1-3-1 are crucial, and there isn’t a better team in the faceoff dot than Boston partaking in these playoffs. The Bruins won 53.2% of faceoffs this season, and they’re anchored by Patrice Bergeron, who took home an astounding 60.1% of faceoffs. Earlier in the month, Bergeron had won 25 straight faceoffs at one point.


In traditional special teams talk, the Bruins have vastly improved their flaccid power play over the last two seasons. Converting on 21.7% of man advantages, Boston ranked 7th in the league. The penalty kill has returned to the vaunted status of years yore as well, boasting an 85.7% kill rate.

Taking advantage of the power play is a big part of the toppling the 1-3-1 as well, as attested to the fact that Boston scored 5 of their 6 goals against Ottawa via the power play this season. They’ll have to convert with some semblance of regularity to provide the extra edge the offense might need. Challenge the Senators to beat you via their scoring and you put yourself in a good position.

Ottawa, meanwhile, has struggled with the power play this season, converting just 17%. Their stout defense struggles when faced with deviating from the 1-3-1 confines, and as a result, the Senators gave up 50 power-play goals and killed off just 79.7% of the time.

 

Bruins win if…

There are a couple big factors for the Bruins in this, but none perhaps more than simply scoring first and begging the Senators to topple them without the safety of the 1-3-1. We can talk all day about how to break it, or how not to…

The fact remains you can take it away from them at any given point regardless of how hard actually accomplishing such is. It requires crisp passing to weave through the crowded neutral zone and pushing the button on breakouts when given the chances. Varying dumps (a typical strategy that pained me under Julien) and just blitzing the front of the net on offensive carries to keep the Senators constantly guessing. Carry a lead into the third and the Bruins haven’t lost a game this season, the lone team in the league to hold such an honor.

Senators win if…

Ottawa’s simple measure in each game is to get that first goal and cinch down the 1-3-1 noose, allowing created turnovers in the neutral zone to fuel the remainder of the offensive scoring chances from there. The Bruins have lacked a crisp passing game at times in big games this season, and while a few of these players are hardened Stanley Cup Playoff vets, singling out the less experienced across the neutral zone is where they’ll look to make their living.

 

Predictions

It’s never a good feeling to enter a playoff series having been unable to beat your foe for the better part of two seasons. It was the Senators who put the final nail in the Bruins’ coffin last season, and just nearly did so again this time around, with a renewed chance to do so here. The 1-3-1 has stifled what has developed into a pretty talented offensive grouping for the Bruins, and even Cassidy’s liberating offense hasn’t resulted in sparked scoring outputs.

Senators in 6
Tyler Arnold

Tyler Arnold

I am the founder and editor-in-chief of The Runner Sports. I've been an avid sports fan since I was a child and have turned that love into a profession. I will watch, comment, and break down anything I can get my hands on, from football to white water rafting in the Olympics. Your visit means a lot to me, so thank you for your readership.
Tyler Arnold