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Stanley Cup Finals…

…so here we are…finally.  Almost anyway.

It’s been a long wait for Boston Bruin fans.  Not in terms of years, since it has only been 6 years since they last appeared in the Finals.  As opposed to the 49 year gap the St. Louis Blues and their fans have endured.

We, of course, are talking in terms of days.  11, to be exact, since the Bruins’ last game against the Carolina Hurricanes.

That’s a long time to be idle.  Sure, it may have helped some guys who were banged up a little bit.  Well, as long as that scrimmage the Bruins had last Thursday didn’t produce any more injuries.  Rumor has it Brad Marchand got dinged up in that one.  But it didn’t appear to be serious…hopefully anyway.

In any event, I find it hard to believe it will help someone like goaltender Tuukka Rask.  As we all know, Rask has been playing unconscious.  Out of his F’ng MIND, actually.  Like…something we have never seen before.  Despite the fact he makes 7 mil a year and should be doing this all the time.  But I digress…

I would think it would be hard for a goalie to stay sharp with that much time off.  Tuuks usually plays better when he gets some rest during the long regular season.  But not after a week and a half off.  Well, I can’t imagine he does anyway.

AND THAT IS WHAT SCARES THE F’NG BEJESUS OUT OF ME!!!

My opinion?  Glad you asked!!!!

The St. Louis Blues are a nice story.  Like last place early January.  Fired their coach.  Brought up a new goalie, never before having played in the NHL.  Nice run along the way.  Blah, blah, blah.

And although the Boston Bruins avoided some heavyweights in the Eastern Conference, especially the Tampa Bay Lightning and their best record in the NHL and kind of…ever…, and the defending champion Washington Capitals, they were a pretty good team start to finish.

And, with my usual disclaimer of having not watched copious amounts of Blues hockey throughout the year, the Bruins do seem to be the better team.

Why?  I don’t know.  Just seems like the Blues are another “Carolina Hurricane” type story.  Underdog going on a nice run, then meeting their match in the Championship Round.

At least I hope it turns out that way anyway.

To me, it all comes down to the goalies.  We have already talked about Tuuks.  Can he keep up his level of play?  I really don’t have the answer to that.  If you told me there would be a 4 day gap instead of an 11 day one, I would have bought it.  I would have felt that in a short gap between series, he would easily have kept his mojo.  But now I am not so sure.

But I am also not so sure on the flip side.  Jordan Binnington played AWESOME in the regular season since the Blues called him up, right around the same time as the teams’ turnaround in early January.  But he hasn’t been quite as airtight in the playoffs.  I suppose that is possible, seeing as he has played several years in the minors, including part of the previous season for the Bruins’ farm team in Providence, on loan from the Blues organization.  But who knows which guy shows up in the Finals?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we can say that about Tuuks too, I know.

So since I have no real riveting analysis to actually add here, I suppose I will cut to the chase…PREDICTION TIME!!

I guessed at the first series for the B’s.  I said Bruins in seven.  Right.  Of course, I was unsure, but let the record speak for itself, however bogus it may sound!  I never put predictions on paper for the next two series.  I would have gone B’s over Columbus in seven and over the Canes in 5.  But I have no proof, so call me a liar, whatever.

This one?  Bruins in six.  I know the recent record is something like the last 3-4 teams with the longer layoff have lost…and it’s like 13 of the last 16 or something like that.  Not good.  And the time off I think invariably hurts Tuukka at least a little…meaning a softie or two along the way…his SPECIALTY!!

But I just feel like the Bruins veterans will not let them ruin this golden opportunity to put one more notch on the belt for guys like Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron.  Even Rask.  And the whole Cinderella thing with the Blues.  And how will the rookie Binnington fare with the pressure?

Once again, just a feeling and a hunch.  With all due respect to a former college roommate, who gifted me a sweet Blues lid back in the day, that we wore the sh$t out of until the thing crumbled.  Thanks Maaaaaan-yeeeeeezzz!!

But your day is not today….

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Trouble “Bruin”?

Haha…I crack myself up with these stupid titles every time…

Anyway, the Boston Bruins open their pursuit of Lord Stanley’s Cup this evening.  So what are their chances?

You got me?

Why?

One word:  TUUUUUUUUUUUKKSSSS!!!

You got it.  You know I hate the guy.  But you also know what?  It’s a fact.

Once again, Tuukka Rask crapped his pants down the stretch.  Ok, we will blame the defense some as well.  Too much Steven Kampfer and Connor Clifton are well…too much Steven Kampfer and Connor Clifton.

But Tuuks’ performance was weak nonetheless.  Seemed par for the course compared to late season performances in past years.

And this year he played barely half the schedule.

So what can we expect from Rask in the playoffs?  I know what I expect.  But that may be kind of harsh.

Looking back at his playoff record, he is actually better than I remember.  Well, his actual record isn’t that impressive (35-30).  But his goals against average of 2.25 and save percentage of .924 are solid.

Listen.  My main problem with Rask is that he STEALS relatively few games for the home team.  A 7 million dollar a year goalie needs to steal games and be great.  Not just to make the saves he is supposed to and just be there.  And he doesn’t always make the saves he is supposed to.  How many softies has he given up over the years?  How many times have you heard head coach Bruce Cassidy say postgame “we needed a save there” or “we could have used a save there”?

A lot.

Tim Thomas is a legend in this town because of all the games he stole…and winning the Stanley Cup of course too.  But he stood on his head so many times every year, especially during that Cup run.  You just can’t say that about Rask.

Prove me wrong Tuuks.  For once.  Please.  Though ESPN picked Rask as the worst starting goalie in the playoffs.  So if you can prove them wrong as well Tuuks, it would be much appreciated by many.

So where do I stand on the first round playoff matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs, all things considered?  Welp, I am a homer, so that’s not going to hurt the local squad.

The Bruins were 3-1 against the Leafs this year.  But the regular season means diddly squat now.  Ask the Tampa Bay Lightning.  They had the best regular season record…by far.  Then lost Game 1 last night.  Yeah, I know, it’s a long series and anything can happen.  And they will probably end up winning it.  But let’s remember that the Presidents’ Trophy winner doesn’t always fare well in the hunt for the Cup.  We will deal with that more in the second round if both the Bruins and Lightning advance to square off there.

We also don’t love how some “experts” are picking the Bs to win it all.  I know, they shared the second best record in the league this season.  But still…doesn’t feel right for whatever reason.

The defense worries me for one.  It looks like Kevan Miller is out (again).  And not that John Moore is anything special, he does play a little defense.  But he apparently is still out.  And that means a spot for Clifton or Kampfer…though from all indications it will be Clifton.  We’ve already covered him.

Throw in Torey Krug, who simply cannot play any defense.  Sorry.  And, with all due respect, a 41-year-old Zdeno Chara looking like he is skating in quicksand half the time.  And what have you got?

Huge question mark, that’s what.

As we have said in similar situations in the past, we are not going to tell you we watched a ton of Maple Leaf hockey this season.  But they have plenty of offensive skill, I can tell you that much.

The Bruin offense?  Not too worried about them.  Mostly healthy up front, other than Sean Kuraly.  But since he’s a bottom six guy we won’t fret too much about his absence.

I do love the noise I’m hearing about David Backes possibly being the odd man out tonight.  Give Backes credit for the way he has handled his role, or really, lack of role, this year.  But now is not the time to appease aging veterans.  If it was, Lee Stempniak would be in the lineup.

Good idea to keep the Patrice Bergeron/Brad Marchand/David Pastrnak line together.  And as a 4th group, Noel Acciari/Joakim Nordstrom/Chris Wagner is good enough.

But I love that they are giving Karson Kuhlman that shot on the David Krejci/Jake DeBrusk line.  Or they appear to be anyway.  5 points in 11 games is certainly not Hall of Fame material.  And we saw what happened last year when Ryan Donato came in late season, flashed, then completely disappeared in the playoffs.

But I want to see what the kid can bring.  If it doesn’t work, move on to someone else.

I am also intrigued by the Marcus Johannson/Charlie Coyle/Danton Heinen line.  Not sure how much they have exactly played together.  But I know Johannson and Coyle played together a bit when Marcus came back from his injury.  Seemed to be ok.  Let’s keep looking at that combo too.

I feel like the offense will be ok.  In fact, it may well be a series that features a handful of 6-5 games.

Why?

The way I feel about Rask HAS to be the same way Leaf fans feel about their netminder, Frederik Andersen.  I guess he’s ok, but ok isn’t what anyone wants in the playoffs.

Andersen’s goals against average was 2.77 this season.  Seems a little high in today’s NHL.  Not to mention that his career performance in the playoffs isn’t anything to write home about.  Including a ghastly 3.76 GAA in last years’ playoffs.

Ssssssoooo… that gives me a little comfort.

Prediction?  I don’t know, Boston in seven?  Sounds about right.  Though it could be Toronto in five for all we know.

That’s the beauty of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Exciting for one, but sometimes completely unpredictable for another.

And as we all know a hot goalie can take a team pretty far.  Maybe that can be Tuuks for once?  Though I’m not sure that is something we should be counting on…

Indifference…

…is my impression of the Boston Bruins’ moves at the trade deadline.

Sorry, that’s the best I can come up with.

What, you guys are fired up about Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson?  Doubtful.

Look, getting veteran players and putting them in places where the rotating group of kids not named Jake DeBrusk or Danton Heinen weren’t getting it done is probably not too bad of a thing.  Maybe they can be a lot more helpful.  They can’t be worse.  I think we can say that much.

Popular opinion was that the Bruins needed a third line center and a second line winger.  Again, the Sean Kuraly/Noel Acciari/Chris Wagner line is now really the teams’ third line, but we will go with them as still the fourth line since everyone else is.

Technically, Coyle and Johansson can fill those slots.  Fine enough.  Could they have aimed higher?  Surely.

But I will say that General Manager Don Sweeney did a pretty good job of not giving up roster players in his attempt to improve the team as well.  The only player given up was Ryan Donato, who had played 34 pretty uneventful games for the big club earlier this year but was down at Providence at the time of the deal for Coyle.  A fifth round pick was tossed in for Coyle, as well as a second and a fourth for Johansson.

People rail on Sweeney for giving up picks and generally tossing them around like the what the patrons at Orchids of Asia toss around down in Jupiter, FLA.  We even mentioned it in the last Bruins piece here, where we talked about the trade for Coyle.

But come to think of it, how many draft picks has Sweeney used in recent years, acquiring all these kids that were supposed to blossom?  And are STILL supposed to blossom?  They are all still here, other than Donato.  Well, in Providence anyway.  So why does he need a fourth and a fifth?  And then the second can be chalked up to the cost of doing business.

He really doesn’t.  Especially if very few of those previous picks ever pan out.  We don’t want Donnie Hockey blowing any more of them in that case.  But that is a story for a different day.

So give Sweens props for not giving up much.  Though Donato has 4 points in 3 games with the Wild.  That will bear watching.  As previously noted here, Ryan was the kid we probably least likely wanted to trade.  Because he showed something last year.  Could be an impressive offensive player, especially in today’s NHL.  Then again, if he doesn’t put on weight, he may not last in any kind of NHL.  Seems like he got pushed around a little bit, especially in the playoffs last season, where everyone’s flaws are usually exposed.

But let’s not bad mouth Donato here, because yes, we would still have liked to hold onto him to see how he developed over time.

So should Sweeney have swung for the fences here?  Depends on who you ask.  And depends on who was available.  The Bruins have plenty to offer in the form of young talent.  But undeveloped talent that may never make it.  And who wants that?  Perhaps no one really did want some of that supposed “young talent”?  Boy, that would be a telltale sign.

If they were truly going after REAL difference makers, then are you talking about giving up roster players such as DeBrusk and Charlie McAvoy.  No thank you.  And who else is on the actual roster are you giving up in a trade?  No one that will actually bring anything back.  Torey Krug?  Very useful piece, but probably not getting a ton in return.  Despite what people may want to tell us.  Offer up Kuraly and Wagner (and Backes!!) all you want, but they ain’t bringing studs back either.

Also consider the fact that, despite the Bruins having the 3rd best record in the league, they are light years behind the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Sure, in the playoffs, anything can happen.  But, barring injury or something else catastrophic, this may be Tampa’s year since they are so far ahead of everyone.

Plus…what are the odds that Tuukka Rask gets hot like a goalie can and steal you a Cup?  You know what I think…

So give Donnie Hockey some credit there too.  Why empty the cupboard when your available talent to give up is either too far along to trade, not ready at all or may never be ready.  And when you may not have a chance based on a juggernaut existing in the league.  Especially when you are probably relying on a goalie that has no stones anyway.

Let’s not even revisit what we spoke about last time as well…David Pastrnak’s injury.  How long will it take to come back and what he will look like when (if?) he does.  Does the team know something we don’t?

In any event, all we can do now is see how it plays out.  I mean, the team is 10-0-4 in its last 14 games.  Seems pretty good.

Let’s see where Pasta ends up when he comes back too.  There could be some mixing and matching.  Does he go back to his normal spot with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron?  Does he pick up where he left off on the David Krejci/DeBrusk line?

I’ll tell you one thing:  If Coyle plays on the line like he did last night, with David Backes and Joakim Nordstrom, then it won’t matter how good Coyle is.  That third line is still going to stink.  And Danton Heinen may be better off playing with Marchy and Bergy, because you may then get something out of him.  Backes/Coyle/Heinen could stink too.  And Heinen didn’t exactly work out well with Krejci and DeBrusk either early in the season.

Sssssoooo…time will tell…just like with anything else.  But I raised the question last time, to ask me Monday night (or I suppose anytime right after the deadline) if I thought the Bruins were true contenders or not.

The answer?  I still don’t know.  They are better than before the deadline.  But they need Pastrnak to come back full strength.  And of course, no other injuries.  Major ones anyway.

But to get off the fence, I would normally say that, yes, they are true contenders.  I feel like this team can make a run.  But then I remember that Rask is in net.  And I have zero faith in him come playoff time.  Unless Tuuks really craps himself down the stretch, he will be the guy in April.  And that scares the bejesus out of me.

I am hoping that if Tuuks is bad at any time in the playoffs, Coach Bruce Cassidy will have no hesitation in going to Jaroslav Halak.  Cassidy seems to be the type of guy that will have no problem pulling the trigger.  But that remains to be seen when push comes to shove.

Then again, if a team is juggling goaltenders in the playoffs, that cannot bode well…

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