In the rematch of all rematches, this one needs no introduction.
The Boston Bruins, whether they say it or not, will most definitely be looking for a little bit of payback from last season. The Eastern Conference Semifinals, Part II, against the Philadlphia Flyers begins this Saturday inside the Wells Fargo Center, and you better believe that this will be the series of the year.
Although having made the post season in their last four consecutive season, the B's have yet to see the Conference Finals since the 1991-92 NHL season, or the Stanley Cup Finals since 1990.
Here are five keys to snap that drought.
This one goes without saying but needs to be addressed right away.
It should come as no surprise -- up until the B’s Game 7 win last night -- that no NHL team has ever won a round in the playoffs without scoring a power play goal. Boston went 0-for-21 with the man-advantage in their Round 1 series against the Habs yet somehow managed to squeak by. That’s right, over two periods worth of man-advantage time and the red light lit not even once.
The Flyers’ penalty-kill finished with a pedestrian 77.4 percent success rate against Buffalo in Round 1 -- allowing seven goals on 31 opportunities. Philly is also the third-most penalized team thus far in the post season.
I wouldn’t expect the Bruins power play to go from zero to Anaheim Ducks-esque (8-for-22) overnight. But even a 1-in-10 ratio may be just enough to see the Eastern Conference Finals.
BE PHYSICAL, STAY COMPOSED:
One attribute to the history Boston Bruins hockey has been their way to play physical, be strong on the forecheck, and finish their checkt. Although the B’s don’t necessarily have to revert to the old Big Bad Bruins days, but being in-your-face-physical and using size to their advantage is absolutely paramount in this series.
(Insert case in point here) Milan Lucic:
The Bruins barely edged-out the Habs in seven games without much contribution at all from No. 17. The 6-foot-4 forward led the Bruins with his 30 goals (62 points) throughout the regular season, but has managed to post just 0-2-2 scoring totals in seven games -- along with 16 shots, and 17 hits over his 18:49 of average time on ice (played just 7:20 in Game 6 via game-misconduct boarding call).
The Bruins, primarily up front, have to bang and keep pressure on the relatively smaller, but equally as gritty Flyers’ forwards. Daniel Carcillo and Scott Hartnell are sure to get the Bruins' blood-boiling in this one. But it's up to players like Brad Marchand and -- in their limited ice time -- Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thonrton to counter the pests.
If there’s a time where the Bruins need Lucic to step-up and be that game-changing player who elevates his game when it really counts, it’s right now.
When thinking of the last round's penalties and special teams, the Bruins are quite the lucky ones who are now thinking about their next round of playoff hockey and not their first round of golf this season.
Patrice Bergeron, who led the B’s with seven points (two goals) and shots on goal (27), also ranked an uncharacteristic second in penalty minutes (10). Back-to-back bonehead plays in Game 6 (delay of game) and in the closing minutes of last night's Game 7 (which resulted in the Canadiens' game-tying goal on a high-sticking penalty) nearly cost the Bruins their season.
In Game 6 -- where the Habs won 2-1 for force a Game 7 -- Montreal took advantage of the two careless Boston penalties by scoring both goals on the power play -- Dennis Seidenberg (slashing) and Bergeron’s minor.
Although Philly didn’t necessarily light-it-up percentage-wise (14.3%) on their power plays against the Sabers is Round 1, they did capitalize on 5-of-35 times with the man-advantage -- and they do have the firepower up front to burn the Bruins this round.
As previously mentioned, keeping a level-head against the Flyers' antagonists and staying out of the box could make or break the B's.
IN THE CAGE:
Brian Boucher is having a great post season. His 2.10 goals-against average and .934 save-percentage each rank him third amongst all goaltenders this post season, and has won all four games for the Black and Orange. Last year he went down-and-out in Game 5 with a left leg injury. In stepped Michael Leighton and the rest was history.
This year, Boucher once again has Leighton backing him up -- three games-played in the NHL this season with 8 goals-against on 65 shots -- as well as Johan Backlund and Sergei Bobrovsky -- both of whom have a combined one minute of NHL post season experience).
Regardless of history and current statistical rankings, Boucher just isn’t as good as Tim Thomas.
If Thomas -- who was the best net minder in the league during the regular season -- continues to stand tall, make big saves and the ones he needs to make, he could be the X factor in this series and carry the Bruins to one more round.
SPREAD THE WEALTH, KEEP IT HOT:
If there's something that we've heard once, we've herad it a thousand times...especially from head coach Claude Julien: the best players need to play their best and be the best. That wasn't case with the Bruins' "first line" last series.
Two of Horton's three goals last series were overtime winners, and the confidence that the 25-year-old now has is undoubtedly at an all-time high. Although a streaky player at times, when Horton gets hot it hard to slow him down. And what better time to ride a hot streak than heading into a series against the team that made history on your behalf last season.
The once invisible line of Rich peverley--Chris Kelly--Michael Ryder line has shown up and produced in a big way for the B's. The third line teamed-up for a combined 6-8-14 scoring totals, a plus-10 rating, and 38 shots on goal in their series versus Montreal.
The second line of Marchand--Bergeron--Mark Recchi have been doing their part on both sides of the puck. The trio have collectively posted a total of 4-12-16, plus-14, and 60 shots on goal.
The Bruins had just four players with two or more goals last series. But they also had 11 in all that found the back of the net once. While Lucic and Krejci need to pitch-in more this round, the type of scoring depth they've shown thus far is a great sign.