- The Bruins were off on Monday with no practice, as they rest and regroup prior to facing off against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals on Wednesday night at TD Garden.
Following the Bruins' 48-game regular season, in which they went 28-14-6, I caught up with General Manager Peter Chiarelli to assess the team's readiness heading into the postseason.
"I look at the last three games, although it's a small sample size, we've done some things leading up to this last segment. I've liked our physicality in those games, our chances, we've been outnumbering the other team," said Chiarelli on the 1-1-1 stretch against Tampa Bay, Washington and Ottawa, following the let's-forget-it-ever-happened loss to Philadelphia that kick-started the B's into gear.
"A couple of our players that have been struggling have been coming around, so those are the positives."
Of that group, Milan Lucic has found a sudden spark after a difficult 2013, going 1-2=3 in his past two games, dropping the gloves in two of his past three, and starting to find his menacing heavy-hitting game.
"The negatives are that we're not finishing our chances, we're getting a lot of chances and we're not finishing them for whatever reason, we're not going to the right areas, we're not bearing down, and that's got to change because we're not scoring enough. We have to score more than two goals a game," added Chiarelli, on quick improvements that need to be made in the playoffs.
The Bruins haven't scored more than three goals in a game since April 10 against New Jersey. In seven of their last nine games, they didn't eclipse two goals; a loss to the Islanders on April 11 saw them score only one. They were 2-5-2 in that span.
"But you know what? I feel a little better about the team in the last three games," said Chiarelli. "It's been a rigorous schedule, it was the longest short season I've ever been a part of, so I'm ready for the playoffs."
When Chiarelli addressed media via a conference call at 3:00 p.m. on Monday, he also referenced the final three-game stretch of the regular season that he liked from the Black & Gold.
"The level of activity and intensity has picked up. That I like," he said.
"As a message [to the team], I would like that to continue. Eventually, we will find our game, our execution, our skill level, find it if this other stuff is in place."
On the conference call, Chiarelli discussed an average season for the Bruins, despite them finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference after challenging in the division and ending up fifth in the league with 62 points. Chiarelli also spoke about how the strangeness of the compact season factored into a different way of analyzing the team.
"I don’t think anyone was ever satisfied with our game, myself included, the players included," he told media. "It was different assessing it because normally you’re used to assessing a team’s play and their trends, you can watch how they practice and see what’s happening in their practices. That translates into games, there’s more rest and everything is more predictable."
"It was a hard season to assess for me, meaning, to evaluate properly. To the extent that I could, I went about it cautiously and it was hard to get a good sense and feel of the team and of the league in general. Different that way. We saw some players emerging, saw some players drop off a bit; it became magnified because of the abbreviated season, and now we’re in the playoffs."
The B's GM was frank with his view on the collective season for the spoked-B.
"I’m not going to offer any excuses; we didn’t perform to the way we were capable of performing on a number of different fronts," said Chiarelli. "It was good that we had a strong start, we were able to finish where we finished."
"If I’m going to judge our team on the latter half of the year, I’m going to have to say that we’re going to really have to step up our performance to have success in the playoffs."
The good news for the Bruins is that their experience outweighs that of the young-gun Toronto Maple Leafs, who are about to take part in their first postseaon in quite some time, the franchise's first since 2004.
To give you an idea of the match-up, the Bruins' roster boasts 22 Stanley Cup rings to Toronto's nil; 1,273 games of NHL playoff experience to the Leafs' 206. For 15 members of the Toronto roster, Wednesday night will mark their first-ever playoff game. The same can be said for four Bruins.
Whether the poised experience, or the energetic first-timers will win out, is up for debate, but there's no denying the the fact that having the core from 2011 still in tact will prove valuable when faced with adversity.
"Certainly playoff experience is important, we've got a lot of playoff experience," Chiarelli told me earlier today. "You want to have success, and we had success two years ago. Not so much last year, so I expect success this year."
Tuukka Ready for Big Stage
Tuukka Rask has played in 13 playoff games for the Bruins, all coming in 2010 when Tim Thomas was injured, but the netminder does have 138 NHL games under his belt. This season, he compiled a 19-10-5 record, with a .929 save percentage and 2.00 goals-against average.
Playoffs may be an entirely different type of pressurized goaltending, but Chiarelli knows Rask is up to the challenge.
"It's important, he's been our number one goalie all year. The team's gotten used to that, which I think has been a learning curve, also," Chiarelli said, on the team being confident in Rask heading into the playoffs.
"He's a competitive player and the guys are comfortable. I expect Tuukka to be good. He was traded from Toronto, so he's got a little bit of incentive, too. He'll be fine."
Bruins' Strength in Depth
The past month saw the Bruins add depth to an already deep team. Wade Redden joined the back end at the trade deadline, and the additions to the forward corps have included Jaromir Jagr, Carl Soderberg and Kaspars Daugavins.
"We've added some numbers and some guys who have come in and played for us and done well," said Chiarelli. "Sometimes you're damned if you do, damned if you don't because if you have too many healthy bodies, it gets a little cumbersome and guys consciously or subconsciously get disgruntled, so we want to try and avoid that."
"We've got a good group, so I'm happy with who we added. Couple guys got a little bit of rest there; Jaromir had some rest, he had a flu, but at the same time, he was able to rest. Depth is good, you have to manage it right, but depth is good."
Physical Series a Plus for B's?
The match-up with Toronto should be a physical, emotion, tough series for a number of reasons: you can cite the Phil Kessel for Tyler Seguin-Dougie Hamilton storyline, Tuukka Rask playing against the team that originally drafted him, or a toughened-up Leafs lineup this season that the B's will be playing heavy, among others.
"Obviously there's history there because we traded Phil to Toronto and all that," said Chiarelli. "They're a much better team than they were last year. They're a fast team. We're a bigger team; they've gotten bigger. It will be a physical series. The first round tends to be very physical, I fully expect this round the be physical."
"They’ve added to their size. They’ve added a couple of bangers in the backend. [Nazem] Kadri has really come into his own, Phil [Kessel] has had a good year, [Joffrey] Lupul has had a good when he’s healthy," Chiarelli added on the conference call. "So these guys, they’re a different team. I think it’s going to be a real emotional and physical series, and we got to play them heavy like we can."