Bruins’ Special Teams Pave Way To Second Round Appearance

( Photo Credit: NHL.com )

By: Jack McCarthy  |  Follow Me On Twitter @73johnnymac

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before.  The Boston Bruins defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games to win their Stanley Cup Eastern Conference opening round series.  That’s right, for the third time in six seasons, the Bruins have advanced in a do-or-die, series decider on Garden ice over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

This series saw its share of ebbs and flows, momentum changes from game to game, but ultimately the difference came down to special teams.  In a hard fought and extremely tight series, a lack of opportunities with the man advantage only worked to increase the importance of special teams’ performance.  After each team opened with a 4-1 victory in the first two games, the last five encounters were all closely contested, with empty net goals in each of the last three Bruins’ victories increasing the margins

When all was said and done there were a number of deciding factors but the difference in this series came down to the performance of special teams.   The Bruins out-performed Toronto on both the power play and the penalty kill, combined with the boost to their bottom 6 provided by the return of Sean Kuraly for the final three games of the series, and there was just enough for Boston to separate in a tight series and punch their ticket to the second round.

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Boston’s special teams outplayed Toronto’s all series long.  The Bruins scored seven power play goals in 16 opportunities for a 43.8% clip.  Toronto, meanwhile, scored just three power play goals in 16 opportunities, good for just an 18.8% success rate.  Toronto also added a short-handed, penalty shot goal by Mitch Marner in the opening game. 

The importance of the power play in a tight, relatively low-scoring series is illustrated by considering the impact that special teams had in deciding a number of the games played in this series.  Special teams were the difference in each of the last five games played.

  • In Game 3, Toronto outscored the Bruins 2-1 on the power play in a game that ended 3-2 in their favor.
  • In Game 4, Boston outscored Toronto 2-1 in a 6-4 victory.
  • In Game 5, Boston’s power play went 0 for 3 in a low scoring affair in which capitalizing on any of their opportunities may have changed the flow and outcome of that game.  The Maple Leafs won 2-1.
  • In Game 6, the Bruins went 2 for 2 while the Maple Leafs went 0 for 3 and the Bruins prevailed 4-2 to stave off elimination and force Game 7.
  • In Game 7, the Bruins were not given any power play opportunities but they did kill both of the power plays the Maple Leafs had, including one in the second period with the Leafs pressing in a one-goal game. They also killed off a too-many-men on the ice call midway through the third period that could have allowed Toronto to pull within a goal.

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The expectation going into Game 7 was that there wouldn’t be many power play opportunities.  Given what was at stake, we expected to see disciplined play from both teams in the finale.  There is, after all, no margin for error in a win-and-move-on, lose-and-go-home decider.  That was exactly how it played out. The referees ‘let them play’ and in the end there were only two minor penalties called, both against Boston. The Bruins came up big on the penalty kill and were able to leverage that into the series clinching victory.

Both the Maple Leafs and Bruins struggled to carry the momentum of a victory from one game to the next in this series. The Bruins were finally able to buck that trend and grab the necessary consecutive wins in games 6 and 7 to capture the series.  Boston clearly established a special teams advantage and at the end of the day in a seven-game series that went right down to the wire, yet again, it was superior special teams play that propelled the Bruins into an Eastern Conference Semi-Final match-up with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

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