Boston Bruins Playoff Preview

( Photo by Patrick McDermott / NHLI via Getty Images )

By: Ryan Duffy | Follow Me On Twitter @Rduffy26

As tensions begin to rise in the NHL with the Stanley Cup Playoffs less than a week away, the Bruins will soon be discovering their first-round opponent. The eight teams that will be competing for the Stanley Cup in the Eastern Conference have already been solidified, but the Bruins’ opponents have yet to be determined. With Boston having four games remaining, including three of the five games against Eastern Conference playoff teams, it’ll be interesting to see which team they face off against in the quarterfinals.

Here’s where Boston stands ahead of Saturday’s matchup against the New York Rangers:

It’s unlikely that Boston can move up to third place in the Atlantic Division, so assuming Boston stays in either the first or second wild-card, there are three probable teams the Bruins could play in the first round, including the Hurricanes, Rangers, and Panthers.

Carolina Hurricanes

If the playoffs were to start today, Boston would match up against the Carolina Hurricanes, who are in first place in the Metropolitan Division with 108 points (50-20-8). In previous years, Boston has matched up with Carolina in the playoffs as they faced off in the conference finals back in 2019 and in the first round in the 2020 bubble. The Bruins advanced in both playoff matchups against the Hurricanes as they swept them in 2019 and won in five games in 2020. 

Since then, the tides have seemingly changed as Carolina has had their way with Boston this season. The Hurricanes are 3-0 versus the Bruins and have outscored them 16-1 in the three games. Carolina has become one of the hot commodities over the last three seasons as a contender for the Stanley Cup, and this year is no exception.

They are one of the best 5-on-5 teams this year as they’ve allowed 135 goals against (3rd) and scored 183 (7th) at 5-on-5 through their 78 games played thus far. Their special teams are just as dangerous since they’re the number one penalty kill team in the NHL at 88.3% penalties killed and a powerplay percentage of 22.3% (10th). In total, the team has allowed 190 goals against (1st) and scored 259 goals (9th) this season.

A great deal of their success has to do with the defensive structure and goaltending. Their top-four defensemen of Jaccob Slavin, Brady Skjei, Brett Pesce, and Tony Deangelo, log massive minutes at even-strength and on special teams. But Frederik Andersen has been the gamechanger for Carolina after having inconsistent goaltending over the last few seasons. Anderson has been an elite goalie for Carolina since coming over in the offseason in free agency. For goalies who’ve played 30 or more games this season, he is sixth in save percentage with .922 and second in goals-against average with 2.17.

Much like the Bruins, the Hurricanes have faced adversity regarding injuries late in the season. Recently, Jordan Staal, Jesperi Kotkaniemi (day-to-day), and Frederik Andersen (week-to-week) were injured after losing to the Colorado Avalanche last Saturday. Staal did return to the Hurricane’s lineup the other night although. Still, the Andersen injury, in particular, is eye-opening since the injury could become long-term and how important he’s been to this team. Luckily for Carolina, they have a solid backup goaltender in Antti Raanta, who has shown glimpses of starter potential.

While many may argue that the odds would be stacked against Boston in a matchup against Carolina, Boston has changed the look of their back end since the trade deadline. Since the Bruins last played the Hurricanes, Boston has a record of 21-9-2 compared to Carolina’s 18-10-5, showing the team’s improvement since then. So long as Boston gets healthy come game 1 of the playoffs, Carolina would see a new look defense from the Bruins since their last match back in February. The Hurricanes, nevertheless, will be no slouch in the playoffs regardless of the injuries they have.

New York Rangers

The new-look New York Rangers have shown significant strides in improvement throughout the 2021-22 season. With a mix of NHL veterans and young uprising stars, the Rangers are a team that has all the makings having a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. New faces like Justin Braun, Frank Vatrano, and Andrew Copp provide significant depth and size heading into the playoffs. Copp and Vatrano both provide even more scoring punch to their top-six, while Braun provides physicality and size to the Blueshirts’ defense. 

The Rangers clinched home ice for the first round of the playoffs Thursday night after defeating the Islanders 6-3 and are tied in the Metropolitan standings with Carolina at 108 points (51-21-6). The Rangers statistically are an average team when it comes to scoring at even strength. At 5-on-5, the Rangers are ranked 18th with 153 goals. Boston similarly is 15th in the league at 5-on-5 with 160.

The Rangers differentiate from the Bruins by scoring on the man-advantage as they are third with a 26.1% powerplay efficiency. It’s no surprise they’re that good on the powerplay with the arsenal of weapons they have at their disposal like Adam Fox, Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, and Chris Kreider.

This year, the big storylines for the Rangers are the emergence of their young star goaltender Igor Shesterkin and leading goal scorer Chris Kreider. Since the beginning of the season, Shesterkin has shined under the bright lights at Maddison Square Garden and will likely become the sixth Rangers goaltender to win the Vezina Trophy as the best goalie in the NHL.

Shesterkin leads all goaltenders in almost every statistic, including save percentage (.936%) and goals-against average (2.01). Along with Shesterkin, Chris Kreider has come from the rafters to become a top-three goal scorer in the NHL with 51 goals behind Leon Draisaitl (54 goals) and Auston Matthews (58 goals). The veteran is a notable reason New York is lethal on the powerplay with his league-leading 26 powerplay tallies.

Boston would need to remain in the first wild-card spot to play the Rangers in the first round. A Boston and New York matchup would be an entertaining first-round series given how evenly matched these two teams play at 5-on-5. Where Boston finds itself at a significant disadvantage is goaltending and powerplay numbers.

Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark have had their ups and downs this year, and they would need to have a stellar first round to match the play of Shesterkin. Boston is one of the league’s worst in penalties this season, as they are fourth-most with 325 penalties taken. Boston will need to remain out of the box if they are going to be competitive in a seven-game series against a team like the Rangers. The Bruins are 0-1-1 against the Rangers, with the final meeting occurring this Saturday.

Florida Panthers

If Boston were to fall to the second wild-card spot, they would play the NHL leading Florida Panthers with 118 points (56-15-6). If there were a picture that summarized the epitome of what scoring depth looks like, the Florida Panther logo would be it. The Panthers are no longer a laughingstock in the NHL with ten different 40-point scorers, a league-leading 322 goals for, and a plus-103 scoring differential. Led by captain Alexander Barkov and leading scorer in the NHL, Jonathan Huberdeau (113 points), the Panthers can strike nearly at will with the amount of scoring punch they have up and down their lineup.

The Panthers lead the NHL in 5-on-5 goals for with 209 and are surprisingly in the top-ten in goals against with 144. To no amazement, their powerplay is sixth in the NHL with a 24.2% scoring rate on the man advantage. Questions surrounded the Panthers’ goaltending at the beginning of the season since Sergei Bobrovsky looked shaky since he arrived in Florida in 2019 and Spencer Knight being a rookie this year. The Panthers’ goalies have looked great this year, with Bobrovsky tied in the lead for wins this season (38) and Knight second in goals-against average for rookies (2.77).

In mid-March, the Panther lost their number one defenseman, Aaron Ekblad, to a lower-body injury and he has yet to return to the lineup. Ekblad has begun skating with the team and is likely to return before or during the first round. Even without Ekblad, the team has a 15-1-0 record since his injury, and they’re riding a 12-game winning streak with five games remaining in the regular season.

For a team that struggles to score at times like the Bruins, the Panthers would be a handful to keep up with. The Panthers have a considerably more talented forward group than the Bruins, but Boston has a slight advantage defensively. Boston is a team that plays a team defense style of hockey with layers in front of their net.

The Panthers are a team that likes to play on the rush, so it would be interesting to see how Bruce Cassidy and the coaching staff counter the Panthers’ offense. Despite how well Bobrovsky has played this season, he is a very beatable goaltender. If the Bruins get a healthy Pastrnak and Lindholm in the first round, then the odds may not be as stacked in Florida’s favor. This season, the Bruins are 1-1-0 against the Panthers, with one game remaining between the two clubs on April 26th in Boston.

As most NHL fans know, there will be no easy match in the Stanley Cup Playoffs due to the parody within the league. Boston will be playing a team that’s higher in the standings. Out of the three teams that Boston could play, the Hurricanes may be the more favorable matchup in the first round because of the injury to Andersen.

No team necessarily wants to play the Bruins in the first round because of their experience in the playoffs. Regardless of who the Bruins will face in May, Boston will be up for the challenge in hopes of moving on and pursuing Lord Stanley in June.


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