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Column: Three Areas the Bruins Need to Improve on to Contend for a Stanley Cup

(Photo Credit: Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

By: Jason Cooke | Follow me on Twitter / X @cookejournalism

The National Hockey League All-Star break is here, and the Boston Bruins are sitting pretty atop the Eastern Conference standings in first place with 71 points. In what was supposed to be a bridge year following last season’s collapse in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Bruins haven’t missed a beat. All it took was a handful of bargain bin acquisitions over the off-season, and Boston was reloaded for another run at some hardware.

However, we’ve learned that wins and losses don’t carry any weight in the postseason. Last season’s Bruins fell victim to the Florida Panthers in the first round of action despite posting an NHL-best 135 points. Although Boston appears to be primed for another shot at The Cup come spring, their seventh banner is far from being hung in the TD Garden rafters. Here are three things the Bruins need to focus on to turn that dream into a reality:

Establish Concrete Line Pairings

If you’ve tuned into a Bruins game at any point throughout this season, it’s safe to say you have seen an array of lineups, from players occupying different positions to a hodge podge of different line combinations. Trent Frederic has played on just about every line this season. Matt Poitras has been shuffled in and out of the lineup. Pavel Zacha has been stripped away from the privilege of skating alongside David Pastrnak. If there was an opportunity to try something new, head coach Jim Montgomery did.

And up to this point of the season, that strategy has worked. Boston sits atop the NHL standings, tied for first place with the Vancouver Canucks. In Boston’s recent loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, Montgomery opted to promote Frederic to the first line with Brad Marchand and Charlie Coyle, prompting a third-period comeback that ultimately lit a spark throughout the lineup. These types of moves are necessary, but the Bruins must get comfortable with their respective line pairings up front. Because, as we all know, the playoffs are a different story–and if the Bruins can’t find that spark in any game, they could be in danger.

However, it looks as though the Bruins are on that track. Marchand has developed chemistry with Coyle and Pastrnak in a first-line role, and Jake DeBrusk seems to be finding his game alongside Zacha. Morgan Geekie and Frederic have proven to be a dynamite duo, and Danton Heinen has established himself as a reliable fourth-liner. But there are still so many question marks. Where does Poitras fit? Will Frederic trade places with James van Riemsdyk on the second line? Will Jesper Boqvist be a mainstay in the bottom six? While these are great problems to have in the regular season, this conundrum could haunt them in the playoffs, where connectivity and cohesiveness matter the most. Luckily for the B’s, they have plenty of season left to iron out the wrinkles until it matters the most.

Win Games in Regulation

It’s a tale as old as time. The Bruins have recorded nine overtime losses, more than any team in the NHL’s top 13. While a handful of these losses were comeback efforts that forced the game out of regulation, the other handful resulted from incomplete third periods, leading to extra hockey. Regardless of the reason, the ability to win games in regulation will only help the B’s on their quest to Lord Stanley.

Boston was under a minute away from advancing to the next round of the playoffs in Game Seven last April until the Panthers potted the equalizer to send the game to overtime. We all know what happened then. Although Boston didn’t cough up a third-period lead in Game Five, they fought from behind all game, letting a crucial win slip away in overtime. Boston ultimately lost both games that required overtime in the series. In a competitive seven-game series, overtime is not only exhausting for a team, it’s intense, and the series’ outcome can ride on it. I’d like to see the Black and Gold win more games in regulation in the second half of the season.

Play Better in Front of Goalies

The Bruins are lucky to have Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark occupying the crease consistently. The pair of netminders have been nothing short of phenomenal this season, keeping the Bruins in games they had no business being in. At times, defensive play has been lackluster, and Swayman and Ullmark have been left to save the day. If Boston is fortunate enough to advance deeper into the playoffs, relying on highlight reel saves will not fly.

The good news for the Bruins is this is a relatively easy fix: they just have to tighten up their defensive zone coverage. While that is easier said than done against high-octane offenses, focusing on limiting turnovers and defensive breakdowns will make their goaltenders’ lives much easier and keep more pucks out of their net. What the Bruins have between their pipes is a luxury, but they can’t abuse it–especially if they have desires to bring a parade to Causeway Street.

This isn’t to discourage you; the Bruins have proved they are one of the premier teams in the NHL, with the firepower to show for it. These small details are nitpicking but important fixes for a team gearing up for a run at the Stanley Cup. If the Black and Gold can put the finishing touches on their already dominant style of play, don’t be surprised when this team is knocking on the door of a championship in late May.

1 Comment

  1. john leahy

    You haven’t addressed the elephant in the room. They aren’t physically tough enough to win in the post season and haven’t been for years. That’s why they lose. Good teams have no fear of playing them in the playoffs. They have a boat load of talent but won’t advance until this issue is resolved. They tried by obtaining Lucic, but, he’s gone and Forbort and Frederic aren’t enough. LIndholm, MacAvoy and Grezlik can’t fight and Carlo has a mush skull. Hence, their achilles heel is exposed, and their competitors know it

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