(Photo Credit: Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press via AP)

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

Here we are again. Just over a year ago, the Boston Bruins had an opportunity to skate past the Florida Panthers in Game Five to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Matthew Tkachuk had other plans, forcing a Game Six with his overtime heroics to silence the TD Garden crowd. We all know what happened next.

After diving into the offseason bargain bin and a somewhat overachieving regular season, the Bruins have wound up in the same situation: a 3-1 series lead with a chance to extend their journey to the ultimate prize. The only difference this time is it’s against their longtime divisional foe, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Perhaps that would make it a little sweeter. But if the Bruins want to avoid another catastrophic collapse like they did last spring, they need to be successful in three simple areas.

Play Bruins Hockey

At face value, this seems rather vague. Every team hopes to play “their” brand of hockey in every game, Stanley Cup Playoffs or not. But there’s something about Jim Montgomery’s Bruins that makes them a tough team to compete with.

That all starts on the forecheck. The Bruins have been tenacious in the corners throughout this series, winning puck battles below the goal line to create offense. At that point, it’s a numbers game. If you possess the puck longer than the opposition, that automatically gives you the upper hand. After morning skate on Monday, Montgomery told reporters that offensive zone time is still something he feels his group can improve on ahead of Game 5.

The proof has been in the pudding for the Bruins so far. Mason Lohrei created James van Riemsdyk’s Game Four goal with an aggressive pinch down the left wall to poke a puck free. In Game Three, Danton Heinen brought his lunch pail behind the net to beat two Toronto defenders to steal the puck before feeding Brad Marchand in the slot. If the Bruins embrace that sandpaper mentality on Tuesday, a Game Five victory is undoubtedly in the cards.

Ride The Hot Hand

Through his three starts in this series, Jeremy Swayman has been a brick wall between the pipes for the B’s. Not only that, but he’s had Toronto’s number all season. Swayman is 6-0-0 against the Leafs, including a 1.34 goals-against average and a .956 save percentage this postseason. You just can’t walk away from that in this pivotal Game Five.

The good news is that it looks like the Bruins will roll with Swayman on Tuesday. Based on Tuesday’s pregame skate, all signs pointed to the 25-year-old getting the nod, as Linus Ullmark was seen skating with potential scratches Jakub Lauko, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Derek Forbort. Or, Montgomery is simply playing mind games. But I think it’s a safe bet that Boston won’t steer away from what’s been working when it matters the most.

Capitalize on the Power Play

We all know how undisciplined Toronto can be. Unnecessary cross-checks and post-whistle pleasantries have hamstrung the Leafs this series, giving the Bruins free power play chances. Through the series’ first four games, the Bruins have had 13 attempts on the man advantage. They’ve capitalized on six of them, including an impressive 2 for 3 showing in Game Three. What was a significant question mark coming into the playoffs has suddenly emerged as one of Boston’s most potent weapons.

Marchand and Jake DeBrusk have developed great chemistry on Boston’s second unit, as Montgomery’s end-of-season mixup has paid dividends this postseason. The Bruins are moving the puck from low to high to force the Toronto penalty kill to run around the zone. That level of movement and overall urgency was missing on both of Boston’s units near the end of the regular season. Now it’s revitalized, and it could be the reason Toronto goes golfing tomorrow.

It’s clear the Bruins have been the better team through this four-game sample size thus far. They’ve shown more poise, won the goaltending battle, and put together a much stronger offense than Toronto. They’ve managed to shut down Auston Matthews to just one goal while seemingly getting into the heads of Toronto’s stars in the process. As long as the Bruins stick to their game plan and don’t beat themselves tonight, a second-round date with the Florida Panthers looks promising. Besides, Bruins in Five does have a good ring to it.

(Photo Credit: Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)