Biggest Questions Facing The Bruins As They Enter The 2020 Playoffs

Notes, Thoughts And Observations From Ondrej Kase's Bruins Debut ...
( Photo Credit: Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images )

By: Lucas Pearson | Follow Me On Twitter @LucasPearson_

What is up with Kase and Ritchie?

There is a lot up in the air with the Bruin’s two most recent acquisitions. We know Ondrej Kase was the only player to not travel to Toronto with the team. It’s been said that the Czech Republic native will meet the team later, but if he’s healthy, what role will he have? He’s only played six games with Boston, and with younger guys (that will be mentioned later) getting more chemistry with the team, it will be interesting to see what type of role he’ll have when he’s with the team.

That same story remains true with Nick Ritchie. Despite traveling to Toronto with the team, Ritchie has just now made his first on ice appearance in Ontario’s capital, in an optional skate this morning. He wasn’t featured Bruin’s lineup in the exhibition game and it’s anyone’s guess as to when he’ll join the Bs for a game. The physical forward would be a really nice addition to the lineup, and his presence would be a welcome addition to the forward group.

How will the kids play?

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 26: Jack Studnicka #68 of the Boston Bruins warms up prior to the game against the Montreal Canadiens in the NHL game at the Bell Centre on November 26, 2019 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo Credit: Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Bruins seem to have three players penciled into their lineup that have yet to play a playoff game in their NHL career. The trio of players are Anders Bjork, Jack Studnicka and Jeremy Lauzon. I recently wrote an article about how I believe Bjork has a good chance to break out in the playoffs. He’s an incredibly skilled player that has had success in every league he’s been in. The Notre Dame alum has developed into a really good 200-foot player and is a guy I can totally see having a Marcus Johansson like run in the playoffs. 

As for Studnicka, it appears that he will get the start to the right of David Krejci on the second line and I love it. He’s done everything you want in a young player making the jump to the pros. He led the entire AHL in shorthanded goals and was within the top 15 in both total goals and points. Getting the chance to play in the top six in the NHL playoffs as a 21-year-old is not something many can do, especially for a President’s Trophy winning team. It’s been all praise from teammates and I’m really excited to see how he does after his promising showing in the exhibition game. 

We saw Connor Clifton take big steps in his NHL career last year as a rookie in the playoffs, and now Jeremy Lauzon is looking to do the same. The French-Canadian plays the perfect playoff style of hockey. The adjective I would use to describe him certainly wouldn’t be shy as he already has 10 fights in his short NHL career. He’s added a nice physical presence next to Matt Grzelcyk and that bottom pair has been a big part of the B’s success. Since joining the big club, the Bruins have had a 15-3-1 record in games Lauzon has played in.

Can Rask replicate last year’s playoff success?

Bruins' Tuukka Rask Reveals Item He Brought To Toronto, Game Plan ...
(Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY Sports Images)

Rask was excellent in the 2018-19 Playoffs. Saying anything but that would be idiotic.  Outside of the final game of the Cup, Rask was absolutely dominant in elimination and series clinching games. In five elimination games, the Finnish tender allowed just four goals to go with a .973 save percentage. And as crazy as it may sound, he was even better in series clinching games. He allowed ONE goal in the three games, good for a .990 save percentage and if you picked this up, well done, had more shutouts than goals allowed. Those are elite numbers. 

It will definitely be interesting to see how the time off will affect the B’s starter coming off of his best regular season since winning the Vezina in 2014. Luckily if Rask falters for any reason, they have one of the best backups in the league in Jaroslav Halak. But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. 

Will the formatting of the playoffs hurt the Bruins?

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JANUARY 16: Torey Krug #47 of the Boston Bruins and Patric Hornqvist #72 of the Pittsburgh Penguins fight during the second period at TD Garden on January 16, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
(Photo Credit: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Well the immediate answer is yes. As they were six points up on the second place team in the league, Bs were poised to finish the regular season as the number one seed. They would’ve had home ice throughout the entirety of the playoffs but are now forced to play in a round robin to determine where they finish. If the Bs fail to maintain the top spot in the East they would end up playing a better team than they would have normally faced. Can you believe if they end up playing the Penguins in the first round instead of a team around the 7-9 seed? No disrespect to any of those teams, but that would be incredibly tough on the Presidents Trophy winning team. 

If there’s any pro out of this, it would be the fact that the Bruins now play high intensity games that matter, but without a lose or go home stipulation. Maybe if they don’t show up in the three round robin games it sends a message. Maybe if they DO show up it will give the team confidence and add a little swagger to their play. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. 

Can the veterans succeed after so much time off?

Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand - Boston Bruins v Montreal Canadiens
(Photo Credit: Minas Panaglotakis/ Getty Images)

There’s no questioning if the leadership of the Bruin’s veterans will be there when the playoffs begin, it will. But will their usual great play be there as well? Zdeno Chara (42), Patrice Bergeon (34), David Krejci (33) and Brad Marchand (31) have all had amazing NHL careers, but without a proper training camp and so much time off, it may be tough to get back into the swing of things with the intensity of playoff hockey. Brad Marchand said earlier in quarantine that he thinks younger teams like the Maple Leafs and Lightning will have the advantage over teams with an older core. With that being said, you know Bruce Cassidy and co will have the Bruins ready to play when the time comes. 

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Former Bruins’ Prospect Gabrielle Is Finding His Game In Australia

(Photo Credit: AIHL)

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

 

As the Boston Bruins and their fans begin the process of winding down from the long grind that was the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs, most will be turning their attention to summer pursuits.  As the mercury rises in New England and the hockey news becomes all about the NHL Draft, Free Agency and the off-season rumor-mill, there are still meaningful games of hockey being played in a land far, far away.  The Australian Ice Hockey League (AIHL) has just completed its All-Star weekend, and its’ eight teams continue to jockey for position to compete for one of hockey’s oldest trophies, the Goodall Cup.  Boston Bruins fans would be interested to know that former Bruins prospect Jesse Gabrielle has found his way to Australia and is having a big impact.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “Why on earth do I give a darn about the Australian Ice Hockey League?  I didn’t even know they played hockey Down Under!”  You raise a good point.  As a native Canadian and die-hard Bruins fan, I once felt the exact same way.  But that was twenty years ago before I found myself on the other side of the world and the Australian Ice Hockey League was born shortly thereafter, commencing play in 2000.  The league has made tremendous strides over the past two decades, and the quality of play improves each season as well as the professionalism with which the individual clubs operate.

What is the Australian Ice Hockey League exactly?

The AIHL is the top amateur ice hockey league in Australia.  It has been described as a semi-professional league as it does contain several professional players with experience in various leagues around the world including the NHL, AHL, ECHL, as well as various European professional leagues.  AIHL players are not paid, they do however receive other forms of compensation such as the use of a vehicle, free accommodation, and their flights to and from Australia.  Some are also granted employment opportunities through club sponsors in the communities in which they play.  Each team is permitted to ice a maximum of four import players per game though they can have more than that on their roster.

The league began play with three teams in 2000 and is currently an eight-team national competition featuring three teams in New South Wales (Newcastle Northstars, Sydney Bears, and Sydney Ice Dogs), the CBR Brave located in the Australian Capital Territory, two teams in Victoria (Melbourne Ice and Melbourne Mustangs), one team in South Australia (Adelaide Adrenaline), and one team in Western Australia (Perth Thunder).  The teams play a 28-game regular season with the top four teams qualifying to compete in a weekend showdown for the Goodall Cup.  The Goodall Cup Finals feature first vs. fourth and second vs. third semi-finals with the winners meeting in a single game showdown to capture one of the oldest trophies in hockey.

So, the obvious question then is, what does the AIHL have to do with the Boston Bruins?  Why am I reading about it on a site dedicated to the interests of Bruins fans? Are there any Bruins connections to this semi-pro league in the land of kangaroos and that crazy Australian Rules football (see video below for crash course!)?  Well, the short answer is there are a few, namely some ex-Bruins or ex-Bruins prospects who have made the long journey to play hockey in Australia.

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The most recent ex-Bruin to play in the AIHL is currently making his mark on the league in a big way.  Former Bruins prospect and 2015, 4th-round pick, Jesse Gabrielle, has had a major impact since signing last month with the defending AIHL champion, CBR Brave.  Gabrielle has played just six games to date in the AIHL but has made sure the scorers are familiar with him, having tallied 16 goals and 8 assists for 24 points in those six games.  He also represented the North All-Stars in the AIHL All-Star game played in Sydney on Saturday, June 15th.  Gabrielle showed off his speed in taking out the Fastest Skater leg of the All-Star Skills Competition with a winning time of 12.97 seconds.

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The road to the AIHL for a player like 22-year-old Gabrielle is not the one he had planned on taking, to say the least.  Gabrielle skated in pre-season NHL action for the Boston Bruins as recently as this past September, and he likely didn’t envision a stop Down Under as the way he would spend this summer.  As Bruins fans would be aware, Gabrielle had an injury-interrupted season in the East Coast Hockey League with the Atlanta Gladiators and eventually on loan with the Wichita Thunder, before his entry-level contract was terminated in April with a year to run.  Gabrielle is treating the opportunity to play in Australia as a chance to re-establish himself as a capable player in the hopes of landing another contract to play in the professional ranks for the 2019-20 North American season.  Only time will tell if the move will pay dividends for Gabrielle.

One of the biggest names to ever play in the AIHL is another ex-Boston Bruin who finished his playing career in Australia with a five-game stint in the 2006 season.  A veteran of 789 NHL games, including 178 in the black and gold, Rob Zamuner scored 13 points in five games as a member of the Brisbane Blue Tongues.  His stay may have been brief, but he certainly helped lend credibility to the AIHL as a developing league at the time.

There exists a third Bruins connection to the AIHL.  Former Bruins goaltending prospect, Mike Brown, selected by Boston in the fifth round of the NHL Entry Draft in 2003, played a 17-game stint with the Canberra Knights in 2012.  Although he never played for the big club in Boston, Brown did play games at the AHL level for Providence before becoming a journeyman minor league keeper.

It’s all well and good to have a few ties to the Bruins make appearances in the AIHL, but surely nobody from Australia is good enough to play at the highest level in North America, right?  Well, actually, the growth of the game in Australia over the last two decades has seen a marked improvement in the quality of Australian players being produced, and that has stretched all the way to the National Hockey League.   Nathan Walker was drafted in the third round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft by the Washington Capitals and became the first Australian player to win the Stanley Cup in 2018.    Walker played in one game on the Caps’ playoff run and contributed an assist.  Nice to be able to say you were a point a game player in the playoffs on a Stanley Cup winner!

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Now I wouldn’t bring up Walker in this forum without a Bruins connection.  For B’s fans who may not be familiar with Walker, he is the player who, back in December, delivered the season-ending hit on Anders Bjork in an AHL tilt between the Providence Bruins and Hershey Bears.

Only time will tell how big hockey may become in Australia, but for now, the league continues to build momentum and grow at a steady rate.  For die-hard hockey fans looking for an off-season hockey fix, AIHL games are, for the most part, played on weekends and live streams are often available through individual team Facebook pages or YouTube channels.  You can also learn more about the AIHL at their website: https://theAIHL.com.   You can also follow me on Twitter @73johnnymac for regular updates on the Perth Thunder.

Check out this week’s Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast Episode 133 below!!