For the fourth consecutive season under Head Coach Bruce Cassidy, the Boston Bruins have made it to at least the second round of the playoffs. The Bruins haven't had a first round exit since Cassidy took over for Claude Julien during the 2016-17 campaign, where he was able to guide the Bruins to the postseason, only to lose to the Senators in six games in round one. Since the then the B's have at least gotten to the second round every year. In what we all thought was going to be a tall task in eliminating the Washington Capitals, a series that was projected to seven with the Caps coning out as the potential winner, it turned out to be a quick series as the Bruins won four straight after their game one overtime defeat to eliminate the Caps in five.
The Bruins know that the road only gets harder from here as the B's are in the MassMutual East Division Final against the New York Islanders, who won five of the eight meetings against the Bruins with Boston winning the final three match-ups. The Bruins actually beats New York to earn the third spot in the division for the playoff standings. Now ironically enough, the third and fourth seeds in the East eliminated the top two seeds in round one to set up this match-up. However, the Bruins gate the benefit of having home-ice advantage in this series.
The Islanders were in position to take home the top seed in the division, however with a couple bad stretches in late in the season and others teams in the division playing and winning games while New York had their off-nights, allowed a team like Boston to overtake them, which led to the Isles landing in the fourth seed in the division. The Bruins did get hot at the right time to ride that momentum to the playoffs.
Both teams made upgrades at the deadline with the Bruins acquiring Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar from Buffalo to help blossom both the second and third lines, along with acquiring defenseman Mike Reilly from the Senators to add some much needed depth to the blue line while the B's dealt with the injuries to key players. Plus with the emergence of now rookie back-up goaltender Jeremy Swayman; who did extremely well while filling in for both Jaroslav Halak and Tuukka Rask while both were out of the lineup for an extended period of time.
The Islanders made upgrades themselves by acquiring winger Kyle Palmieri from the New Jersey Devils before the deadline to help blossom their first line and their power play. New York did take a huge blow when they lost Captain Anders Lee to an ACL injury back in March, which was one of the reasons that the Islanders traded for Palmieri, to replace Lee's offensive production. The goaltending situation is more complex with Ilya Sorokin winning all four games he started against the Penguins, while also appearing in 22 games for New York going 21-13-6 in the process. Semyon Varlamov lost both of his starts in the playoffs to this point while he started 36 games during the regular year, going 19-11-4 playing in 36 games.
The Bruins goaltender situation is extremely less complicated. Tuukka Rask got all five starts against Washington, and essentially stole the series for the Bruins by denying Ovenchkin and Oshie on multiple occasions during the series, and held Washington to just four goals in the final three games of the series. Even though the young buck goaltender of the future in Swayman Is waiting in the wings and could get into a game at a moments notice whether it is injury or performance related, it's what is most likely motivating Rask to perform and deliver so that way he can try to not only earn his next contract, but also keep his starting gig.
What will this series come down to? The strength of the goaltenders and which teams top six forwards will out perform the others. The Bruins top line in Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak started to find their groove in games four and five in their first round series against the Capitals. Hall continued to show why he was worth the trade, as David Krecji and Craig Smith are proving to be the perfect line mates with Hall to make the second line much more productive. However, the Islanders have scorers too in the likes of Anthony Beauvillier, Palmieri, who was a Bruins killer from the start of the season when he was with the Devils, along with Jean-Gabriel Pageau setting up a plethora of goal for the Islanders to this point as he has six assists so far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Bruins should have the upper hand in the goaltending department as the Islanders, do seem to be a better team with Sorokin in net then they are with Varlamov, however, the Islanders could pull a Washington and alternate goalies = which should only benefit the Bruins. But this series will come down to depth, and the Bruins got plenty of that, which anyone being able to fill a hole/need and light a spark when the teams needs it.
This should be a hard and physical series for the Bruins, almost how it was against the Capitals but the sense of urgency to be physical throughout the game should be less important as both teams like to create space to get off a great shot. This series has the potential to go seven, and would extremely surprised if this is a quick series no matter who wins the series (preferably the Bruins).
Game One is slated for Saturday evening at 8pm on NBCSN. All games will televised nationally from this point one, however the 98.5 The Sports Hub - Boston Bruins Radio Network will have the local call game of the game for the remainder of the B's playoff run.
The full series game-by-game schedule has yet to be released, but this article will be updated with the full schedule once it becomes available from the National Hockey League.
The set is about to begin, and the Bruins chase for seventh heaven is still alive!