The Boston Bruins are legitimate playoff contenders

BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 9: Tuukka Rask
BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 9: Tuukka Rask /

2018 is officially underway and the Boston Bruins are picking up where they left off in 2017…winning. They are currently solidified in a playoff position, but the real question is whether or not they are legitimate playoff contenders.

Heading into the weekend, the Boston Bruins are 22-10-6. They sit second place in the Atlantic Division and for what it’s worth, ninth in the league. In their last 21 games, they are 16-3-2. A very successful month of December, a current sense of consistent production and a full team effort night in and night out has put the Bruins on the path to the playoffs. But, there is a big difference between making the playoffs and being a playoff team.

This begs the question:  are the Boston Bruins legitimate playoff contenders. Will they disappoint and lose in the first round? Can they make it to the Eastern Conference Final? Do they have a chance at the Cup? I believe a healthy roster (which they are almost at full health now) gives them a legitimate chance come playoff time and should not be overlooked.

Early Adversity

The Bruins have yet to play a game with a fully healthy roster. Right now, it can be agreed that this is the healthiest they have been all season. They are finally given the chance to have healthy scratches like Anders Bjork, for example, and develop consistent chemistry among the lines on both ends. But, the first two months of the season were not so easy.

Veterans like David Backes, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Adam McQuaid were continuously missing games. The line up was constantly changing because of a lack of bodies and experience. This made it hard to find a groove as a team and figure out what works and what doesn’t.

All teams can expect to face certain adversities throughout the season. But, to have to fight through so many injuries with such a young roster so early on, the Bruins could have been put in a hole they would have never gotten out of-they didn’t.

More than just injuries, there were question marks between the pipes. Between Tuukka Rask and backup Anton Khudobin, there seemed to be a lack of faith in the Bruins last line of defense. Especially for Rask, there seemed to be a lack of expected production as a starter.

But, by the end of November, the Bruins stayed afloat in the standings and started heading in the right direction.

Leaders on the Team Providing Recent Success

During the month of December, the Boston Bruins were 10-2-2. They have outscored opponents in those 14 games 51-26. That “goalie controversy”? In his last 12 starts, Tuukka Rask is 11-0-1 with a .958 save percentage. He was named the NHL’s star of the month for the month of December. Clearly, for the time-being, he is back and playing at the top of his game.

Boston Bruins
BOSTON, MA – DECEMBER 9: Tuukka Rask /

Just like that picture displays, there has been much to celebrate for those two during this season. David Pastrnak currently leads the team in points with 35 (15 G, 20 A). His two linemates, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron are second and fourth overall respectively. Marchand has 34 points with 16 goals and 18 assists, while Bergeron has a total of 12 and 14 for 26 points. When healthy and playing together, this top line has shown how they can be one of the best lines across the league. 

Coming into the season, there were some high expectations for the rookie cast, including Charlie McAvoy and Jake Debrusk. McAvoy has shown just how valuable he is and will be for the future of the Bruins’ blue line. He is, without question, one of the most impactful players on the current roster. However, another rookie is having a somewhat surprisingly successful season thus far. Danton Heinen is currently third on the team in points with 28. He ranks fourth in points amongst all rookies and has played the least amount of games (34) out of any of the top 15 rookie point leaders. He is one of the multiple reasons why Boston is finding so much success as of late.

Success in the Division

In the last month, the Bruins have found great success against Atlantic division opponents. In fact, they were 5-0 (6-1-2 all season). Most notably, and recently, of those five wins are the two against Ottawa. The Senators may be a different team than last year’s post-season unexpected run, but nevertheless, they always seem to have the Bruins’ number. Not this year. Boston outscored Ottawa 10-1 in those two wins and clearly did not allow the let down of last year’s playoff series affect them.

For most of this season, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs have been atop the Atlantic Divison. Both teams have played some great hockey, especially the Lightning who have been one of the top teams in the league. The Bruins have only played Tampa once and took care of business. Against Toronto, not so much. An OT loss and a 3-goal loss during their home-and-home in mid-November gives the advantage to the Leafs so far.

BOSTON, MA – NOVEMBER 29: Riley Nash
BOSTON, MA – NOVEMBER 29: Riley Nash /

There is still plenty of time left in the season and a lot can happen. But, if by the time Spring rolls around and if this current status quo stays the same, the first round playoff matchup will most likely be against one of these teams for the Bruins.

Playoff Caliber Hockey in Metro

In the Metropolitan Division, Boston is 6-3-3. Take out the Washington Capitals and that improves to 6-1-2. The Bruins have clearly struggled against Washington over the past few seasons for some reason. Thinking on the positive side of things, the Capitals struggle in the post-season, so if these two teams were to meet there is some obvious hope.

In that 6-1-2 record, some of the wins have come against playoff caliber teams. The Boston Bruins are 2-0 against the New York Islanders, scored seven goals against the Columbus Blue Jackets, won in OT against the New Jersey Devils and a SO loss to both the Rangers and Blue Jackets. Success now against playoff caliber teams is important. Competitive games and demonstrating the ability to play with one of the best divisions in the league is also important.

Comparing the Other Side of the Bracket

The Boston Bruins are 3-3-0 this season against the Central Division. First, two of those losses came in the first week of the season against the Colorado Avalanche. While the Avs are having a better season than some may have expected, they are most likely not a playoff team. But, the Bruins are also a completely different team and playing at a much higher level than they were the first week of the season in those games. The three wins were against Nashville, Minnesota, and Winnipeg–all three of which are currently in a playoff position.

Boston is 7-3-1 against the Pacific Divison as well this season. This is obviously a little bit bigger of a sample size than the Central, and again shows success across the entire league. Of those seven wins, four come from one of the top three teams in the division–Vegas, LA, and San Jose. One of the losses and the OT loss come from those top three teams as well. Clearly, they can compete with the top teams in each division.

Next: 2018 Boston Bruins New Years Resolutions

So what do all these records and games mean at this point in the season? It means, the Boston Bruins are legitimate playoff contenders. They have shown success and the ability to play with some of the best teams in the league at this point. Why emphasize the straight head to head records? When it comes playoff time, that’s what matters. Getting the win. Some games will be messy, some the Bruins might be out-played and some they may dominate, all of which we have seen this season. At the end of the day, it is about getting two points now and winning in the post-season. The Boston Bruins have shown that they can do just that.