Boston Bruins on Paper: Sixty minutes of H-e-double hockey sticks…


Aggression is a key componant of the spirit of competition and the will to win.  Yet history is repleat with examples of passiveness and patience affording one victory as well – and the Boston Bruins mix the two better than any other team in the National Hockey League, intentional or not.

In their quarterfinals series with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Bruins came out of the opening faceoffs very aggressive for the first couple of shifts, then retreated into what boxing great Muhammed Ali would call “Rope-a-Dope” – a tactic that, if used effectively, will allow a fighter to absorb an oppenent’s best shot, then come off the ropes swinging.

May 12, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Bruins right wing Jaromir Jagr (68) skates with the puck against the Toronto Maple Leafs during game six of the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs at the Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs beat the Bruins 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The key thing about employing this tactic is to know when your opponent is the most vulnerable and to then come out with striking aggression to put them back on their heels both physically and psychologically – but the Bruins’ didn’t recognize when the time was most advantagous and it very nearly cost them that series.

The extra gear that the Bruins employed in the last eight minutes of regulation and overtime of that contest carried over into the Conference semifinals series with the New York Rangers, who quickly fell into a 3-0 hole to the Bruins, mostly because the pace and aggression of all four of Boston’s lines physically wore down their three lines, the Bruins eventually taking the series in 5 games.

So in the first two series we’ve seen two distinctly different styles, the Rope-a-Dope against Toronto for 409 minutes – whether by design or simply by sleepwalking – then the fabled extra gear for the final 18 minutes of that series and then in running the Rangers out of the post-season…

…which begs the question of which style we will see when the Bruins face off against the talented Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals begining tonight at the Consol Energy Arena in the Steel City.

Much has been debated on how in the world the Boston Bruins are ever going to win four games against the deeply talented and number one seeded Pittsburgh Penguins – and the answer is as simple as the game itself.

The teams are evenly matched.  For any one deficiency the Penquins possess in their arsenal, the Bruins have the wherewithal to take advantage, and the same translates conversely – and when this happens the best thing to do is to fall back on fundamentals, because it is going to be a breakdown in the basics of the game – the simplest of things – that is going to swing this series.

At issue for Boston and coach Claude Julien is stopping the offensive juggernaut that the Penguins can bring in waves and in all four lines – an attack that is averaging over four goals per contest.  But if there is a team capable of stemming that tide, it is the bold and imperious Bruins with their mugging brand of defense.

This Bruins team had the Penguins on the ropes deep into all three games they played against each other this season, yet managed to lose all three by one goal in each.  In all three, the Bruins handed the game to Pittsburgh simply with their maddening inability to clear the defensive zone.  When pressed, the Bruins seemed scattered and disorganized and when they did manage to clear the zone, the Penguins caused turnovers between the blue lines with their aggressive checking.

And that’s it.  Both teams were missing key players and the goaltending was mutually excellent.  The difference was a breakdown of fundamentals which gave no flow to the Bruins’ offensive attack at all…

…the good news is, things have changed.  The boldness of the Bruins’ defensemen is matched only by their aggression.  The backcheck is physical and textbook, passing crisp and communication sharp – so much so that Boston’s blue liners have become an integral weapon in their offensive attack.

The bad news is, things have changed for the Penguins as well.  Their missing superstars have returned from injuries that left them as spectators for all or parts of the regular season matchups and are an incredibly deep, veteran-laden team.

But the Bruins have a couple of advantages that give them an excellent chance to control this series.

Both teams utilize four lines, which speaks to their incredible depth, but line continuity favors the Bruins because the Penguins are unsettled with their skaters, coach Dan Bylsma frequently mixing things up to find the proper chemistry, while the Bruins trio of Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton have been skating together for quite some time – a definite advantage goes to the Bruins…

…and the forecheck has improved markedly, particularly on the second line, as Jaromir Jagr, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron are just now settling into some familiarity since Jagr came over from the Dallas Stars, and the line is poised for a breakout – particularly for Jagr and his slick puck handling.

But perhaps the greatest advantage that the Bruins possess is the aggressiveness of their defensemen, both in clogging the shooting lanes and clearing pucks out of the slot and onto a forward’s tape.

Julien insists that if you take care of your defense, the offense will come on its own – and thus far in these playoffs we’ve seen this to be true – so the key for his Bruins is to stick to their simple and fundamental roots, and the wins will come as well.

Bruins in 6.