The Bruins are back to the point they were a season ago; hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs.
This year’s group has some differences, namely, the buy-in. Dealing with adversity from the get-go with injuries and extracurriculars, the Bruins somehow found a way to not only discover their identity, but mold it into whatever they wanted it to be, and they’ve stuck with it.
The playoffs are a different challenge, especially against a team that plays a different game. While the Bruins success has always been rooted in their defensive game, with the ability to score at a more-than adequate rate, that offensive game has been a complement to what they already do well.
They’re playing their fastest lineup to keep up with the Leafs, which makes plenty of sense. The Bruins have matched up well against Toronto, winning 3-of-4 in the regular season.
But, if things go awry, the best way for the Bruins to respond is to stick with how they play.
“Our leadership group has done a good job of communicating, especially to myself and other younger guys,” said Karson Kuhlman, who made his postseason debut in Game 1 Thursday night. “And it is going to be a challenge for sure. But just here to do my job and help the team any way I can.”
At forward, the Bruins are almost completely healthy, with Sean Kuraly slated to return later in the series. The Bruins have all the pieces to the puzzle to decide how they want to look.
The system in place this season has allowed them to flourish, with eight players reaching career highs in points. That offensive success has started with each player knowing where they fit in.
“I probably feel better this year than I have in any other years,” said Chris Wagner. “I don’t know if that’s our style, being more offensive and I was grinding out games a lot in Anaheim back then. But the game, you have to change with it.”
There’s no doubt the Bruins will have to contest with the Maple Leafs’ speed, but their tough-to-play-against mentality should still matter. Of course, they need to catch up and keep up with Toronto to do that, and the lineup they put out for Game 1 was a step in that direction.
CLIFTON GETS SHOT
Defenseman Connor Clifton made his postseason debut, playing with Matt Grzelcyk. They played a couple of games together at the end of the regular season, and while Kevan Miller and John Moore are sidelined, they are hoping to be an effective pair.
“He’s an awesome skater, makes great plays,” Clifton said of his defensive partner. “Hopefully get him the puck and let him do his thing.”
EYES ON RIELLY
For all their defensive struggles, the Maple Leafs top defender, Morgan Rielly, is a gamechanger.
He can jump into the play and create havoc from the back while the Leafs top forwards are doing their thing, and he might be the player the Bruins have to zone in on the most.
“If you don’t force it out of his hands at a good angle, then you have problems,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “Because now he’s in your next layer. We’ve got to get him to move it before he wants to. Hopefully get on him when you see his numbers or name on his jersey before the whites of his eyes.”