OTTAWA -- There’s no question or misunderstanding about where the Bruins are at this point in time as a franchise, or where they’re headed in the future.
Youth is going to be served, and that’s evidenced by the major contributions this season from young players like Brandon Carlo and David Pastrnak, and the presence of a fresh-faced prospect like Charlie McAvoy in the lineup for Game 1 against the Ottawa Senators. Certainly those youngsters will play a role in the postseason fate of the Bruins this spring.
But the Stanley Cup playoff fate of these Bruins is, again, going to rise and fall with a battle-hardened core group with big-time playoff experience on their respective resumes.
“Those are the guys that are going to have to carry this club [in the playoffs],” said interim coach Bruce Cassidy when asked about his core players. “Our best players are going to have to be our best players. We know that. The younger guys, [Frank] Vatrano and I’d even put Pastrnak in that group with [Ryan] Spooner, [Charlie] McAvoy and Colin Miller, they’re going to have to adjust quickly. But I’m not going to say that if they’re not our best players . . . that we have no chance, because I don’t think that’s fair to them.
“They may need some time to adjust, so it’s going to be our veteran players that are going to have to push the younger guys along early. I think that’s an advantage no matter who we line up against. We have guys that have won the Stanley Cup and they’ve been through the grind. They know what to expect, so they’ll have to do their part leadership-wise with the younger guys, and I have no doubt they will.”
It’s going to be about one of the NHL’s most dynamic duos, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, scoring and defending and wreaking havoc with the kind of chemistry that’s allowed them to score a combined 39 goals and 105 points in 161 career playoff games.
It’s going to be up to 40-year-old Zdeno Chara to summon the same Fountain of Hockey Youth he drank liberally from during the World Cup of Hockey last fall and then continued on to his best season in a couple of years. The presence of Carlo alongside him seemed to energize Chara, and the hope is that McAvoy can do the same if circumstances push those two together into a pairing by the end of the night.
It’s about the clutch instincts within David Krejci getting energized by a return to the postseason, a place he dominated by leading the playoff field in points in both 2011 (12 goals and 23 points in 25 games) and 2013 (nine goals and 26 points in 22 games) as he played an instrumental role in Boston’s drive to the Stanley Cup Final. He will be the playmaker charged with getting Pastrnak into the scoring areas that will make the 20-year-old an offensive force in his first playoff series.
It’s about Adam McQuaid rising to the occasion put in a prime spot as defensive partner to Zdeno Chara at puck drop for Game 1, and showing the kind of toughness and defensive tenacity that’s a hold-over from past Black and Gold glory.
It’s about veteran players like Matt Beleskey and David Backes living up to their past playoff reputations, and bringing the thunder in the form of punishing physicality and sheer intimidation that any opponent is in for a long, uncomfortable night.
“Everybody has to worry first of all about their own game. For sure there are going to be moments when the experience comes in handy,” said Chara. “But I think the only way to get the playoff experience is by playing in them. You can talk about having more players with playoff experience than another team, but you just need to go out there and play.”
Certainly the hope is that Spooner and Vatrano can find their offense in the postseason, and that McAvoy can provide a facsimile of Torey Krug’s game at a time when they need premier puck-moving and transition play against the trap-happy Senators. And that Pastrnak can light it up like he did all season with 34 goals and 70 points in 75 breakout games while giving Boston legit game-breaking threats on two different lines with Pastrnak and Marchand.
But this spring is still about the proud, still potent veterans who still have plenty of fight left in them.