Statisticians' favorite dark horse is heading into the playoffs: time to pick favorites for the Boston Bruins.
The Boston Bruins are the statisticians' favorite dark horse for this postseason. After a brief hiatus from playoff hockey, including last year’s disappointing spot on the outside looking in, the Bruins are ready to keep this season’s late roll going.
After firing Claude Julien to the general dismay of pundits, the change ended up working: under Bruce Cassidy, the club has gone 18-8-1 and solidified their playoff chances. It’s hard to pick out exactly why Julien wasn’t working anymore; his Stanley Cup Championship Bruins in 2011 and repeat visit to the finals in 2013 marks him as one of the best coaches in modern hockey. Although Cassidy is not a player, for a successful Bruins postseason this year, the coach will need to be the team’s MVP.
Although the Bruins are on a roll, they face a stiff test against an Ottawa Senators club that swept them in the regular season. That said, the regular season is over and the playoffs are a unique beast. Boston’s impressive possession game is a stats fan’s golden check and the reason why many favor them in the first round.
Despite the importance of Cassidy behind the bench, he’s not going to be a difference maker on the ice. Success in playoff hockey comes from either a player who can break a game wide open with skill or who can wear down the opposition. Of course, an elite netminder doesn’t hurt either. So, let’s take a look at who Boston will need to rely on.
Why Brad Marchand will be Boston’s most valuable player
What a season for Brad Marchand. After playing with Sidney Crosby in the World Cup of Hockey this past September, a fire seemed to be lit under the gritty, in-your-face, ‘former-pest’. No longer was Marchand known for just his questionable plays, but instead for an incredible offensive gift. That’s not to say he that used to be non-productive, but his 85 points this year kept him in conversation with generational talents like Crosby and Connor McDavid.
That said, Marchand has been a player who has struggled – points wise – in the postseason. His best year, 2011 when the Bruins won the Cup, he had eight goals and eleven assists. In his most recent playoff appearance in 2014, the winger put up only five assists and no goals. To propose a theory: Marchand’s on-the-fence, almost reckless play during the regular season distracts him during the playoffs when things get emotional. To succeed, he’ll need to keep his emotions focused on his newly demonstrated talent: point production.
If the usual Boston scoring culprits don’t show up, Marchand will become a necessity. This Bruins' season was his: without his scoring touch, it's doubtful whether the spiked Bruins would be in the position that they are now. When David Krejci faltered in March, Marchand was there. When Patrice Bergeron faltered in November and December, Marchand was there. He’s been the backbone of the team and will need to step up to alter his image once again to a playoff MVP.