As the Bruins begin their postseason pursuit Friday night of their third Stanley Cup Final appearance in four years and, they hope, their second championship in that span, there is a popular perception that they could have had a more favorable first-round draw.
Facing those Eastern Conference newcomers, the decorated Detroit Red Wings, in the first round may seem a lousy reward for winning the President’s Trophy with the league’s best record. But two broadcasters who have seen the Bruins the most this season are the least concerned.
“I don’t think this is a lengthy series,’’ said NESN color analyst Andy Brickley, who will join Jack Edwards for the call of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals series Friday. “I don’t see it going six or seven. I think the Bruins take care of business in five games. I think they’ll win a game in Detroit and hold serve at home. I think there will be some really hard fought, close games in this series. But I also see a 4-0 win, a 4-1 win, a game that’s in [the Bruins’] control for most of it.
“I try to be as objective as I can, but when you try to project it, that’s how I see it evolving. I’m not ignoring what Detroit brings to the table, I think the Bruins strengths are stronger than Detroit’s strengths.”
Brickley shoots for objectivity. Edwards often is accused, with compelling evidence by the prosecution, of being anything but objective, which makes him both popular and polarizing. But the NESN play-by-play voice is respectful of Detroit — a perennially fast and skilled team, but one not nearly as deep as the Bruins this season — while also emphasizing that the Bruins’ belief in their own talent and system is virtually impenetrable.
“If you see yourself as a Stanley Cup champion, you fear no team,’’ Edwards said. “There’s nothing wrong with getting significantly, emotionally involved from the very get-go. I think that this team doesn’t fear any other team. Yeah, Detroit matches up well with Boston, Montreal matches up well with Boston, but the flip side of that is this Bruins team really welcomes challenges. I don’t think they’re looking for an easy way out. You could line up any of the other 15 teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs, put ‘em against the Bruins, and the Bruins would say, ‘We respect our opponent, we expect a good tough series, and we expect to win.’ ”
The Bruins racked up 54 wins and 117 points this season. They outscored opponents by 84 goals. They’re at least three lines deep at forward, have added quality youth to the Zdeno Chara-led defensive corps, and Tuukka Rask is among the league’s elite goaltenders. While the ultimate legacy of this team will be determined by how it fares in the postseason, Brickley said the Bruins have a couple of factors working in their favor beyond that extraordinary depth that suggests they may be poised for another deep run.
One is the sense of unfinished business after losing to Chicago in six games in last year’s Finals. The other? Increased maturity, almost to a man.
“In the past, I was a little concerned when they were the favorite because they didn’t handle it as well as they appear to now,’’ Brickley said. “There’s a more mature confidence about this team. And I think that has a lot to with when they get scored upon, it doesn’t always bother them. It’s the way they carry themselves, the way they come back. They didn’t get the most points in the league by accident. Nothing rattles them. That has something to do with where they are at in their careers, not just individually but together.”
He was asked if the increased maturity is a direct parallel to the deal that sent talented but not-always-reliable Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars in the offseason for Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith, and prospects.
“No, I’m not going include that deal as part of that analysis of this being a mature group. I’m talking about Patrice Bergeron, who has had the best season of his career and is an absolutely dominant player in the National Hockey League. I’m talking about David Krejci. I’m talking about Milan Lucic. The addition of Jarome Iginla. Obviously Chara. The fourth line when they’re together because they’ve been together. I’m talking about Chris Kelly. Those types of players, Johnny Boychuk. This group that has been together for several years, other than some turnover, such as bringing in some young D, which was important to get quicker in transition. As a group, they’ve matured — [Brad] Marchand, even.’’
Should the Bruins advance past the first round, as Brickley and Edwards expect, their roles on NESN’s coverage will change. NBC has exclusive rights to Games 2 and 5 of this series, and then every game broadcast beyond the quarterfinals belongs to the national rights holder. It’s understandable and even fair — NBC pays big money for these games — but that doesn’t mean it’s not frustrating for the broadcasters who know the team best.
“Am I frustrated, am I disappointed, that all we get is a piece of the first round?’’ said Brickley. “Absolutely. But this isn’t a time for individual emotions.”
Edwards didn’t hazard a prediction on when the first round will end. But he knows when he doesn’t want it to end.
“I hope it doesn’t end in five, because that means NBC would have the finale,’’ said Edwards, “and that would get under my saddle.”