The Bruins begin their quest for the Stanley Cup Saturday night against the Washington Capitals.
Ahead of Game 1, the Globe hosted a subscriber-only webinar with the Bruins coverage team to preview the playoffs and offer thoughts on how the first-round series with the Capitals might play out.
National NHL writer Kevin Paul Dupont, Bruins beat writer Matt Porter, and columnist Tara Sullivan gathered on Zoom Friday for the discussion, moderated by sports editor Matt Pepin. Here are the highlights from the conversation.
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What kind of series can we expect from Bruins vs. Capitals? What are the intriguing story lines?
Porter: “Physical is the first word that comes to mind because of some of the players involved. You look at Tom Wilson, Alex Ovechkin, who loves to throw his weight around, and Zdeno Chara. Heard of him? The Bruins can play that style too, even though they have become more of a speed team over the recent years. I think there are going to be a lot of hits as they try to establish the tone in the series early.”
Porter, however, believes the series will shift as it goes on.
“It’s going to develop into more of a skill series eventually because both teams can play that style as well,” he said. “I think they’ll probably realize maybe it’s not the way the series is going and lean more to the skill plays and power plays.
“Both these teams can shoot the lights out on the power play. The smart thing to do for both teams is to stay out of the box. I think the skill will take over in this series.”
Sullivan: “That physicality and how it plays itself out is intriguing, especially if it gets to get chippy early on. I love to zero in on personalities and the singular human story lines. For me, Tuukka Rask, is the single most fascinating person in this series. When you think back to his decision last year in leaving the bubble, which I know feels like a different universe and a different time, but happened and is still there.
“For him to have another opportunity in the playoffs and what it means to him, how he performs, what it would mean if he could help carry this team to a Cup. I could go on forever but I’m a believer in Tuukka and I just find his whole arc and story line in these playoffs fascinating.”
Do you think the Bruins regret not re-signing Zdeno Chara?
Dupont: “I don’t know if they do. I think they should and I felt that way from the first week. His presence in terms of his play, what he meant in the room, and his institutional importance to the franchise, those are things you can’t just pick up on the waiver wire or at the trade deadline.
“This is a series where there is no shaking out or getting used to each other. They’ve played each other eight times, including Tuesday night. I suspect off the hop it’s going to be very aggressive. Ironically, I think some of that charge falls to Chara. Even though Chara is a No. 3 pairing defensemen, I find his presence profound.”
Porter disagreed, saying the Bruins needed to see what they had for defensive prospects and noted the difficulty of developing players if Chara was still on the roster.
Porter: “You have to see if guys like Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, and Urho Vaakanainen are NHL players. But that’s not going to happen if you’re playing Chara 15-18 minutes per night. He wasn’t going to accept a 40-game type schedule and eventually, you kind of have to move on.
“It looks good now because they were able to walk the tightrope in the middle of the season with all of their injuries and COVID stuff. [The Bruins] look really good getting Mike Reilly, who has been a revelation. I was with it from the start and I think it was the right move. I think it was uncomfortable obviously and probably will be for the next two weeks to see Chara in a Capitals uniform.”
Dupont countered by citing how the Bruins are in win-now mode.
Dupont: “The prevailing point is that the franchise, frankly since the spring of 2011, is saying ‘Let’s win this thing with Bergeron and Krejci before they get too old.’ Well guess what, folks? They are 33 to 35 years old now. This is the time to win it. This is not the time to bring in kids and turn it into D camp. If you’re really into winning it this spring, Chara is your guy.”
Can the Bruins win the Stanley Cup, and what will it take?
Dupont: “I’ve got a lot of reasons to love them going in here. The main reason is the motivation of old guys who know their roles and know this may be the last kick of the can. Another aspect is the five-on-five scoring came around. Why did it come around? Because they went out and got Taylor Hall and solidified a second line. They have two dynamic lines going into the playoffs and I’ve rarely seen that with the Bruins. And I think Rask will be fine unless his back does kick up.”
Dupont: “What we saw against St. Louis two years ago in the Final. The defense will take a pounding. Specifically, Matt Grzelcyk is going to take a pounding. He’s become a vital piece of the back end right now. But if I’m on the other side and I’m looking for a large vulnerability, it’s Grzelcyk. And I’d pound the living daylights out of him. That’s the nature of the game come playoff time.”
Porter: “I agree with you on Grzelcyk. If you look at the back end and if they lose him, you put Lauzon up with McAvoy and it’s a completely different pair. Healthy, though, I think the Bruins can compete with Vegas, Colorado, Tampa Bay. The Bruins are one of the best teams in this tournament if they can stay healthy.
“We haven’t seen top two lines like this, especially in my years on the beat. You don’t even really know which is their top line right now. They’re matchup hell for anyone, and the Capitals are going to have to pick their poison. I like them against a lot of different teams.”
Does Rask give the Bruins the best chance to win, or is it Jeremy Swayman?
Dupont: “It’s a great question and it’s getting a lot of pop right now. My position is go with what you know, which is Tuukka Rask. I think he’s past last year; I hope he is past that. The biggest issue with Rask is his recent injury and whether he holds up.
“While Swayman is certainly the bright shining object right now, the caveats are: He’s only faced six NHL teams and he’s only played 10 games. You do have to see goaltenders over the course of 2-3 years to really be convinced they are an elite goaltender. Rask is that. It’s the most critical position and they’re certainly not in any desperate situation. I see no need to put the pressure on Swayman.”
Sullivan: “The simple question is: Can they win a Cup with Rask? I think, in 2019, the way he performed, I think he answered that question. At least, he did for me. I know they didn’t win it but I don’t think that was on Rask. There were plenty of games throughout that run when he stood on his head. I know it’s two years since then, but for me he is good enough to backstop an entire Stanley Cup run. Talent-wise, skill-wise, temperament-wise, he is.”
Predictions for Bruins vs. Capitals?
Porter: “Bruins in five. I think Washington is banged up from Ovechkin to Kuznetsov. T.J. Oshie is playing hurt right now. I see a lot of holes on that roster and the Bruins are the hottest team in the league right now. You can’t overthink that.”
Sullivan: “Bruins in six. Just because of the physical nature, I think there are a couple of games that may be a little bit harder to win than they think.”
Dupont: “I’m on Bruins in six. I think they split down in Washington to open it up and then somewhere along the way over the course of the next four games, the Capitals win one of those. So they win it at home in six.”