Mike Milbury acknowledges that he didn’t see the Bruins’ outstanding regular season coming. He’s pretty sure we didn’t, either.
“I dare say there wasn’t anybody,’’ said Milbury, the former Bruins defenseman and coach who is part of NBC’s broadcast team for the first-round series with the Maple Leafs. “This was a very pleasant surprise for the Bruins and their fans and a tribute really to their scouting staff, because they just kept working in young talent. An awful lot of young talent developed and contributed at the same time.
“It turned out to be a nice blend with the seasoned veterans on this team. I think anyone who saw this coming is full of horse poop.”
Milbury’s candor and colorful way with words were on display Thursday night when he served as the analyst on NBCSN’s Game 1 broadcast. Games 1, 3, and 4 also air on NESN locally, with the TV schedule for Games 5-7 to be determined, if necessary. Game 2 airs exclusively on NBC Saturday.
Milbury said he has much respect for the season the Bruins put together, but he acknowledges wariness of the late-season slump that saw them go 1-3-1 in their last five games and lose a shot at the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
“They were a very fun team to watch for most of the year,” said Milbury. “The only thing that has people reeling a little bit is the finish, which was ugly. I’d have to check my math, but I believe they played 21 games in the last 39 days. [His math is correct.] That’s an awful lot of hockey, plus they got dinged up and it took them out of their rhythm.
“They’ve all talked about how confident they are and comfortable they are that they can get it back. But sometimes you lose it and it isn’t quite so easy to get it back. But it won’t be from a lack of trying, I’m sure.”
The Maple Leafs, who finished tied with the Capitals for the sixth-most points in the NHL (105), are a tougher first-round draw than perhaps the Bruins (112 points, fourth in the league) were expecting before their slump.
“If they don’t like the matchup, all they have to do is look in the mirror,’’ said Milbury. “If you’re a Bruins fan, of course you’d like to see them at the top of the conference with home-ice advantage for the duration, but it is what it is.
“They’re going to have their hands full. They’re going to see a quick team, a team with a bona fide superstar [Auston Matthews], a goal scorer in [James] van Riemsdyk that given his ice time has been remarkably productive on a good power play.”
Milbury said it’s imperative that the Bruins remember to be the aggressor against the Leafs.
“They’re going to have to be consistently persistent on the attack, because if they find themselves on their heels too often, I would be cautiously pessimistic of the outcome,’’ he said.
“The Bruins have been a great puck-moving team often this season, and they’re going to have to access it consistently to attack the Toronto defense, which I think can be vulnerable.”
Milbury also said it’s imperative that Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask does not prove vulnerable. Rask has had some noteworthy performances in his postseason career. He allowed a total of two goals in the four-game sweep of the Penguins in the 2013 Eastern Conference finals. But the Bruins lost to the Blackhawks in six games in the Stanley Cup Final, and Rask’s performance at times in the series was less than stellar, especially in the final minutes of Game 6.
“He bears a burden now, no doubt,’’ said Milbury. “Sometimes he doesn’t play well in big games. He has that laidback demeanor. That doesn’t mean he’s not competitive and doesn’t want to win, but I think it speaks to people in a not-so-good way sometimes.
“That’s why his fight [with the Lightning’s Cory Conacher in late March] was so uplifting to everybody. He said after the game, ‘I’m wired up and just have to go home and have a couple of beers and relax.’
“You’ve got to live with that, it’s his nature. But I don’t care what his nature is, his performance has to be at an elite level to shed any doubts about his worth. He’s had some runs, but it’s been a while now, and he needs to prove that he’s a big-game player. You’ve got to have it at this time of year.”
This is a hectic time of year for Milbury, naturally. But it’s been a hectic year. He moved from the studio to take on some color analyst duties when Eddie Olczyk underwent treatment for colon cancer.
He was in studio for NBCSN’s “NHL Live” pregame program Wednesday night along with Olczyk (who recently announced he is cancer-free) and host Liam McHugh. On Thursday, he was alongside Doc Emrick for Bruins-Leafs Game 1, with Pierre Maguire between the benches.
“They’re really two totally different animals, different jobs,’’ he said. “In the studio, you have time to get ready, to think about what you might want to say, time to react. You can set up your replays however you want.There’s more time to prepare and expound.
“In the booth with Doc — and that’s one of the fun parts, to work with him — you’ve got to be on it right away, and sometimes that’s dangerous because it’s your thought in the moment that comes out. It’s different, but it’s fun.
“The good thing about the booth is that you pretty much start your job when the whistle blows and they drop the puck, and when the game ends, you get to go home.”