After a nine-year drought, playoff hockey finally returned to Toronto. Arguably the most passionate fans around, Leafs Nation swarmed the streets prior to this week’s games. Cheers ranging from “Go Leafs Go” to the anti-Bruin variety rocked Toronto day in and day out, as both teams prepared for a crucial two-game tilt.
The Bruins, who traveled up north with hopes of taking a 3-1 series lead, took care of business in impressive fashion. While not all aspects of their game were on par (the defense,) the goalie, first line center, and surprising power play may have sealed the deal with two huge road victories.
Much of the chatter surrounding the series is to be expected. The stellar play of Tuukka Rask, the borderline abysmal play of James Reimer (though he was better last game,) the MVP-like performance of David Krejci; but there is more going on here. The Bruins, who’s 14.6 regular season power play percentage ranked them 26th in the league, netted two key man-advantage goals in Wednesday night’s game.
While a 21.4 playoff percentage isn’t anything to rave about, it does rank them 6th out of the 16 teams. And think about just how much time we’ve all spent discussing the Bruins dreaded power play unit the past few years, and since the unfortunate loss of Marc Savard on that brutal hit from well, you know who.
We can attribute the recent success to a number of things. First and foremost, Jaromir Jagr has made a huge difference. Whether it’s taking guys aside in practice and providing his own special teams intellect, or working the half-wall making creative plays and pinpoint passes, Jagr has made a difference.
He reminds me of an MLB pitcher who used to throw the 96 MPH cheese, but then adjusts his game at an older age due to a loss of velocity. Without the wheels, Jagr is now more of a Savvy-esque player. He dishes the puck with perfection and makes everyone around him better.
Confidence is also a key factor in the improved power play. With guys like Krejci, Milan Lucic, and Nathan Horton playing much, much better come playoff time, you can see their confidence on the special teams unit. Quick puck movement resulting in Krejci’s slap shot one-timer Wednesday night was a thing of beauty, and something we haven’t seen from the Bruins man-advantage in a long, long time.
In order for the team to go on another run though, they must be clicking on all cylinders. While the power play has improved the penalty kill has struggled, which comes as a major surprise considering their excellence in the first half of the regular season. Wednesday was better though, as they killed off all four Toronto power plays in the victory. If they can clean it up in front of the net and do a better job clearing the puck, they should get back to their stout penalty kill ways.
You could point to the 2011 Bruins, who won the Cup while scoring only one man-advantage goal against the Vancouver Canucks in the final series, but that was a different year. Tim Thomas had one of the best postseason performances you will ever see. And while Rask has been stellar thus far, you can’t expect another performance of that sort- Thomas was otherworldly.
Both special teams units must build off Wednesday night’s effort and find that crucial consistently to be a game changer moving forward for the black and gold. Friday night will be a huge opportunity for them, as a Game 5 win will advance the Bruins to the next round.