What Went Right: Boston Bruins

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The Boston Bruins run to the Stanley Cup, the franchise’s first since 1972, had more than its share of ups and downs and drama. From winning three Game 7s through the playoffs, twice fighting off 0-2 holes to start a series, to the tough injuries through the playoffs to Patrice Bergeron and Nathan Horton, there were moments when things looked bleak. Through all that though the Bruins persevered and proved that a team can work as a unit of 20 players and conquer all.

While it’s easy to say that everything went right for Boston on their march through the playoffs, there’s a few things that standout in particular. No, they don’t all start with Tim Thomas either.

1. But seriously, Tim Thomas

We’re not going to keep you waiting to read about how Tim Thomas’ playoffs were the reason why the Bruins overcame everything and won the Stanley Cup. You know it, we know it, everyone knows it: Without Tim Thomas playing out of his mind the Bruins are likely dead in the water in the opening round of the playoffs.

He broke Kirk McLean’s records for shots faced and saves made in one playoff season and broke Johnny Bower’s record for most saves made in the Stanley Cup finals. Thomas’ 1.98 goals against average and .940 save percentage through the playoffs are remarkable numbers considering the amount of action he saw through the Bruins’ 25 playoff games. While he had his struggles against Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals his team helped bail him out. He repaid them by saving their bacon in the Stanley Cup finals in every way possible. Thomas’ playoff performance coupled with his regular season play will go down as one of the single greatest goaltending seasons of all time.

2. Production from everywhere

The Bruins finished the playoffs with 12 players in double figures in points. Of those 12, nine were forwards. Doing the math that I know you can all do so well that means three lines worth of players producing goals and half of the defensemen getting in on the action as well. A steady, balanced attack that saw virtually everyone end up being dangerous in one way or another.

David Krejci led the way with 12 goals and 11 assists to lead everyone in the playoffs in scoring with 23 points. Despite missing two games, Patrice Bergeron racked up 20 points (6 g, 14 a)  and Brad Marchand finished with 11 goals and eight assists of his own. Nathan Horton missed the final four games of the finals but scored series clinching goals against Montreal and Tampa Bay and wound up with 17 points in the playoffs. Michael Ryder despite all of his critics in Boston also finished with 17 points.

Even on defense the Bruins got great production. Dennis Seidenberg and Tomas Kaberle each had 11 points while Andrew Ference had 10 points. Seidenberg providing the points on his pairing with Zdeno Chara (nine points of his own) made their twosome all the more fearful as they were shutting down top lines and adding offense on occasion as well. For all the slings and arrows Kaberle took from fans and media alike, he turned out to have a great playoffs. Perhaps Boston won’t be so quick to let him walk this summer after all.

When a team rolls out that kind of production across such a wide range of players on different lines it makes matching up against them difficult. The work Boston’s fourth line did in disrupting opponents flow and providing a spark was intense as Gregory Campbell, Dan Paille, and a combination of Shawn Thornton and Tyler Seguin did wonders to mix things up. Their ability to do all that was made possible thanks to some fantastic tutelage.

3. Claude Julien can coach him some hockey

Claude Julien’s tenure in Boston hadn’t always been a pretty one. From his choices to let Tyler Seguin be a healthy scratch at times during the season and in the playoffs to his insistence on keeping Michael Ryder in the lineup despite his mercurial play, to his not always joyful demeanor he was a guy Boston fans didn’t always warm up to. In the playoffs though he showed what he’s all about.

In the face of struggles against Montreal, Tampa Bay, and Vancouver he faced questions over how to handle the lineup and the strategy employed against those teams and made the slight tweaks and adjustments necessary to help turn the tide. The Bruins series against Montreal might stand out as his crowning glory as the Bruins headed to the road for Games 3 and 4 down 0-2 in the series and battled back to even things up and ultimately won in seven games. With all the drama and hysterics involved in that opening round series, it would’ve been easy to let things get away. Julien never wavered in how to handle things.

While the Bruins stuck to their plans, he figured out ways to tweak Montreal, found ways to bust up Tampa Bay’s 1-3-1 defense, and juggled his set up against Vancouver enough to make them wildly uncomfortable throughout the series. The strategies employed weren’t always obvious but the subtle work he did in keeping things rolling ahead is impressive and needs to be better appreciated.

4. Turns out special teams weren’t so bad after all

Sure the Bruins power play was savaged all playoffs long for being poor. At 11.4% that power play success isn’t much to write home about in the playoffs but their work all around including how to play shorthanded was incredible, especially in the Stanley Cup finals.

Facing a Canucks power play that was scoring at nearly a 30% rate, the Bruins stifled them forcing them to go 2-33 in the series (6%) all the while they scored three shorthanded goals in the series. When you’re able to turn the tables on a team that thrived on scoring with the man advantage like that it’s like punching someone in the gut. In the case of the Canucks it was more like Brad Marchand punching a Sedin in the face like a speed bag. For all the Bruins shortcomings on the power play, they made sure to more than make up for it when killing off the opponents power plays.

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The Bruins did so many great things in the playoffs it’s no wonder they came away with the Stanley Cup. In their quest to repeat next season, they’re in stunningly good shape as they’ll only have a couple of minor roster decisions to take care of regarding free agents. Add to that that they get yet another high-end draft pick from the Maple Leafs and things are looking awfully nice in Boston.

Provided Boston gets a healthy Nathan Horton (and maybe Marc Savard) back next season and then perhaps more minutes and improving play from Tyler Seguin things are looking awfully good once again for the Bruins in 2011-2012.