Blueprint to an Extended Playoff Run for the Boston Bruins

Chris Blanchard@@BlanchardNHLContributor IIIApril 17, 2013

Blueprint to an Extended Playoff Run for the Boston Bruins

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    As the Stanley Cup playoffs approach, the Boston Bruins are gearing up for a lengthy postseason run, but  they will need to reach their peak if they are to claim their second title in three years. 

    Despite stumbling into inconsistency of late, the Bruins remain just one point out of first place in the Northeast Division with seven games remaining. Over the next two weeks the Bruins, Canadiens and suddenly surging Maple Leafs will race for a division crown that will likely come packaged with the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. 

    Even if the Bruins fail to claim their third straight division title, they can be a dangerous team from the middle of the bracket with the talent and experience to take on all comers. 

    Here are a few keys the Bruins will need to focus on to extend their quest for the cup:

1. Getting Healthy

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    At this point in the season, nearly every team is dealing with injuries, but the Bruins were hit harder than most with recent concussions to both Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. 

    Bergeron leads the Bruins in points with 33, while Marchand, the team's leading goal scorer, trails by just two. Along with Tyler Seguin, the duo makes up Boston's most effective line at both ends of the ice. 

    Bergeron and Marchand's offensive contribution aside, the pair also leads the Bruins in plus-minus with stellar ratings of plus-23 and plus-22, respectively. Bergeron, the defending Frank J. Selke Trophy winner, is especially crucial to Boston's defensive game and league-leading penalty kill. 

    Both players also raise their game when it matters most—playoff time. Two years ago, Bergeron and a then-rookie Marchand combined for 39 points on the B's postseason run, and each player scored twice in Boston's Game 7 victory over Vancouver in the Stanley Cup Finals. 

    It's safe to say that if either or both misses significant postseason action, Boston's championship hopes could take a nosedive. 

    Luckily for Boston, time is on their side, and both players seem likely to see the ice very soon, according to CSNNE's Joe Haggerty:

    Claude Julien said Brad Marchand has been "cleared for contact" and Patrice Bergeron is "highly probable" to return vs. Buffalo #BruinsTalk

    — Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) April 16, 2013

    With alternate captain Chris Kelly and physical defenseman Adam McQuaid returning to action in the last two weeks, the banged up Bruins seem to be getting healthy at a critical time. 

    If no complications arise, the squad should be at full strength by the time the playoffs begin. 

2. Incorporating Carl Soderberg and Establishing Offensive Chemistry

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    After a lengthy and dramatic transfer saga, the IIHF overruled an unfounded Swedish IHA objection on Saturday to allow Carl Soderberg to finally sign with the Boston Bruins. 

    After leading the Swedish Elitserien in goals (31) and posting 60 points in just 54 games while playing for Linkopings HC, the dynamic forward will finally have a chance to help boost Boston's oft-struggling offense. 

    The 27-year-old's NHL rights were acquired from the St. Louis Blues in 2007 in exchange for Hannu Toivonen, and he should be arriving in Boston soon, according to the team.

    Soderberg will join the Bruins on Wednesday and be eligible for the rest of the regular season and playoffs. He'll wear No. 34 as a Bruin^CS

    — Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) April 13, 2013

    The arrival of "the Yeti" as he is called, raises a number of questions, namely how he will translate to a smaller ice surface and a more physical league. Perhaps a more pressing issue for Bruins coach Claude Julien concerns who he will play with. 

    The Bruins line combinations have been hurled into chaos by the recent arrival of Jaromir Jagr and the injuries to Brand Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. Over the next two weeks they will look to find new combos that will stick long-term, and Soderberg will need to carve out his own place in the lineup. 

    ESPN's James Murphy proposed the following solution to Julien's conundrum:

      Left Wing Center Right Wing
    Line 1 Jaromir Jagr David Krejci Nathan Horton
    Line 2 Brad Marchand Patrice Bergeron Tyler Seguin
    Line 3 Carl Soderberg Chris Kelly Milan Lucic
    Line 4 Daniel Paille Greg Campbell Rich Peverley

    Murphy's configuration has its share of pros and cons as it attempts to reconcile Boston's wealth of centers and right wingers with a shortage of options on the left wing. 

    While this scenario allows the Bruins to maintain the chemistry of the Marchand-Bergeron-Seguin line, it forces both Jagr and Milan Lucic away from their favored wings. This lineup also holds pugilist Shawn Thornton and defensive specialists Jay Pandolfo and Jordan Caron out of the lineup. 

    Despite its flaws, such a lineup would keep Boston's top-six offensive players on lines one and two, while simultaneously promoting scoring depth and physical play on the back end.

    Success or failure will likely be determined by the success of Jagr, Soderberg and Lucic, who will need to establish themselves in new roles. While Jagr and Soderberg focus on adjusting to a new team, the long-slumping Lucic will need to react to a probable demotion with a late season surge. 

3. Resting Up

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    Though the NHL season was nearly cut in half by the lockout, the late-season grind is still being felt in full force. 

    It must be remembered that, although the Bruins have played fewer games this season, they've played them in slightly quicker succession, and more importantly, many Bruins players participated in other leagues during the lockout, resulting in abnormally high game totals. 

    Rookie Dougie Hamilton, who was rested for Boston's last two contests, played 32 games with the OHL's Niagara IceDogs and represented Canada six times before joining the Bruins in January. With 39 NHL games under his belt, he has amassed a total of 75 games this season and could be at risk of hitting the infamous "rookie wall" in the near future.

    Tyler Seguin played 29 games in Switzerland, giving him a grand total 70 games played, and David Krejci clocks in close behind him with 64 contests split between North America and his native Czech Republic. 

    Krejci's countryman Jaromir Jagr, who is seeking his first cup since winning it all 21 years ago, has played 74 games between the Czech Extraliga's HC Kladno, the Dallas Stars and now the Bruins. As the season drags on, the 41-year-old Jagr and his teammates may tire out. 

    Luckily the Bruins find themselves well-equipped to rest key players down the stretch with a tremendous amount of depth in the locker room. 

    On defense, trade deadline acquisition Wade Redden and youngster Matt Bartkowski are perfectly capable of stepping in to lend a breather to tired comrades, the teenage Hamilton or aging veterans like Andrew Ference. 

    On offense, reinforcement Carl Soderberg will add an extra body, meaning Shawn Thornton, Jay Pandolfo, Kaspars Daugavins and Jordan Caron will be available to jump in on any given day. 

    As the end of the season nears, expect all six reserves to see action as the Bruins stars freshen up for the business-end of the campaign. 

4. Playing for the City

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    In the wake of an unspeakable tragedy like the Patriots Day bombings at the Boston Marathon, we as a nation so often turn to sports as a source of hope, inspiration and community. 

    Though nothing will heal the damage done by the devastating attack, the Boston Bruins will have the opportunity to distract the city from its heartache, and perhaps, bring out some smiles in the Bay State's sports-obsessed capital. 

    Only eight current Bruins have never hoisted the Stanley Cup, but the tired bunch will have no lack of motivation this spring. As the entire world turns its thoughts and prayers toward the Bruins' hometown, they will undoubtedly do their utmost to respond in a manner befitting the heart, perseverance and work ethic of the city. 

    Bruins coach Claude Julien told ESPN:

    We represent the city of Boston and we want to make sure we represent them well. All you can do is go out there and give it all you’ve got. Whether it gives a little bit of joy, or excitement to some people, it’s going to take a while to heal from this, and we don’t expect tomorrow to be the day that everything’s going to be OK, but you’ve got to start somewhere and tomorrow’s a great time for us to go out there and play our hearts out for all the right reasons.

    On April 15, the Boston community gathered as it so often does to celebrate sports. With its joy suddenly replaced by grief and fear, Boston, now more than ever, needs something to celebrate. 

    Like the New Orleans Saints in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Bruins now face the challenge of becoming a symbol of hope for a city that has had its faith tested. 

    If they can respond with emotion, urgency and strength in the coming weeks, skating through brick walls for a city soon to be painted black and gold once again, then they will make their fanbase proud, and, if only for a moment, relieve the pain that shrouds the city. 

    Though the challenge is immense, it could end with Boston's seventh Stanley Cup.