Do Boston Bruins Have More Questions or Answers After Series vs. Maple Leafs?
The Bruins completed one of the most amazing and unexpected comebacks in NHL playoff history by erasing a 4-1 third-period deficit with three goals in the final 11 minutes of regulation (including two in the final 1:30). They won the series on a rebound goal in overtime from Patrice Bergeron to send Boston to the second round for the fourth time in the last five years.
"I thought the guys stayed with it, stayed on the task at hand," said Bergeron after the game.
"That second goal, like I said, really lifted the bench and the guys. Two goals and we knew we could do it at that point with the time we had left. Yeah, I thought the guys showed a lot of character coming back in it. We definitely made it interesting for us and for the fans, also."
After the emotion and excitement of Monday night's fantastic finish subsides, the Bruins will need to find some answers to a few serious questions and concerns. Heading into the Eastern Conference Semifinals, there are more questions than answers surrounding this team.
Is the Bruins' Inability to Finish Teams Early Something to Worry About?
When the Bruins took a 3-1 series lead after a thrilling Game 4 victory over the Leafs at the Air Canada Centre last week, the Original Six club looked poised to eliminate their Northeast Division rivals at home in Game 5.
But they were completely outplayed by the Leafs in that game as well as in the following matchup in Toronto, which forced a deciding Game 7.
The team's inability to finish opponents before the series gets to a Game 7 is definitely a legitimate concern. The Bruins are just 7-12 in closeout games (4-7 in non-Game 7 closeout games) since Claude Julien became the team's head coach prior to the 2007-08 season, and four of those wins came in the 2011 Stanley Cup run.
"We’ve always had trouble with the killer instinct," said Julien. "But that’s maybe a fault of ours, but a strength of ours is the character you saw tonight. There’s that fault, and then there’s that character. Somewhere along the way, you try to fix the faults and hopefully keep that character going. That’s the biggest challenge for me right now."
For a veteran team that's roster is full of former Stanley Cup champions, the Bruins' lack of effort and desperation was embarrassing in their first-round losses in Game 5 and Game 6.
Unlike the Leafs, the New York Rangers have a ton of playoff experience and a Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist who is calm, cool and collected under the pressure of the postseason.
Who will reach the Eastern Conference Finals?
The goal for the Bruins moving forward is consistency, which is something Julien wants to see immediately.
"We know we have to be better, we can’t keep playing well in spurts and not so well in other spurts," said Julien.
"There’s got to be some consistency. In the year we won, we had a 60-minute effort, that was our goal. We had more consistency throughout our whole game and right now we’re still battling with some inconsistency in our game, whether it’s one game to another, whether it’s from period to period or shift to shift."
If the Bruins don't play at or near the level of intensity and effort that was seen in their remarkable comeback against Toronto, then New York will make this next series a quick one.
Tuukka Rask Answers Questions About Playoff Readiness
One question that was finally answered was: How would Tuukka Rask perform in the first round in his first year as the team's No. 1 goalie of the future?
To his credit, Rask was fantastic in this series. His consistently strong play in net is the main reason Boston won't be booking its tee times on Tuesday.
The 26-year-old goaltender and pending restricted free agent made a number of incredible glove saves in Game 7 to prevent the Leafs from extending their lead beyond the Bruins' reach. He also made a great breakaway save in the third period when Boston was still two goals down.
He finished with a 2.49 goals against average and a .923 save percentage, and even though his GAA might seem a bit high, very few of the goals he gave up in the first round were his fault.
Rask was one of the best goaltenders in the NHL this season (third in save percenage, fifth in GAA, first in shutouts), but the next challenge will be his toughest yet. He must outduel Lundqvist, who is considered by many (myself included) to be the world's best goalie.
Lundqvist carried a Rangers team that couldn't score goals consistently until Game 7, registering two shutouts in their first-round series victory against the Washington Capitals. He notched a 1.65 GAA and a .947 save percentage.
Lundqvist is playing his best hockey of the season, and he has the ability to steal a series with his dominant play. Therefore, Rask cannot afford to have any terrible performances, or the Bruins' chances of reaching the conference finals will be quite slim.
When Will Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand Start to Produce Offensively?
If the Bruins had lost in the first round, Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand would have shouldered much of the blame. They combined for zero goals and just three assists through seven games.
These top-six forwards are two of the team's best offensive players, especially Seguin, who is the most highly skilled goal scorer in the lineup with his incredible speed, hands, wrist shot and playmaking ability.
Since the Rangers are so strong defensively with a blue line that includes Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, Anton Stralman and Michael Del Zotto, Boston will need its best forwards to generate quality scoring chances consistently for the team to put enough pucks past a goaltender of Lundqvist's caliber.
Seguin's problem is a lack of aggressiveness in the attacking zone. In four of the last five games against the Leafs, he had three or fewer shots on goal. He needs to use his speed to drive hard toward goal and at least hit the net so his teammates can capitalize on any rebounds from Lundqvist.
As for Marchand, it's tough to tell what's wrong with his game. Since he scored 11 goals in the 2011 playoffs as a rookie, the 25-year-old winger has just one goal in his last 14 postseason games. But as long as he keeps working hard and fights for pucks in the dirty areas, the goals will start to come.
Interestingly, the best shift of the series for the Marchand, Seguin and Bergeron line came on the series-winning goal in overtime. Seguin jammed a puck loose from a scrum in front of James Reimer's net, which allowed Bergeron to pounce on the opportunity.
It was a small effort play that the Bruins will hope increases Seguin's confidence as he prepares for a tough series.
After being the team's most reliable line during the regular season, it's hard to imagine this trio failing to produce offensively for a second straight series.
Who Plays on the 3rd Line?
The Bruins' third line has been a disaster all season, and this series was even more proof of that. So many different players have taken a turn on this line, but the guys who spent the most time in this role versus the Leafs were Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly and Jaromir Jagr.
Peverley and Kelly combined for one goal, no assists and a minus-seven rating against the Leafs, while Jagr added four assists in the series.
The Bruins will lose to the Rangers if they become a two-line team, which means that the third line will have to provide the club with the needed amount of scoring depth.
But if these three players fail to be more productive, Julien does have some options to consider.
Late-season acquisition Carl Soderberg, who led the Swedish Elite League in goals this season, could be a fit on the third line as a physical player with some offensive skill. The issue with Soderberg is that he's never played in an NHL playoff game. However, he does have postseason experience in Europe and international experience with Team Sweden.
The next-best option is Kaspars Daugavins, who was acquired off waivers in the regular season. He's a gritty player who can add a bit of scoring, but he has just two games of playoff experience.
After a disappointing series, figuring out the right combination of players for the third line is going to be a top priority for Julien before the next round. When the Bruins are unable to roll with four quality lines, they are a much less dangerous team.
How Bad are Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference and Wade Redden's Injuries?
The Bruins were without three veteran defensemen in Game 7 with Andrew Ference and Wade Redden scratched. Seidenberg injuring his leg in the early minutes of the first period. His night ended with just 0:37 of ice time.
Seidenberg is one of the league's best shutdown blueliners and a player who Julien will want to put on the ice whenever Rangers star forward Rick Nash hops over the boards.
The tandem of Seidenberg and captain Zdeno Chara gives the Bruins the best shutdown pairing in the NHL (they've combined for 22 blocked shots and 41 hits in the playoffs). But when these two players are split, the decrease in the team's performance defensively is noticeable.
Who would you trust more in Round 2?
Not only are all three of these defensemen reliable, good in their own end and capable of providing scoring from the blue line, they combine for 273 games of playoff experience.
When one or more of these players cannot make the lineup, Julien is forced to play rookies Matt Bartkowski and Dougie Hamilton. Bartkowski and Hamilton played well in spurts against the Leafs, but putting rookies, especially defensemen, in high-pressure situations in the postseason is far from an ideal situation.
Julien did not provide postgame updates on Redden and Ference, and when asked about Seidenberg, he said, "We’ll know better tomorrow whether it’s short term or long term."
If the German defenseman is out for an extended period of time, the Bruins will continue to be vulnerable in their own zone without the team's second-best defensive player.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs in Boston. He's also a credentialed reporter at the 2013 NHL playoffs in Boston. Nick has covered the Bruins since the 2010-11 season. All quotes obtained firsthand.
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