The Biggest Question for Every Boston Bruin in Sochi

Al DanielCorrespondent IIFebruary 17, 2014

The Biggest Question for Every Boston Bruin in Sochi

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    Patrice Bergeron got a good look at Tuukka Rask, his NHL teammate-turned-Olympic opponent, in round-robin action.
    Patrice Bergeron got a good look at Tuukka Rask, his NHL teammate-turned-Olympic opponent, in round-robin action.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Three of the five Boston Bruins players competing in the Sochi Olympics have joined their respective countries in earning a quarterfinal bye. The other two, Slovakia’s Zdeno Chara and the Czech Republic’s David Krejci, will square off on Tuesday for the right to advance in the playoff round.

    The updated bracket is detailed here on the IIHF’s official website.

    Every black and gold ambassador to the ultimate international dance composed a mixed transcript in their three respective preliminary round contests. As might be expected when a team hastily assembles for a short-term tournament, most players have unveiled truer colors as the schedule has progressed.

    Now the stakes are more stringent as everybody’s medal hopes hinge on their next game. In turn, each individual must be sure to take anything worth building on and avoid any reruns of initial jitters from the round robin in the elimination contests.

    Based on their topmost highlights and/or lowlights from the past week and what lies ahead for their teams this week, here is one question to bear in mind while watching each Boston Olympian as the tournament heats up.

Where Does Bergeron Fit In Best With Canada?

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    Lars Baron/Getty Images

    Perhaps CBS Boston columnist Matt Kalman had it right last week when he made Patrice Bergeron’s case for a more multifaceted role on Team Canada.

    Per Eric Duhatschek of the Globe and Mail, Sidney Crosby had this to say Sunday after centering Bergeron and Jamie Benn in a 2-1 win over Finland: “I don’t think we gave up a lot and still generated some chances in the third…We’re holding onto the puck a lot.”

    How much of that can one attribute to the line’s inclusion of Bergeron, one of Canada’s two-way connoisseurs?

    Bergeron did tally two assists Thursday versus Norway when he lined up with Benn and John Tavares. But Sunday’s less tangible success with Crosby is worth a closer look.

    Crosby was working with Bergeron when he drew a power play at the expense of Finland’s Jarkko Immonen, a key development noted by Neil Davidson of The Canadian Press. It was Canada’s lone man-advantage of the day and it set up the icebreaker.

    Bergeron is defying the odds as his ice time grows. He logged 10 minutes and 59 seconds against Norway, 13:14 against Austria and 15:28 on Sunday.

    So far, he has made those minutes count with 14 wins on 18 faceoffs and the scoring chances he has shared with any given line. If the latter keep coming and Crosby starts scoring, then this is a sustainable arrangement.

    Of course, there is no telling how two full days of preparation for an as-yet-unknown quarterfinal opponent might affect the status quo. But fresh specimens of authentic game action say that Bergeron is more than just a utility penalty killer.

Can Captain Chara Rally His Charges?

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Towering captain Zdeno Chara and Team Slovakia personified frustration for the duration of their round-robin schedule. They brooked a 7-1 drubbing via the United States, a 3-1 upset at the hands of Slovenia and let Russia get the bigger half of a three-point wishbone in a shootout.

    The good news is that the Slovaks grew more efficient with each passing game and the 65-minute, 0-0 tie with the Russians reflected resilience. After all, they conducted that contest 24 hours after the Slovenia debacle and stymied a doubtlessly determined Russian armada.

    Having settled for the No. 10 overall seed, Chara and his countrymen will now face their geographic neighbors, the seventh-seeded Czechs. A win would grant them a second crack at the Americans, whom Chara was remarkably efficient against.

    Chara was on the ice for his team’s first goal and only one of the seven American strikes. The canceling tallies allowed him to escape with an even rating on the day. Contrast that with the 13 teammates who posted a negative plus/minus.

    Against Slovenia, Chara assisted on the lone Slovak goal, but not before watching two biscuits fill his basket from close range.

    So far, the Russia game has been the closest Slovakia has come to getting an exemplary effort from their captain and following his act.

    Come what may, the Slovaks must now focus on Krejci and company. With his leadership position in both tangible and intangible capacities, it will fall heavily on Chara to ensure end-to-end competitive zest.

Is Eriksson Numb Or Knocking On The Door?

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    Martin Rose/Getty Images

    With 58 minutes and seven seconds over the first three Olympic contests, Loui Eriksson has logged the most ice time of any of the Swedish forwards who have yet to record a point. The closest “runner-up” in that category, Marcus Kruger, is averaging 8:08 fewer per night.

    That does not mean Eriksson has been playing empty minutes. The Swedes have buried a tournament-best five power-play conversions and Eriksson has been on the ice for three of them―one versus the Czechs and two against Latvia.

    In addition, it was Eriksson’s shot that reporter Slava Malamud deemed “what can easily be called the save of the tournament.” Per Malamud’s account of Saturday’s Sweden-Latvia tilt, goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis snared “a point-blank shot by Loui Eriksson, who tried to one-time the puck off an excellent pass by Sedin.”

    A write-up described the same play as follows: “Gudlevskis was seemingly at the mercy of Daniel Sedin, who sent a cross-crease pass to a wide-open Eriksson. But the Latvian goalie was up to the task and stretched out to steal what looked like a sure goal from the Bruins winger.”

    Close shaves like that need not zap a player’s confidence, but should instead embolden one’s determination. Whether or not Eriksson takes the latter approach and hatches his Olympic scoring goose-eggs could be a determining factor in whether Sweden garners a medal.

    Remember: Sweden is missing such household names as Daniel Sedin’s brother, Henrik, and Henrik Zetterberg due to injury. Eriksson is one forward who can step up and help make those absences an afterthought.

Will The Vintage Big-Game Krejci Show Up?

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    Martin Rose/Getty Images

    Through three games, the Czechs have tallied six goals, yet Krejci has had a hand in only one.

    The paltry output may startle those who set the center’s bar by his unsurpassed point totals in both the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs. But now that he has had time to gel with his Olympic allies, his best may be on tap for the coming week.

    The Czechs have the exact same right as the Slovaks to percolate healthy determination as those programs prepare to converge on Tuesday. Based on the minutes both players have logged so far, it is all but inevitable that Krejci will cross paths with Chara for a few shifts in this rivalry clash.

    No envelopes containing additional questions can open until the likes of Krejci show they can get around an opponent that is coming off its most efficient performance yet. To do that, he will need to evoke the version of himself that former Boston teammate Andrew Ference once described to ESPN Boston as “really cool-headed and calm.”

    If that translates to a favorable upshot for the player and team, then Krejci could crack open a wealth of possibilities for the latter half of the week. When he is genuinely sizzling, it is usually not for mere flickers at a time.

    On the other hand, he can also run arid for extended stretches. He has already brooked two five-game scoreless skids on his 2013-14 NHL game log. Therefore, even if the Czechs were to win their first elimination game despite a lack of contributions from Krejci, a cold spell on his part could still come back to haunt them later.

Is Rask Ready To Combine Efforts With Results?

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Finnish goaltender Tuukka Rask penned a paradox in his preliminary log, which consisted of two starts and a 1-1 record.

    First, he subsisted on substantial offensive support to claim credit for an 8-4 triumph over Austria in the opener. This despite repelling 16 saves on 20 opposing stabs for a toe-curling .750 save percentage on the night.

    Rask got his second chance to scrape the blue paint in the round-robin finale. This time, facing Finland’s fellow Group B heavyweight from Canada, he answered every challenge except two from defenseman Drew Doughty.

    As a consequence, on the one hand, his 25 saves on 27 shots helped to salvage an important point. On the other hand, his second and final blink on his final test effectively cost his club another point.

    So far, Rask has yet to submit an appreciable outing and reap a rewarding result on the same day. No time like Wednesday to address that matter.

    Per the aforementioned playoff schedule, the Finns will utilize their bye and await a quarterfinal bout with either Norway or the host Russians. If they get the latter and Rask gets the nod, he can take no shortage of plus points from his performance against Canada as a confidence-booster.

    At the same time, different implications mean he will need to quash any chance of that first-game frostbite returning. That will be especially critical if the Finns happen to draw the Norwegians, an ostensibly easy opponent much like Austria was supposed to be.