It seems as though every year there is one team that comes out of nowhere in the NHL playoffs. There is always that one team not equipped with any big name superstars, but merely a hot goaltender and an unprecedented will to do whatever it takes to win.
This season that team is the Boston Bruins. Riding the unheralded goal tending of rookie Tuukka Rask, the B’s topped the favored Buffalo Sabres in the first round and now have the Philadelphia Flyers on the brink of elimination heading into game 6.
Boston was the lowest scoring team in the NHL this season, but the playoffs are a whole different monster. Instead of frequent scoring, it’s more about timely scoring this time of year. The Bruins boast no major superstars up front and have relied on cast-off Miroslav Satan and 42 year old Mark Recchi as their foremost means of offense.
In no way, shape or form has their lack of big names seemed to slow this team down. In fact, their most talented offensive player, Marc Savard was sidelined with a concussion throughout the entire first round and the last half of the regular season as well.
As Mark Recchi said after a win against the Sabres, the playoffs are a time when players need to play out of character. In the past few weeks Boston defense-man Johnny Boychuck and Dennis Wideman have become household names around the NHL for their undeniable contributions to the Bruins playoff success.
Whether it is through a timely check, goal or assist, these are the type of players that teams must consist of to pro-long their playoff lives.
Of course the Bruins are not the first playoff team to seemingly come out of nowhere as a low seed to stun the rest of the NHL. As a matter of fact, this trend has become common place even in today’s new NHL that claims to stress offense, quickness and finesse as the means to being successful.
Looking back to last season’s playoffs there is a direct connection to be made about the Bruins and last year’s Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes were also the sixth seed who went on to upset the heavily favored New Jersey Devils and eventually go on to make it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Hurricanes, like Boston, kept their playoff strategy simple. They were constantly outmatched offensively so they concentrated on playing solid defense and relying on goalie Cam Ward to make the big saves.
In 2008, Dallas rode the unusual hot play of goaltender Marty Turco all the way to the Western Conference finals before overall talent prevailed when the Detroit Red Wings advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals.
When the new NHL was just coming into play in the 2005-2006 season, fast and offensively talented teams were all the hype. The Senators, Sabres, Red Wings and Sharks led the way to the playoffs with their exceptional scoring throughout the season.
So when the Red Wings entered the playoffs facing the eighth seed Edmonton Oilers who were not seen as a prototypical team for the new NHL style, Detroit figured they would easily advance.
This was not the case at all. The first playoffs since the lockout quickly averted all the way back before the 2004-2005 season was cancelled entirely thanks to the CBA. Defense and goal tending was once again the focal point of the playoffs. Edmonton routed Detroit in six games and advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals only to finish runner-up to the more complete Carolina Hurricanes.
During the next season, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s worst nightmare came true. A team that paralleled the pre-lockout New Jersey Devils’ highly successful defensive system won the Stanley Cup. The Anaheim Ducks, the NHL’s biggest and most defensive team walked right through the playoffs without so much as a challenge from the league’s highest scoring teams, Detroit and Ottawa.
Although the Ducks did possess five 25+ goal scorers that year, they will always be remembered as the team that out muscled everyone else on their way to capturing the Cup. Rugged defense-man Chris Pronger and goaltender Jean-Sebastin Giguere were to thank for the Ducks’ magical and unpredicted run to the Finals.
Even though the new NHL would like fans to believe the playoffs are now more exciting and offensive oriented, nothing much has truly changed in the postseason since the lockout. Winning in the four round tournament is still focused on strong defense and goal tending.
Detroit has been to the finals two years in a row thanks not only to Pavel Datsyuks’ dazzling stick-handling, but the under-appreciated play of Defense-man Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski and Nicklas Kronwall.
If there continues to be a belief in the ever changing NHL landscape that offense is still the way to win nearly five years removed from the lockout, then look no further than the San Jose Sharks. For years the league’s most prolific offensive team in the regular season seems to always disappoint in the playoffs.
The Bruins rise to the NHL’s elite in this playoff season may not lead to a Stanley Cup (especially with a Crosby and a Malkin in the way) but they will be used as reference frequently in the off season for teams trying to build a legitimate cup contender. After all, you can’t argue with history.