It won’t take long for the Boston Bruins’ impact to be felt at the Winter Olympics.
The puck will drop on the men’s hockey tournament Wednesday in Sochi, Russia, and two prominent Bruins forwards will be featured in the first matchup. When the Czech Republic and Sweden kick off the tournament, Boston’s David Krejci will represent the Czechs, and Loui Eriksson will be playing for the Swedes.
Five Bruins players are taking the ice in Sochi as the games get underway. Here’s a look at which ones might have the biggest impact on the tournament when it’s all said and done.
1. Tuukka Rask (Finland)
It’s a calculated risk to put Tuukka Rask at No. 1 on this list of potential impact-makers. That’s in large part because we don’t know how much he’ll actually get to play. The Finns are loaded in the crease. Rask is teaming up with San Jose’s Antti Niemi and Dallas’ Kari Lehtonen to form arguably the most impressive goaltending trio in the entire tournament. If Rask is the man who gets the starting nod, he’ll be tested early and often. Finland is in a group with Austria, Norway and Canada, which means the preliminary round could hold some formidable tests. Rask has no Olympic experience, but he did take a team to the Stanley Cup Final last year, which is certainly worth something. Furthermore, if the Finns do make a run, it will almost certainly be because of their goaltending, with Rask perhaps leading the way.
2. David Krejci (Czech Republic)
The Czech Republic will have two glaring issues in Sochi: goaltending and defense. Where this team shouldn’t struggle, however, is putting the puck in the net. The Czechs have some pretty good talent up front, and David Krejci might find himself anchoring that talent as the team’s best center. Krejci has shown in the past that he’s capable of strong postseason play, and he also has success on the international stage. Add in the fact that the larger ice surface should give him more room to operate, and his chances for success are even greater. The unfortunate thing for the Czech team, of course, is that Krejci’s play likely won’t be enough to overcome the defensive and goaltending deficiencies, but he should still have a nice tournament.
3. Zdeno Chara (Slovakia)
The impact that Zdeno Chara has had in his native Slovakia has been on display since the beginning of the games, when he carried the flag for the Slovaks in the opening ceremony. Now he’s going to try to keep that going on the ice as the Slovakian captain. It’s certainly going to be a tall task for Chara and the Slovaks to medal in Sochi. If they’re somehow in medal contention, it’s going to be because Chara does what he does best, and that’s shut down top-line offensive talent. That task will be made even more difficult by the fact that Slovakia is already down one of its best defensemen. Lubomir Visnovsky will miss the tournament with an injury, which means Chara will have to be even better. He’ll likely log some big minutes — which will likely make the Bruins nervous — but the good news for the B’s is that Chara’s run in Sochi probably won’t last very long.
4. Patrice Bergeron (Canada)
One of the many reasons the Canadians are heavy favorites is that they’re just loaded. They have the potential to be a wagon with the tournament’s most talented roster. They’re incredibly deep down the middle, as well, which means Patrice Bergeron won’t get a ton of ice time. Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, John Tavares and Ryan Getzlaf all will likely take away from Bergeron’s ice time, assuming the Bruins center dresses, which he should, given all the things he can do. Where Bergeron will likely make the most impact for Canada is doing the small things. He’s going to be incredibly responsible in his own zone. He’s also one of the best faceoff guys in the entire NHL, which is also one of the reasons he’s a tremendous penalty killer. So, while he might not get a ton of playing time, Bergeron’s impact should be felt, especially in late and close situations.
5. Loui Eriksson (Sweden)
The Swedes are certainly a team that could make a run at a medal, especially if Henrik Lundqvist is playing like he can as one of the best goalies on the planet. For Eriksson, however, it’s tough to say what he’ll do in Sochi. Injuries have limited him in his first season with the Bruins, and he isn’t going into the Olympics with a ton of momentum. In fact, he’s just trying to make sure he can go a game without getting hit in the face right now. There’s a chance he ends up becoming a breakout performer, though. The injury to Henrik Sedin might open up some more playing time for Eriksson, and if the Swedes can make that run into the medal round, expect Eriksson to pick up at least one or two important goals along the way.