The Boston Bruins are halfway to advancing to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. They have home-ice advantage back. Yet they can be even better.
The Bruins were very good in Tuesday night’s 3-0 win over the Detroit Red Wings, giving them a 2-1 series lead. On the surface, it was a near-perfect road game, especially for the postseason. The B’s jumped to a quick two-goal lead in the first period, took advantage of the Red Wings’ mistakes and got balanced scoring. They withstood a charge from Detroit and held on for the all-important win.
But anyone who believes the Bruins are playing their best hockey right now is mistaken. The B’s definitely have made improvements and important adjustments over the course of the series. They’re playing with the puck more and using their team speed to generate odd-man rushes. None of that, however, is enough for coach Claude Julien and his team to start feeling secure.
“It hasn’t been easy, let’s not kid ourselves here: The games have been tight,” Julien said in his postgame news conference. “Our goalie has made some good saves at opportune times. We’ve been fortunate enough in the last couple of games to get ourselves to a decent lead, but that can change on any given night.”
Here are three areas where the B’s could still improve.
The Bruins were the NHL’s top 5-on-5 team during the regular season, but they haven’t been nearly as dominant against the Red Wings. Boston has just two 5-on-5 goals in the series, and both were kind of fluky. The first came in Game 2 when Justin Florek took advantage of Jimmy Howard misplaying the puck outside the Detroit crease. In Game 3, Shawn Thornton and Jordan Caron made the Red Wings pay for an awful line change. Neither of those 5-on-5 goals came after sustained offensive zone time.
At least part of Detroit’s game plan seems to center around taking away Boston’s top-six forwards. Julien pointed out that both teams’ top lines have done a good job of checking one another, and it’s true. The Bruins’ top two lines have combined to score only one even-strength goal. To put it all in some sort of perspective, David Krejci has been held pointless, which is remarkable. If the Bruins’ top two lines are shutting down the lines they’re going up against, you can live with the lack of production, especially if the secondary scoring is coming, as it is for Boston right now. But the Bruins won’t be able to make a deep playoff run without production from their top six.
Take advantage of scoring chances
The Bruins scored three times in Game 3 (with one being an empty-net goal), and it could have been more. They had plenty of chances, whether it was Dougie Hamilton and Brad Marchand hitting the post or Jarome Iginla’s point-blank shot from the slot that Jimmy Howard stopped in the third period. The Bruins also lacked scoring touch in their Game 1 loss, where a couple of close calls could have meant a win had they gone the other way.