What a year 2019 was in New England sports! As we move into the New Year, join NESN.com in looking ahead to the top five storylines for 2020.
The Boston Bruins’ 2018-19 season ended in heartbreaking fashion after an incredible Stanley Cup playoff run. Will they be able to get back to the NHL?s biggest stage come June?
Boston, as you probably know, lost in Game 7 to the St. Louis Blues on home ice after defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs, Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes to get to the Stanley Cup Final.
The B?s faced a slew of injuries heading into the offseason, some of which carried over into the beginning of the 2019-20 campaign, including ailments to John Moore and Kevan Miller. Moore since has returned after undergoing shoulder surgery, while Miller still is rehabbing a twice-broken kneecap.
The blue line has taken a beating of late, with Torey Krug getting placed on injured reserve on Dec. 27 and Charlie McAvoy following suit on Dec. 30. Boston’s forwards also have been banged up, causing head coach Bruce Cassidy to shuffle his lines a bit.
But despite the injuries and a recent slump in which the team lost eight of nine, Boston remains atop the Atlantic Division and behind only the Washington Capitals for the Eastern Conference’s top spot.
Making it back to the Stanley Cup Final will be no easy task, but oddsmakers have the B?s, Capitals and Colorado Avalanche tied at +800 to achieve that goal.
So, will the Black and Gold make it back-to-back Cup Final appearances?
The B?s locked up Brandon Carlo and McAvoy to two- and three-year deals, respectively, over the offseason, solidifying the blue line and keeping McAvoy and Zdeno Chara paired together. Karson Kuhlman, before breaking his leg, was playing his best hockey, Anders Bjork has emerged a legitimate NHL player and the top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak continues to dominate opponents.
The key, of course, will be staying healthy down the stretch and into the playoffs. And while the B?s are a bit hobbled at the moment, there?s still a lot of time between now and when the hunt for Lord Stanley really begins. This team, when healthy, has the depth and the ?next man up? mentality we saw so many times last season when dealing with injuries.
Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak, meanwhile, continue to be an incredible goaltending tandem. Rask stopped a whopping 39 shots in Boston?s 7-3 thumping of the Capitals on Dec. 23. Last season, the B?s turned a corner after beating Washington on the road, resulting in a 19-game point streak.
Halak and Rask both are in the top 10 in goals against average and shutouts, while Halak is in the top 10 for save percentage. Cassidy praised Halak last season for being so reliable and able to give Rask the rest necessary to thrive come playoff time.
On paper, this Bruins team certainly looks built to go deep again this season, even with Boston’s core aging. The B?s have the chemistry, the depth and the hunger to finish what was started last June.
While still too early to tell, the Bruins’ recent win over the Capitals could be a real turning point. It’s also possible Boston general manager Don Sweeney adds reinforcements before the NHL trade deadline.
The 2019-20 squad has shown flashes of dominance from both veterans and young players. With a full, healthy roster, it wouldn?t be surprising to see the Bruins enjoy more playoff success before long.
As such, the Bruins’ quest to reach the Stanley Cup Final for a second consecutive season ranks as No. 4 on our list of the top five Boston sports storylines for 2020.