Who’s in the best position to win the holy grail of hockey?
It’s often called the hardest trophy in sports to win, because the Stanley Cup takes eight weeks and a minimum of 16 games after an already gruelling 82 game regular season, to clinch it.
The NHL playoff format has the top three teams from each division (Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central and Pacific) make the playoffs, as well as two wild card teams from each conference.
The division winner with the highest point total will play the second wild card team, the other division winner will play the first wild card team. The second and third place teams in their respective divisions will face each other in the first round.
There are a number of teams who come to mind when talking about true contenders, like the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins, Winnipeg Jets and last years Stanley Cup finalists, the Nashville Predators.
While every playoff team is competitive, there can only be one champion. The Pittsburgh Penguins, of course, can never be counted out as they’re the defending repeat Stanley Cup champions but their time on top has come to an end.
This is why the Boston Bruins will be hosting the holy grail of hockey come June.
Through the first month of the 2017-18 season, the Bruins didn’t look like a playoff team, much less a Stanley Cup contender.
Since beginning the season at 6-7-5, with a goal differential of -10, the team has been on a tear.
In this tweet from Filipovic, he shows just how dominant the Bruins have been in their last 60 games.
For the season, the Bruins are 49-17-12 (110 points), first in the Atlantic, have plus 60 goal differential and have surrendered the second fewest goals in the league with 201. The Kings have given up fewer at 195.
As for the 54.2 per cent of shot attempts at five on five, a single player with this number is impressive, but an entire team? Dominance.
This has the Bruins as the best five-on-five possession team in the NHL among playoff teams at 53.6 per cent. They also have 161 goals at five on five.
These numbers become all the more important because in the playoffs, power-play opportunities are scarce, leaving much of the game to be played at even strength.
Even if it comes down to special teams, the Bruins have the fifth ranked power-play at 23.4 per cent. The team also possesses the fifth ranked penalty kill at 82.9 per cent as well as nine shorthanded goals.
Of course, to get these kinds of numbers, a team has to have quality players.
The Bruins have arguably the best top line in the league with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak a part of the unit.
29 players have 30 or more goals this season, and the Bruins have three of them on one line. Marchand has 34, Pastrnak 33 and Bergeron rounds it out with 30.
All also average at least a point-per-game or better. As Pastrnak is at 1.00, Bergeron 1.02 and Marchand is at 1.31 (1st in the NHL).
Bergeron, according to analytics, is the best two-way forward in the league. He has won the Selke trophy (best defensive forward) four times in his career.
What if the top line struggles? then teams have to deal with a second line of Jake DeBrusk (46 points), David Krecji (42 points) and Ryan Donato (seven points in seven games).
And their bottom six forward group is rounded out by players such as two-time 40 goal scorer Rick Nash, David Backes, Riley Nash, and Danton Heinen.
The Bruins have a top defensive pairing of 40-year-old Zdeno Chara, who is playing some of the best hockey of his career and 20-year-old Charlie McAvoy.
The Bruins possess 55 per cent of five-on-five shot attempts while McAvoy is on the ice.
Their second pair is headlined by Torey Krug, who has 57 points this season. He’s flanked by Nick Holden, acquired from the New York Rangers in February.
Their bottom pairing of Kevan Miller and Matt Grzelyck is solid, if unspectacular.
Lastly, in net the Bruins have former Vezina trophy winner Tuukka Rask. The 31-year-old has won 34 games while posting a .919 save percentage and a 2.28 goals against average.
Rask also has the fifth best save percentage all time in the playoffs, with a .928 mark in 53 games.
As for worries about the rest of the team being able to handle the pressure, the Bruins have the seventh most playoff wins in the salary cap era (2005-present) with 59, and they’ve missed the playoffs just four times in this span.
As mentioned earlier, counting out the repeat Stanley Cup champions in Pittsburgh isn’t a good move, as the playoffs are a different animal and the unexpected is to be expected.
All it takes is a hot goalie or bad puck luck to change a teams fortunes.
But the Bruins have shown it will to be hard for anybody to knock them off.