Anderson: Talk me out of the Bruins winning the 2018 Stanley Cup

Ty Anderson
March 30, 2018 - 10:30 am

Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports

Stealing WiFi from the steaming Starbucks (you know the one), I’m writing this column live from outside Government Center. This is where I stood for the 2011 Stanley Cup parade, and dammit, this is where I’m planting myself for the 2018 Stanley Cup parade.

My sign is a simple one. It features black paint on a gold backdrop, and with a simple request: “The Bruins are winning the 2018 Stanley Cup. Change my mind.”

As somebody that spent my childhood rooting for the Bruins, I’ve spent large chunks of my adult life waiting for the other shoe to drop. If only because I know that the tremendous highs will be met with soul-crushing lows that make me want to crawl into Tim Thomas’ bunker. The first load-up run I could remember and appreciate? How’s a first-round exit to Montreal, followed up by a year-long lockout and every player from that run departing for greener pastures, sound? A downright insane Game 6 that restored your faith in Boston Hockey? Cool, here’s your 5-0 Game 7 loss. Go to hell. Fun fact: The 2009 and 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals never happened. I’m not kidding. They don’t exist. Nope, no recorded evidence whatsoever. One big vacation.

So believe me when I say that I understand your reluctance to buy in.

But let me be the first to tell you that this Bruins team is just… different.

Sure, they have some elements of Boston teams of the past. They're often gritty, rely on a largely blue-collar attitude and approach to practice and into games (especially on their bottom-six), and appear to be a team that's truly together. (I haven't seen a roster this close and genuinely enjoying hockey as much as they guys have since-- you guessed it, 2011.) 

When you move beyond the buzzwords and relatability factor of team's from yesterday, though, you look at the certain quotes and events that stick out to you over the course of an 82-game grind. For me, understanding why this team is different often comes back to a Bruce Cassidy quote following a 7-4 win over Chicago in early March. Far from the prettiest game the Bruins had played, a powerful third period surge allowed the Bruins to regain control of a game that was undoubtedly slipping away in the middle frame, and it all began with Cassidy remaining true to himself.

“The teams that are loose, our guys feel they can win those games, so it’s hard to go into the room and say, ‘we can’t play that way; we’ve got no chance of winning.’ We just [won games] 8-4, 6-5 and now 7-4, so, as a coach – pride myself on being honest. I can’t honestly look them in the eyes and say we can’t win these games,” Cassidy said. “I try to encourage them to play the right way and protect the slot .. But, if we get into these games, we’ve got to be comfortable winning them, just like the 2-1 games.”

It’s a simple way of saying that this is not a Bruins team that’s stuck in their ways to a fault. In a league so often built around structure and identity, they are a chameleon. They are simply whatever the situation calls for that given game, period, or shift, and it’s played out to the third-most wins in hockey and the second-most points in the league.

"We’re just going out there and playing the game that’s in front of us," said Torey Krug. "Whatever type of game it is, if it’s rough, if it’s a skill game, if it’s fast, not much room out there, we’re going to own the moment and live up to it."

I mean, just ask yourself: Is there a style that you believe the Bruins truly cannot handle over the course of a potential seven-game series? I’m inclined to say no. If anything, it’s been the other way around, as Cassidy has been quick to correct breakdowns, holes, and also find weaknesses in his opposition the next time his team gets a crack at them. If we boil it down to matchups, the biggest thing working against the Bruins is an undeniable push (at the very worst for the Bruins) of a potential showdown with the Maple Leafs. If you’ve legitimately worried yourself into believing the Leafs are the favorite in that series (which I've seen far too much of, to be honest), I advise looking beyond a box score.

Once you settle that, feel free to ask yourself if you’ve seen a moment too big for this group? I think not. This team has come back from three goals down, come back with just seconds remaining, and seemingly improved with each overtime session. They skate every ‘measuring stick’ game with the poise of a locker room full of veterans, and it’s hard to find any game in which Cassidy’s club has come out flat and disappointed. And there’s been an across-the-board buy-in from each skater, no matter their age, contract, or previous role, too, which has been perhaps their greatest strength.

For every perceived weakness, there seems to be about two to three possible fixes, and with tangible results to justify any switch Cassidy and Co. would deem necessary.

The play of the Bruins’ if-totally-healthy third pairing of Matt Grzelcyk and Kevan Miller during their most recent four-game road swing, and how the Krug and Brandon Carlo straight-up shut the Lightning’s top line down in a five-on-five showdown are examples of this. In fact, the B's team defense may be among the top five in the NHL, especially when you look at how stingy they've been in their own zone, and the improved pacing of their breakout. And the addition of Ryan Donato, a college player that has looked like anything but in his admittedly small sample with the Black and Gold, appears to be a legitimate roster-changing get on the wings. 

“I think the character again in this locker room doesn’t surprise me that guys are willing to take on different roles,” David Backes said following Thursday’s win over the Lightning. “Bigger at times when there are different injuries and then when we’re healthy, there are guys that are used to playing 20 minutes a night playing 12, 13 or 14 [minutes] but trying to make the most out of those minutes so that we can win games.”

And it’s just plain impossible to undersell what the Bruins are currently doing.

Down Backes, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy, Rick Nash, and Torey Krug for different stretches throughout a meat grinder of a March schedule, the Bruins are the best team in the East. They have moved well beyond the realm of saying that they cannot win without Bergeron and/or Chara in action, and they've move beyond the idea of giving themselves excuses for shortcomings and no-shows. This team feels like Jason Vorhees. They just do not die. And they know it.

But over that span that's put them at No. 1 in the conference entering the weekend, they have twice beaten the former kings of the East, the Lightning, and made them look like nothing more than a mere pretender and mentally fragile club in each game. Both of those games came completely without the services of Chara and McAvoy, and still saw the Steven Stamkos-Nikita Kucherov held to just a single assist and a combined six shots on net. (Kucherov and Stamkos did shine in the meltdown category, however, with each player goaded into post-whistle nonsense by Boston’s relentless fourth line.) It’s hard to imagine life getting any easier for them when the 33-73 pairing returns in April, too.

“I think there’s a lot of nights our guys say, bring it on. We’re comfortable in those [hard] games. Even without some of our guys, like Backes wasn’t on that trip, and Zee, and heavier guys,” Cassidy said of his team’s willingness and readiness for postseason play. “But, we’re okay with it. I think that’s what makes us good is we can – we saw it here at home in that stretch. We scored goals to win games, and now we’re kind of – it’s the game in front of you. I think we’re comfortable playing it. It bodes well.”

Oh, and consider this: The Bruins lost big trade deadline pickup Rick Nash to a vague upper-body injury and the question has not been what will they do to make up for his loss, but rather where do you slot everybody currently playing if and when he returns.

These are not the sort of questions that I truly anticipated the Bruins having to answer this season, and this is probably not a challenge you likely found yourself facing, but here we are: The Bruins are winning the 2018 Stanley Cup. Change my mind.

Or join me for a front row seat along this parade route while you still can.