The Difference-maker Between 2013 and 2019 Boston Bruins Team
Photo Credit: NHL/Boston Bruins
The Boston Bruins are on the eve of the Stanley Cup Final, awaiting the drop of the puck Monday night against the St. Louis Blues to begin the 103rd contest for the trophy.
The Bruins are in a familiar spot; six years ago they were also waiting for the Cup Final to begin, but against a much different opponent following a much different postseason. The 2013 postseason highlights include Boston Strong rallying cries, a Final loss against a dynasty team, and a legendary comeback in Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the quarterfinals.
In both runs, though, is a sweep in the Eastern Conference Finals. In 2013 the Bruins met the favorites of the east, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and surprised maybe even themselves by giving the Pennsylvania squad no room to breathe in a four-game domination of Sidney Crosby and company. This year the Bruins faced a very different opponent in the ECF, the underdog Carolina Hurricanes, but all the same completed a sweep after Carolina advanced to the ECF following a sweep of the New York Islanders.
So what’s the difference?
Obviously, a lot of things. This 2019 team isn’t the same as the 2013 team, no bones about it. It has been six years.
There is no Claude Julien. There is no Peter Chiarelli. No Tyler Seguin, no Merlot Line, no Milan Lucic. Zdeno Chara is the only defenseman who went through the Game 7 comeback against the Maple Leafs and is still with the Bruins—Torey Krug only started playing in the 2013 playoffs after Dennis Seidenberg was injured during the semifinals series against the New York Rangers.
As far as the team goes, this may be the biggest difference. Sure, David Pastrnak didn’t really exist as far as the Bruins were concerned. He had just turned 17 when the Bruins began the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. And the 2013 Bruins didn’t have the Mayor of Walpole, Chris Wagner (though the 2019 Bruins may not have him either), or Charlie Coyle. But there was a successful fourth line in the 2013 Cup run, dubbed the “Merlot Line” for the colors of their practice jerseys. There was depth.
The Bruins had, statistically, a pretty even amount of productive depth both postseasons. In 2013, nine players scored three or more goals throughout the postseason, while so far in 2019, only eight have (2013 had the advantage of ‘Johnny Rockets’).
However, 13 players this year have scored two or more goals in the playoffs so far, while in 2013 only 11 did in the entire postseason. It certainly feels like there’s more depth on this team than there was six years ago.
But the defense has seen a major overhaul in the last six years. Most of that is just because of time; beyond Zdeno Chara, veterans covered the depth of the blue line. Dennis Seidenberg rivaled Big Z as another stay-at-home, shut-down defenseman. Andrew Ference was an alternate captain and later became captain of the Edmonton Oilers for a while after his contract with the Bruins ended in 2013’s offseason.
Johnny Boychuk scored five goals in the 2013 postseason and often had one of the best hits highlight reels. Adam McQuaid, who was the last of these past players to go after being traded in the beginning of the 2018-19 season, was most notable for his willingness to drop the gloves for a teammate.
The other defensemen weren’t as key as those veterans. Guys like Dougie Hamilton, who Boston saw last round against Carolina, and Matt Bartkowski, were younger and far less experienced, and eventually were moved away from the team. There was also a brief stint with low-value veteran Wade Redden, who was a trade deadline acquisition for the Bruins after having played with Zdeno Chara on the Ottawa Senators a decade before.
Redden was barely noticeable in his playoff time with the Bruins, though, and had two points in five games, playing only in the first series. He announced his retirement from hockey the following year.
Now, the Bruins’ blue line is stocked up with younger players who have spent the last few years learning and growing. Matt Grzelcyk, Charlie McAvoy, and Brandon Carlo have flown under the radar with nearly stellar seasons and postseasons this year. Kevan Miller is injured, and will not be seeing any playtime in the Cup Final after another setback, but there is also John Moore, Connor Clifton, or Steven Kampfer who can fill a slot.
The presence of these younger players, who play with more physicality and more confidence than anyone might have expected from them, is what will help propel the team forward through this Final. There is no longer cries of despair about Boston’s defense, when it has often been a song sung throughout the entire season, wailing of holes and inexperience.
The Bruins have played and will continue to play with more confidence, because they know they can trust the defense behind or in front of them, even against St. Louis’ top players. Boston found a balance for the blue line, led by Chara, accompanied by Krug and the bunch of bright-eyed younger players eager to continue to do as they have done—give the team the best hockey they can. They’ve earned the chance to play for the Stanley Cup. Now, it’s time to earn it.