Bruins on Boylston: Five more questions (and answers) facing the Bruins as the regular season winds down

The+Boston+Bruins+have+nine+games+left+to+play+in+the+regular+season%2C+but+theyve+already+clinched+a+playoff+spot.+

Illustration by Ryan Yau

The Boston Bruins have nine games left to play in the regular season, but they’ve already clinched a playoff spot.

By Leo Kagan, Sports Editor

Last spring’s first-round playoff loss to the Carolina Hurricanes marked the beginning of an uncertain summer for the Boston Bruins. After Head Coach Bruce Cassidy was fired in June and doubts surfaced over the contract status of captain and star center Patrice Bergeron, a veil of instability was shrouding the Bruins organization. Some believed the B’s offseason spelled the end of the team’s championship contention window

As the organization approached the preseason, I posed five questions I felt captured these anxieties, but the Bruins’ in-season performance has answered them all. The B’s came out of the gates hot despite missing three key players, welcomed longtime former B’s center David Krejci back from a year long hiatus, and experienced the opening of their offensive floodgates under new Head Coach Jim Montgomery. 

Now, post-trade deadline, the B’s are resting a little easier with a playoff spot clinched. With just nine games left to play, the Bruins are now less concerned with the records they’ve broken (and keep breaking) than they are with finalizing their roster for the postseason. 

While the Bruins answered most of their preseason worries, fans are still left with several unanswered questions at the conclusion of a strong regular season. In the interest of conceptual symmetry, here are five more questions following those preseason queries—what will the Bruins look to answer as the playoffs draw near? 

  1. Where is left winger Tyler Bertuzzi’s best fit in the lineup?

For a team already loaded with top-six forwards, adding Bertuzzi at the trade deadline seems practically unfair—even if the asking price (a 2024 first-round draft pick and a 2025 fourth-round pick) was steep. 

Now, the challenge is finding where Bertuzzi might bolster the lineup best. Montgomery already tried Bertuzzi on each of the top three lines, and sparingly on the fourth line. 

The first line would appear to be the ideal location—a spot where Bertuzzi could mesh with legitimate top-of-the-lineup players in Bergeron and left winger Brad Marchand. So far, in an extremely limited sample size (7:01 of five-on-five ice time) this trio has been effective, out-chancing the competition 10-4, according to Natural Stat Trick

But slotting Bertuzzi on the top line pushes Jake DeBrusk—a strong fit next to Bergeron and Marchand—down to the third unit, where he’s been less effective. In other words, the cost of replacing DeBrusk with Bertuzzi might be messing with established chemistry. 

Montgomery has also tried Bertuzzi on the second line, alongside right winger David Pastrnak and Krejci (22:45 at five-on-five). Though the results have been strong—the trio has captured 67.48 percent of the goal share together—Mongtomery is averse to breaking up the all-Czech unit which includes Pastrnak and Krejci with countryman Pavel Zacha. 

The best fit then would be a Bertuzzi-Charlie Coyle-Trent Frederic combination on the third line. Montgomery has skated these three together for the bulk of Bertuzzi’s Bruins tenure, and the return has been positive: the trio has controlled 61.99 percent of five-on-five expected goals while on the same line. 

The beauty, however, of adding another top-six forward like Bertuzzi is that he’s able to slot in just about anywhere in the lineup and still be an impactful player.

  1. What roles will left wingers Taylor Hall and Nick Foligno play if, and when, they return?

In the span of three days in late February, the Bruins lost both Hall and Foligno to injuries that neither expect to return from anytime soon. Hall was placed on long-term injured reserve, but is progressing in his recovery fast enough to potentially return before the start of the playoffs. Foligno, meanwhile, is more likely to make his return in the midst of the postseason, according to NHL insiders

Both wingers have performed well this season in secondary scoring roles—Hall has potted 16 goals and 36 points mostly while playing on the third line while Foligno has scored 10 goals and 26 points of his own from the fourth unit. But with the additions of forwards Garnet Hathaway and Bertuzzi, the bottom-six has become that much more crowded, so where do Hall and Foligno currently stand? 

When Hall returns, he will most likely slot back onto the left side of the third line alongside Coyle and Bertuzzi. Foligno, on the other hand, who has spent time on both the third and fourth units, will find his place on the latter line with defensively sound center Tomas Nosek and Hathaway.

This arrangement would leave forwards A.J Greer and Frederic as the next players up in case of injury. 

  1. Which defenseman will not be in the starting lineup in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals?

Adding defenseman Dmitry Orlov at the trade deadline has been a significant boon for the Bruins—he’s tallied 12 points in 14 games in a B’s jersey and posted a plus-10 rating in that time. 

But while adding him has fortified the Bruins’ blue line, it’s also created a logjam for playing time as the B’s have seven NHL-caliber defensemen for six spots in the lineup. 

Among these seven defensemen (Charlie McAvoy, Hampus Lindholm, Matt Grzelcyk, Brandon Carlo, Derek Forbort, Connor Clifton, and Orlov), five are guaranteed playoff spots in a healthy lineup. 

McAvoy is the team’s top dog, and dark-horse Norris Trophy candidate Lindholm isn’t far behind—both are playing high-level hockey and won’t miss a playoff game unless they fall to injury. Carlo is among the league’s best shutdown defenders, even though he brings very little offense. Forbort is a penalty-killing beast and the main contributor to the NHL’s best PK unit. It would be absurd to not start Orlov after parting with so many draft picks to acquire him. 

This leaves Grzelcyk and Clifton as candidates for healthy scratch duty. Whichever blue-liner can take the reins in their final regular season appearances will be on the ice in Game 1 of the postseason.  

  1. Will either goaltender be the clear starter in the playoffs?

Linus Ullmark has been a stud between the pipes this season, and will probably capture the Vezina Trophy (or finish as a finalist). It follows that the net is his to lose in the playoffs at this point. 

But he also has just two postseason NHL games under his belt: a pair of mediocre showings against the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round of the 2022 playoffs. Fellow Bruins netminder Jeremy Swayman only has a little more playoff experience, but is a capable goaltender in his own right. 

More NHL coaches have experimented recently with a tandem system as opposed to the traditional ‘ride the goalie with the hot hand’ approach in the playoffs. Though Ullmark has defined himself as a clear starter in the regular season, it remains to be seen whether he’ll be able to do the same in the spring. 

If he does falter, Swayman will be waiting. 

  1. Who will be the Bruins’ first-round playoff opponent?

I tackled this question two weeks ago with the help of the Predictor 3000, a pseudo-scientific tool which claimed the Pittsburgh Penguins would be the B’s postseason opponent. Since then, a once-packed wild-card race has thinned out, leaving three legitimate contenders for two playoff spots: the Penguins, the New York Islanders, and the Florida Panthers. 

The Panthers surged back into the playoff race with a winning streak before losing their last three in a row, while the Penguins have faltered in recent weeks, dropping four games in a row before beating the Washington Capitals. The Islanders have stayed the course, on track to squeak into the playoffs. 

Regardless of which of the three the Bruins end up playing, they’ll be the heavy favorites and stand a decent chance of moving through the first round with ease.

Conclusions

The Bruins’ remaining questions are relatively minor compared to the rest of the league. Where to slot the eighth top-six forward on the roster and which NHL-caliber defenseman misses Game 1 of the playoffs are ridiculous concerns—the kind only ridiculously good teams can boast. 

Hopefully they’ll answer them in time for Game 1 of the postseason.