The Boston Bruins are back in the playoffs after a two-year absence. They clinched their first postseason berth since 2014 with a 4-0 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night. Here are three reasons the Bruins could be a dangerous playoff team this spring.
Playoff experience: necessary
When Boston failed to reach the playoffs the two previous seasons, other teams were thrilled that the Bruins were out of the picture because they brought considerable playoff experience. They won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and returned to the finals in 2013 before losing to the Chicago Blackhawks. In 2014, they lost in seven games to the Montreal Canadiens in the conference semifinals.
The core leadership group from those teams -- captain Zdeno Chara, alternate captains Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, along with point-producing forward Brad Marchand and goalie Tuukka Rask -- remains in Boston. Their collective experience will certainly be an asset this time around too, but each is four years older. But they all want to prove they can still win.
The biggest issue Boston likely will deal with in the playoffs -- depending on which team the Bruins face in the first round -- is its lack of depth. If the Bruins and Montreal Canadiens both advance, that possible second-round series would have added intrigue now that Claude Julien is coaching Boston's most hated rival.
Rask is up to the task
Rask is the main reason the Bruins are back in the playoffs. He has set a new career high with 37 wins, and this is his fourth season with 30 or more wins. He continued his stellar play with a 28 saves in the Bruins' win over the Lightning and has allowed just three goals in his past four games.
Rask, who has played 63 games this season, said he still has enough in the tank to make a run in the postseason.
"It's a great feeling to play in the playoffs," he said. "It's something that we've missed the last couple of years. We definitely belong in the playoffs. Every game matters a lot, and we feel like we have a great group of guys, a great talent level. It just means a lot. You know how the city gets going when you make the playoffs, and your fans get behind you. We want to experience that again."
Rask has had to handle the majority of the workload because the Bruins have struggled to find him a reliable backup. Anton Khudobin is 6-0-0 in his past six games with a 1.98 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage, however. Now that the Bruins have clinched, Cassidy likely can give his No. 1 guy some rest during the final two regular-season games.
Marchand has morphed into a scorer
Playing on the same line as Bergeron for the majority of his career has helped Marchand become one of the game's best two-way players. He has become a top point producer this season, and he competes on every puck, in every game. But -- as his ejection for spearing Lightning defenseman Jake Dotchin in the groin on Tuesday showed -- Marchand can still be reckless.
When the 28-year-old forward earned his eight-year contract extension worth $49 million in September -- which looks like a huge bargain for the Bruins, especially given the season he's had -- he wanted to win another Stanley Cup with the Bruins. I'm not saying Boston will win it this season, but Marchand is motivated and he's showing zero signs of slowing down. The only thing that could stop him at this point would be a suspension for the spearing penalty. Marchand will have a hearing on Thursday.