Given the unpredictability of the first round of this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, it didn’t come as much of a surprise that the National Hockey League took the unprecedented step of providing their fans with a “second chance bracket” in their annual bracket challenge.
After all, a whopping 48.62 percent of all selections had the Tampa Bay Lightning as their Stanley Cup Winner.
Although the numbers aren’t in for the second chance side of things just yet, it would be safe to assume that the Boston Bruins are high on that list thanks to a core group that’s been there before, not to mention a suddenly wide-open Eastern Conference side of the bracket.
Those who did make that pick were rewarded with a mostly dominant 4-1 Bruins win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Second Round series on Thursday night at Nationwide Arena to tie the series at 2-2.
Patrice Bergeron scored twice, Tuukka Rask made 39 saves, and David Pastrnak added a goal and an assist. In short, Boston’s best players were its best players.
"Everybody knew what was at stake tonight," defenseman Charlie McAvoy, who had an assist in a team-high 25:16 of ice-time, told NHL.com.
"We got a lot of good efforts. No one seemed panicked. We showed up today with the ambition of winning a hockey game, and we did and that's a credit to us."
McAvoy has seemingly adopted the act-like-you’ve-been-there-before mentality that those like David Krejci, Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchand, Bergeron, and Rask have from making up the team’s core that took Boston to a Stanley Cup in 2011, back to the final in 2013, and then sticking around through a semi-rebuild during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons that eventually propelled them back to a postseason berth for three consecutive years.
The Bruins haven’t, however, made it past the second round since that 2013 run in which they took home the Prince of Wales trophy, getting back there last season but falling to the Lightning in just five games.
Although they’ll have a chance to take a 3-2 series lead back in Boston on Saturday night, their ability to do so may rely solely on Rask, who has faced the most shots (360) of any goaltender in the playoffs and, not coincidentally, also made the most saves (335) in 11 appearances so far.
His .933 save percentage is second only to Robin Lehner among all qualifying goaltenders in the playoffs, but Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy knows his defense will have to tighten up to take the pressure off of his netminder if his team hopes to have a chance to get back to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time in six seasons.
“Goalies get hot this time of year,” Cassidy told NHL.com. “Tuukka played great. We'd love him to stay hot, but to rely on your goalie to win games for you is bad form. He certainly did his part more tonight, but [in] general you need your top guys going.”