Bruins

Ryan: For the first time in a long time, the Bruins have a lethal top-six unit

(Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

The narrative hasn't changed for the Bruins over their last few fruitful — but ultimately unfulfilled — Stanley Cup campaigns. 

In each of their previous three seasons, the Bruins have comfortably punched their ticket to the postseason and routinely hovered near the top of the Eastern Conference standings due in large part to some of the hallmarks of the franchise — a stingy defensive structure, great goaltending, a lethal power play and, yes — the 5v5 buzzsaw that is that top forward line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak

And while that top triumvirate has keyed many sustained playoff pushes deep into May and June — each of these last few promising runs were all felled by the same Achilles' Heel that has plagued this club since 2014.

The Bergeron line can do it all on any given night — score, push the puck in transition, shut down an opposing top-six unit and much more.

But they can't be expected to LITERALLY do it ALL 16 times during a playoff run, at least not without some help along the way.

Be it a promising run cut short in 2018 by the Lightning, a COVID-impacted campaign dashed by those same Bolts up in the Toronto bubble in 2020, or the sad fate dealt to Boston by the Blues as a Cup slipped through their grasp in June 2019 — each result was marked by the same flaw.

When the Bergeron line was either contained, banged-up or simply outgunned, Boston simply didn't have enough supplemental scoring to stay in the fight when the going got tough — and a lot of those woes can be directed to a second line that simply hasn't been equipped with the necessary firepower in half a decade.

Be it Presidents' Trophy campaign in 2014 with Jarome Iginla in tow or those runs in 2011-13 that resulted in two trips to the Cup Final (including taking home said hardware in 2011), the Bruins have thrived when gifted with two potent trios in their top-six — with Bergeron serving as the two-way maestro and David Krejci the offensive conduit that could tilt a period, game or series back in Boston's favor with just a single shift down the other end of the ice.

But since Iginla departed and Boston retooled on the fly from 2014-16, Krejci hasn't exactly had the most imposing supporting cast — at least not when compared to the likes of Iginla, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton.

In 2018, Krejci had a rookie to his left in Jake DeBrusk and an injured Rick Nash to his right in that second-round defeat against Tampa. The following year, Krejci managed to still surpass 70 points despite having a carousel of wingers to his right, including rookie Karson Kuhlman during a do-or-die Game 7 against St. Louis. And last year, it was another potpourri of wingers up in the bubble — featuring DeBrusk, Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase. 

And even if Boston managed to punch its ticket to the playoffs once again in 2021 without making any additions at the deadline, there was little hope for optimism that Krejci was going to be able to replicate his golden years as an O-zone maestro come the postseason with the band assembled around him.

Well, at least that was the expectation just a few weeks ago. Oh, what the difference a deadline can make.