It is hard to believe, but the Boston Bruins’ 2011 Stanley Cup championship win is nearly three years old. While there has been some roster turnover, some major pieces from that championship are still on the team. The entire fourth line is the same, and the first and second lines each have two of the three players still intact, but the third line, defense, and goaltender are a different story.
The biggest key to the Bruins’ success in their championship season was the play of goalie Tim Thomas. In 57 games played during the regular season, Thomas was first in the league in goals against average and save percentage, as well as second in the league with nine shutouts. Thomas’ excellent play earned him the Vezina Trophy for the league’s best goaltender.
This year, Tuukka Rask has not played quite as well as Thomas played during his historic season, but he has been close. In 56 games played, Rask has the same number of wins as Thomas had, he is in the top-five in the NHL in goals against average and save percentage, and he leads the league with seven shutouts. Rask’s outstanding play in net this season has made him one of the leading candidates for the Vezina Trophy this year.
If goaltending was the biggest reason for the team’s success during their championship run, then the play of their defensemen was a close second. While not a perfect stat, a player’s plus/minus rating gives a pretty good indication of the impact, either positive or negative, a player has while on the ice. In the 2011 season, Zdeno Chara led all NHL defensemen with a plus-33 rating, and Boston had two other defensemen in the top-10. Every Bruins defenseman that regular season had a plus rating.
Despite injuries affecting a number of Bruins defensemen this year, each member of the Boston blue line once again has a plus rating. In fact, there is not a single defenseman that has been with the Bruins all year that does not have at least a plus-14 rating. Johnny Boychuck is second among all defensemen with a plus-31 rating on the year. Although it cannot be argued that the 2011 defensive unit had much more experience than this year’s team, the young additions to the defense have given the team better offensive output from that unit.
The biggest surprise during the 2011 playoffs for the Bruins was the outstanding play of the third line. Boston made deals at that year’s trade deadline to acquire Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly, who they paired with Michael Ryder to form the team’s third line. In 25 games that postseason, the trio combined for 17 goals, 25 assists, and a plus-25 rating. The production from that line allowed coach Julien to roll all four lines, an asset no other team could really match.
This year, the production of the third line is once again a big surprise for the Bruins and it may be due in large part to injuries. When Loui Eriksson missed time with concussion problems, Reilly Smith was bumped up to the second line, and he flourished in his new role. Once Eriksson was able to return, coach Claude Julien could not break up the second line because of the great production Smith’s presence had on the line. That caused Eriksson to be dropped down to the third line with Chris Kelly and Carl Soderberg. The two Swedes, Soderberg and Eriksson, had an instant chemistry and it translated into points for the third line. Another injury, this time to Kelly, once again turned into a blessing in disguise. With Kelly out, Soderberg moved over to his natural position at center and his playmaking abilities started to show. The versatile Kelly returned and was able to play the wing, allowing Soderberg to stay at center. That line is now considered by some to be one of the best third lines in the entire league.
Strong goaltending, solid defense, and the ability to get production from all four lines lead the 2011 Bruins all the way to winning a Stanley Cup and this year they have many of the same traits. Rask is one of the best goalies in the league, Boston is allowing the second-fewest goals per game, and the Bruins have had production from all four lines.
Although there are new names on the back of the jerseys, the 2013-14 Bruins closely resemble the 2011 team that captured the franchises sixth Stanley Cup. If their exceptional regular season play can transfer into the playoffs, the Bruins will once again be raising Lord Stanley’s Cup.