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Ready or not, Bruins set to open Stanley Cup playoffs against Carolina

Boston Bruins left wing Brad Marchand (63) shoots the puck past Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby (70) during third-period NHL hockey Stanley Cup qualifying round game action in Toronto, Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press via AP)
Boston Bruins left wing Brad Marchand (63) shoots the puck past Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby (70) during third-period NHL hockey Stanley Cup qualifying round game action in Toronto, Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press via AP)

Brad Marchand was making no promises or predictions for when the Bruins’ begin their first-round playoff series Tuesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes.

But for all the B’s fans who are concerned about the team’s anemic 0-for-3 performance in the round-robin that produced just four goals, Marchand made it abundantly clear that winning those games and thus gaining a higher seeding was of far less importance than simply kicking off the rust accumulated by four months of relative inactivity.

We don’t have to wait any longer to see if the approach was sound.

“We’re in a position with what we’ve gone through the last four games really doesn’t mean anything,” said Marchand, lumping the exhibition against Columbus with the round-robin games on a Zoom call on Monday. “We’re not going to look at it and base this series off of what’s happened. Those are preseason games. Let’s call it what it is. They’re exhibition games for the playoffs. … It’s hard to have the same mentality as a playoff series, so we’re not going to base what our performance is going to be against Carolina on that. We’re going to do what we have to do and we’re all going to be dedicated and we’re going to compete. That’s what our teams does. We compete and work and we try to play our game. That’s what we’re going to focus on.”

It’s hard to argue with much of what Marchand had to say. The difference between the play-in games and the round robins (with the exception of the entertaining Washington-Tampa Bay tilt) was palpable. While the play-in games provided excitement, drama and a reasonable facsimile of playoff hockey, there was little oomph to the round-robins.

One would think that there are aspects of playoff hockey a hardened, experienced team like the B’s would be able to quickly adjust to. You can expect to see more blocked shots, more net front battles for loose pucks, more all-around edginess.

Summoning the will should not be a problem for a team like the B’s. The skill? Well, that’s a different story.

The B’s are one of the more dazzling teams in the league when they’re on, especially the top line of Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. But that group was shut out in the round robin, save for Bergeron’s one assist on Charlie McAvoy’s goal against Tampa. The group showed signs of improvement in each game, but the execution and decision-making was still a bit off when the books were closed on the round robin.

The second line of Jake DeBrusk, David Krejci and Ondrej Kase had some good moments, but Game 1 against the Hurricanes will be the group’s second game together as a line. The third combo of Nick Ritchie, Charlie Coyle and Anders Bjork has shown some spark but hasn’t yet developed a true identity.

No, the concerns are not baseless.

Marchand himself was better in the final game against Washington — he just missed a roof job that would have tied the game in the third period —and sounded pleased with where his game was trending.

“First few games I felt rusty. I was happy with how my legs felt. I felt my conditioning was there. My hands were taking some time to catch up, but I felt a lot better last game with my decision-making, my strength on the puck and my positioning. If I can continue to play like that, I’ll be happy with where it is. Hopefully I get some bounces,” said Marchand. “But collectively as a group, we just have to continue to improve. We’ve gotten better with each game. I think especially with the way that it was set up, the games that we played, it wasn’t like it was a playoff so it wasn’t do or die. These are going to be a lot more intense. Obviously each game means a lot more so the pride and the willingness to do the extra things that maybe we weren’t doing in preseason hopefully, those will be there. That’s what we have to focus on.”

But the B’s will have to jump on a moving train. The Hurricanes — young, talented and still smarting from getting swept in the Eastern Conference Finals by the B’s last year — already have an elimination series under their belt. They’re feeling pretty good about themselves after sweeping the Rangers, though Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said that any bump from that series win has dissipated after a week off.

Meanwhile, the B’s had to do some cramming for Carolina. Normally, coach Bruce Cassidy would give his team at least a day off to rest and for he and his staff to devise a plan of attack before implementing it in a practice. There is no such luxury. But in a way, Cassidy sees a silver lining in that.

“We have not been involved in the sudden-death playoff atmosphere. We’ve been involved in good hard hockey games, but they just re-seeded us,” said Cassidy. “For us, the first game — take the health out of it — can’t come soon enough. And I believe we’ll be completely healthy (Tuesday) for that game. I’m looking forward to it and we’ll make adjustments as we go along and try not to overload the guys with information with the quick turnaround.”

For the Bruins, the playoffs are finally here. Ready or not. We’ll soon find out.

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