- James Murphy, Bruins reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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The Bruins had one of their most convincing wins of the season Thursday night, routing the Canadiens 7-0 in what was one of the most hyped games of the season.
Does this mean they're ready to go for the playoffs and there will be a Stanley Cup parade in Boston this June? Well, if this team has taught us anything this season, the answer is a very cautious maybe at best. The Bruins are definitely Stanley Cup contenders, but they've shown plenty of inconsistency this season. But one thing is for sure: If the Bruins play up to their capabilities, they can challenge for the Cup. The challenge is to not get too far ahead of themselves as they did last May against the Flyers. So with that in mind let's answer some of your questions in this week's Bruins mailbag.
Q: How impressive was last night's performance? What do the B's need to do to play like that all the time? -- Don (Cape Cod, Mass.)
A: Thursday night's domination of the Canadiens, with all the hype coming into the game, was very impressive. But while a part of me wants to say that the 7-0 thrashing of Montreal was the biggest win of the season and that the Bruins will ride this win into the playoffs, this team has taught us to be cautious. The Bruins have been very streaky this season, but then again so has virtually every other NHL team. It seems to be the norm this season as witnessed by the constantly changing conference standings. All of that being said, though, there has been one constant that fans can take as a good sign and that is that whenever the Bruins seem down and out, they come through. With the exception of that March 8 game in Montreal when they lost 4-1, the Bruins have been good at rising to the occasion and that bodes very well for the playoffs. Do I think they win every game until the playoffs and never look back? Very unlikely. But if they can keep this ability to come through when it counts, it could be a good spring in Boston.
Q: Do you think last night's result carries over at all to a potential Round 1 playoffs matchup? -- Kelly (Hartford, Conn.)
A: Great question and it's a question many reporters were asking both Habs and Bruins players after the game. Ironically, both sides seemed to have the same answers. The common thread with those that were willing to talk about it was with the game being so lopsided, there probably wouldn't be much carry over. But I think it definitely serves as a good confidence booster for the Bruins, who have struggled recently with the Canadiens. But the playoffs are a whole different animal and both sides know that.
Q: Other than Tim Thomas, which player would you ID as being the biggest key to the Bruins' playoff chances? -- Jerry (Hartford, Conn.)
A: That's a great question and very difficult to pin down to one player but I will try. I really think Michael Ryder needs to come alive and look like the Ryder of 2008-09. If he can start scoring again, the Bruins really are three lines deep, because the first two lines, I believe, will deliver. But if you can roll three lines in the playoffs, you're in really good shape. Just look at the Penguins and Red Wings in 2008 and 2009. Since picking one player was too tough, I'm adding another. My second player, who is definitely more pivotal to the Bruins' success than Ryder, is captain Zdeno Chara. The way in which Chara has quietly led by example on the ice in the face of the Pacioretty controversy has been exactly what this team needed from its captain. Even in his Norris Trophy season, I haven't seen this team follow Chara the way it has since that March 8 game. If he leads that way in the playoffs, that could be the difference between another heart-breaking Game 7 loss and advancing to another round.
Q: Do you guys see Kampfer getting a chance to play much the rest of the way? -- George (Hingham)
A: I hate to say it, because I am a big fan of both, but I think Claude Julien has something against the University of Michigan! Steven Kampfer -- just as his former Michigan and Bruins teammate Matt Hunwick did -- has fallen into the Julien doghouse. Yes, the rookie Kampfer hit a wall and struggled with the rigors of everyday life in the NHL. I also understand the argument that the B's have their puck-moving defenseman in Tomas Kaberle, a seasoned veteran, so Kampfer isn't as important. But there have been games lately when I think they would be better with Kampfer in there rather than Johnny Boychuk or Andrew Ference. Boychuk has played better lately but he has still had more bad nights than good, and Ference doesn't look the same since returning from his injury. I say give Kampfer another chance but I don't see it happening.
Q: Who do you see as our best first-round matchup and then our worst? -- Derek (Boston)
A: I will start with the worst and I know it's shocking to say after the beating they gave them on Thursday night, but I'm going with the Canadiens. The Habs are still skilled and fast and I think they'll give the Bruins problems. I think the game changes over to skill and speed in the playoffs. While the Bruins have plenty of skills, they can't match Montreal's speed. I also think the emotions of playing the Canadiens in the first round could be tough on the Bruins, especially the longer the series went and the more pressure there was. The Bruins might need to win it in four or five games. I think the Bruins are a better team, but I see the Habs as that type of team that can steal a first-round series.
As for the best matchup, I like the Rangers. They play the grinding, defensive-minded game the Bruins thrive off and I just think the Bruins have more size and grit than the Rangers and would win that series. Henrik Lundqvist has always played well against the Bruins, but Thomas has had good success against the Rangers. I also think the Bruins' style would drive Marian Gaborik nuts.
Q: Do you think the Bruins have the tools to be a legitimate Cup contender this season? -- Sean Donovan (Hingham)
A: I absolutely do! I think on paper they're as deep as any team in the NHL and yes, I am including the Red Wings, Sharks, Canucks and Flyers. As we've seen all season, if the Bruins put in the effort and stick to their game plan, they are tough to beat. They have one of the best goaltending tandems in the NHL with Thomas and Tuukka Rask. I think the chip Thomas is still carrying on his shoulders after being doubted heading into this season really serves the Bruins well in the playoffs. To me, the defense is the only question mark, but if Chara continues to play and lead the way he has lately, they will be fine. I like their chances.
Q: Going into the playoffs, you would assume Thomas is your No. 1, but why not give Tuukka some starts in the playoffs? He proved he can play in the big game last year and has been doing really well as of late. Granted, Thomas looks like the favorite to win Vezina, but why not? -- Dan (Boston)
A: I don't see why not at all and if the way Julien has handled the goaltending situation lately is any indication, I think he's shown he's willing to play whoever is playing the best. I think that Julien learned a lesson in that Philadelphia series when, in my eyes, he should've put Thomas in for Game 6, when the momentum had clearly switched to the Flyers' side. After that experience, if Thomas falters, I think Julien might go to Rask. I think that's why he has been playing Rask more lately, so he is mentally and physically ready.
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. Ask a question for his next Bruins mailbag here.