Commentary

Which team will show up?

B's inconsistency makes it tough to feel confident for the playoffs

Updated: April 7, 2011, 8:19 PM ET
By James Murphy | ESPNBoston.com

The Stanley Cup playoffs are almost here, and Boston fans are wondering which Bruins team will show up. Will it be the team that has played like a world beater for solid stretches of the 2010-11 season or the team that looks like it's disinterested and struggles to score goals? Let's discuss.

Q. This comment is just food for thought. Do I think the Bruins can win a Stanley Cup? Hell yeah. Do I think the Bruins will win the Stanley Cup? Well, not likely. While I think these Bruins have a better shot than they have had in years, I am very concerned about one statistical observation: The Bruins win -- and lose -- in clumps. They are a streaky team, and this can be good -- and bad. If you look at the schedule this year, there were a lot of losing streaks. This kind of play can kill you in seven-game series. Monday's game gives reason for pause. Have we been fooled and in reality we have a team of overachievers? -- Ron (Simsbury, Conn.)

[+] EnlargeZdeno Chara
James Guillory/US PresswireZdeno Chara deserves to receive Norris Trophy consideration, but will he?

A. I completely agree with you, and that's one of the scariest things about this team. When these Bruins are bad, they're BAD. When they're good, they're REALLY good. Must be very frustrating for the fans, and we're seeing now how frustrating it is for Claude Julien. Over the past week, he hasn't been shy about calling out the players, and he isn't sugar-coating things like he has in the past. This team definitely has the ability to go far in the playoffs but it also has the potential to go into one of its infamous tailspins. While I know the Bruins aren't playing for much as the season winds down, their lethargic play better not carry over into the playoffs or they're doomed.

Q. Doesn't Zdeno Chara deserve some Norris consideration? -- Bob (Natick, Mass.)

A. Bob, I definitely think Chara deserves Norris trophy consideration and I think he is getting it. He logs minutes and performs at a Norris trophy level against the NHL's elite players every game while some of the defensemen leading in points for defensemen don't. One hopes that factors into the voting, but unfortunately I get the feeling it won't be enough to make him a top-three candidate. This is why they really need to make a separate trophy for the best offensive defenseman (maybe call it the Paul Coffey Trophy?) and give the Norris to the actual best all-around defenseman.

Q. Unless the B's really need an offensive boost, I just don't see Tyler Seguin playing in the playoffs. Seems like the B's decided to put him on a "scoring" line for a little while and see what he could do, but so far he hasn't produced. To me they'll go with safer players in the playoffs. -- Nate (Norton, Mass.)

A. Nate, at this point it appears the coaching staff and management agree with you. GM Peter Chiarelli indicated on 98.5 The Sports Hub this week that Seguin will indeed see limited action, if any, in the playoffs, saying it's "trending" toward that right now. Julien hasn't been afraid to scratch and call out Seguin all season, and has been very open about the fears he has of Seguin hurting the Bruins defensively. As for my take, I think the kid should get a chance. We saw a similar situation with Phil Kessel in the 2008 playoffs against Montreal, and just as Kessel did then in that Montreal series, Seguin has responded with great games in his first game back from being a healthy scratch. So, yes, maybe start without him in the first round, but if another player is underperforming, give Seguin a chance. He has the ability to be a game changer, and you need a player like that in the playoffs.

Q. With a combined record of 5-11 this season against their three likely first-round opponents -- the Rangers (1-3), Sabres (2-4) and Canadians (2-4) -- how can the Bruins be optimistic about making it to the second round? -- John M. (Chicopee, Mass.)

[+] EnlargeTomas Kaberle
John E. Sokolowski/US PresswireNewcomer Tomas Kaberle hasn't been the game-changer Bruins fans had hoped.

A. John, the players will tell you that the regular season doesn't matter once the "real season" starts, but part of me agrees with you. While the Bruins did take a Montreal team that had beaten them in eight straight regular-season games to seven games in the opening round of the 2008 Stanley Cup playoffs, there still is a good chance that some teams aren't a good matchup for others. Also, I think that unlike in 2008, when the Bruins maybe used the underdog factor as a motivator, they would be favorites against Montreal, New York and Buffalo, so that wouldn't have an effect. This is why the way they lost to the Rangers on Monday could really haunt the Bruins. To blow a lead against a team like that can only serve as a detractor, and cause the Bruins to be nervous and hesitant with the lead against the Rangers. As for the Sabres or Habs, I don't think the regular-season record carries over much, but you can bet a Habs-Bruins series would be emotional and heated, and I'm not sure how the Bruins would handle it.

Q. What do you think the biggest question mark is for the Bruins heading into the playoffs? -- Kerry (Reading, Mass.)

A. Kerry, I think the biggest question mark for the Bruins heading into the playoffs is who is this team? Is it a contender or a pretender? Do the Bruins think the wins will come by just showing up because they're better on paper than the other team? Or do they know they must work hard every shift, for 60 minutes and possibly more? This team has looked like a champion one night and a cellar dweller the next. I believe this team can challenge for the Stanley Cup but it has to know it can't let up.

Q. What do you think about Tomas Kaberle's play so far in Boston? I think he's been OK, but not the impact player I expected him to be. Thoughts? -- Harold (Springfield, Mass.)

A. Harold, let me just say that Kaberle to this point has me eating some humble pie. I tooted this guy's horn all season and last season as well, saying he could be the final piece to what should be a legit Stanley Cup contender in the Bruins. But to this point, not only has he not fulfilled the main purpose for the Bruins trading for him, but he has been a nightmare in the Bruins' defensive zone. Kaberle at times seems to control the puck like it's a hot potato, and often is looking over his shoulder and hesitating in anticipation of being hit. That type of play can't be good in the pressure-cooker games of the Stanley Cup playoffs. I do think he is slowly adapting to Julien's system but he seems to be nervous and putting unneeded pressure on himself.

Q. Are the Bruins in a better position for the playoffs this year compared with the last few? -- Mike (Brewster, Mass.)

A. Mike, it really depends on how you look at it. In my eyes, the team that wins the President's Trophy is always in the best position when the playoffs begin, but we all know upsets happen and seeding can go right out the door in the first round. This is the way I am looking at it: Has the core of this Bruins team for the past three seasons learned from the heartache of three straight Game 7 losses? If those players have and those lessons have toughened them up, then yes, they are in a better position.

James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. Ask a question for his next Bruins mailbag here.

James Murphy

Bruins reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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