x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Boston Bruins are battle-hardened

Injury-free Boston aim to end 39-year cup drought, but must overcome Tampa first.

Are the Boston Bruins on the verge of their first Stanley Cup since the days of Bobby Orr?

After a tough first-round series against Montreal and some redemption in Round 2 against Philadelphia, the Bruins are healthy and rested - not to mention, talented and deep - as they get ready to face Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference final.

It is a match-up that should favour Boston, as the Bruins boast a variety of weapons such as three scoring lines, omnipresent Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas's netminding. Then again, the Lightning were the underdogs against Pittsburgh and Washington, too, and rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Penguins and then swept the mighty Capitals.

Boston, however, have a few things going for them that the Pens and Caps did not. With the exception of Patrice Bergeron, the centre who is expected to miss one or two games with a "mild" concussion, the Bruins are about as injury-free as it gets after two rounds of the NHL play-offs.

Pittsburgh played without leading men Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Also, the Bruins have tasted play-off disappointment in recent seasons, highlighted by last year's collapse against the Flyers (the Bruins had a 3-0 series lead and then a 3-0 lead in Game 7, only to lose).

Suffice to say, the Bruins will be motivated to close out a series any time they get the chance.

The Lightning have their share of star forwards in Martin St Louis, Steven Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier, while Dwayne Roloson has been stellar in the net.

The defence, and the team's overall depth, is years ahead of where it was a couple of seasons ago. Their coach Guy Boucher's transitional style of play has been a big success, and Steve Yzerman, the general manager, is the stabilising force the franchise needed. It would be foolish to underestimate the Bolts after their seven consecutive play-off wins.

But the Bruins are more play-off tested, more bonded by the ups and downs of the past few years.

As a team, they have been through some battles together.

Perhaps history is on Boston's side, too. Last season, it was the Original Six's Chicago claiming their first cup in 49 years. So this time around, why not the Original Six's Boston Bruins claiming their first cup in 39 years? It has a certain symmetry to it, at least.