This morning the Boston Bruins have the chance to do what no other team this round has. They also have the chance to do what no Bruins squad has done since before most of this team were allowed to cross the street by themselves. They have the opportunity to sweep a hungry and competitive team that has shown it can beat excellent goaltending and contain top flight offensive powers. They have the opportunity to place themselves on the mantle next to Bourque, Neely, Oates, Moog and become the heroes this generation of hockey fans embrace, venerate and talk about to their children and grandchildren.

This years Bruins also have the opportunity to forever quiet the mutters of their detractors. Marc Savard can prove a team really can win in the post season with him as their best offensive center. By resuming the quality penalty killing he’s become accustomed to playing he can make laughingstocks of all the those who have ignored his last three seasons and continue to say “all he does is get points”. When he makes another key defensive play all the talking heads who say he’s lost in his own end will have to change their tune.

Andrei Kostitsyn, Hugh Jessiman, Dustin Brown, Robert Nilsson, Ryan Kesler, Mike Richards, Cory Urquhart, Ryan Stone, Loui Eriksson, what do these guys have to do with the Bruins? All of these forwards were taken ahead of Bergeron and have failed to justify it. You can argue that Richards is better, his points per game percentage is 1% better, but he’s had more scoring threats to work with. And that 1% is telling when you take in Bergerons season lost to a grave concussion and then his return season was less than spectacular as well. Despite the injuries Bergeron has played more games, dominates at the faceoffs dot, and is in peak physical condition all year. Yet when people talk about players other than Fluery, Phaneuf and Staal of that draft class Bergeron’s name is suspiciously absent.

Mark Stuart was one of the defensemen taken ahead of Bergeron. Close observers of the team and player understand why. Others question why anyone would use a first round pick on him. Simply put he is this generations Scott Stevens, he’s a well positioned, rock steady, defense first, shot blocking, and hit making machine. In twenty years people will call the devastating hits delivered cleanly in open ice by young stud defensemen “Mark Stuart hits”. Ryan Suter and Brent Seabrook were drafted ahead of him and have lived up to it. Brent Burns shows glimmers of first round skill, Phaneuf looked like a steal early on and has regressed heavily, Coburn is hard to quantify in the “defense is an option” Southeast division but clearly hasn’t justified his high selection. So tonight, and the rest of the playoffs Stuart can prove he should be spoken of as the pillar of the team he is, and why many questioned the selection of Komisarek over Stuart to the US Olympic squad.

Tonight, history should be and hopefully will be made.

With the loss of David Krejci to injury, the Bruins leadership is faced with the tough decision of who to fill a roster slot with. It almost certainly won’t be someone playing at center when they are added to the lineup as Bergeron and Savard are obviously one and two, with Sobotka and Begin filling three and four.  Here’s a look at some of the guys you might see at forward if Krejci can’t play. They also don’t need to replace Krejci’s size as he’s generously listed at 177lbs.

Mikko Lethonen,  he topped the Providence Bruins in goals and points with 23-27-50 lines. The downside for this right winger is that he’s only seen two NHL games. One was a Bruins / Hab’s tilt, but that’s the closest he’s ever come to an NHL playoff intensity game.  On the plus side in addition to a scoring touch he’s got good size at six three and just a touch under two hundred pounds.

Brad Marchand is the speedy little pest we all like, but who hasn’t done much with his twenty games in the NHL this season. He may not be entirely to blame as injuries and a team wide funk left the Bruins heavily lacking in offense and synergy. He had just 1 assist and was a -3 in his time in Boston’s lineup. In Providence he had a very respectable 13-19-32 line with a +14 in 34 games.

Zach Hamill was the Bruins first selection in the 2007 draft and the 8th pick overall. Injuries have plagued the young center since and hampered his development. When he was called up for the first and only time since he was drafted this year he performed admirably, playing a solid 12:08 and earning himself an assist.  He’s another of the small skilled forwards the Bruins have drafted in the past few years. He had a very solid preseason, was asked to help lead the rookie camp and was one of the last players assigned to the AHL when the season opened.

Jeff Lovecchio, after missing all of last season with a very severe concussion he came back and put up modest numbers in Providence but still finished 3rd on the team with 15 goals. He’s a about the same size as Lethonen, but is a left winger.

Trent Whitfield. Whitfield was called up several times as injuries took their toll on the Bruins roster. How likely he is to go in depends entirely on which Whitfield shows up in practice. Several of the games he played for the Bruins made you think he really does belong in the NHL, others were not so fun to watch.  At his NHL best he’s a hard working grinder. Despite all the time he spend with Boston, he was still third in scoring in just 52 games in Providence.

Maxim Suave. I really expected Suave to make the team out of camp. I suspect no trade clauses  had a bit to do with why he didn’t.  He’s fast, agile and like Krejci he’s a left hand shot. He played most of the year in the QMJHL and was added to Providences roster after his season concluded.  With only six AHL games on his resume, it’s hard to see how he’ll get slotted in ahead of others.

The Garden, the crowd outside and all the watering holes are jumping.

The fans are 80%+ in Bruins gear.

For those of you visiting Boston from benighted parts like Philly or various civilized locales, there is excellent beer, bhooze and nosh all over the place around the Garden, including a slightly over priced bar in the North Station lobby. I like Beer Works for my pregame meal and Curly’s Irish Stout and then Sullivans Tap for real bhooze.

The game has been high tempo. The Bruins are not in the mood to take anything laying down. I do think Julien is pulling line combinations out of a hat.

Mcquaid and Ference seem a much more solid so far than last game. Wideman appears to have arrived in midseason form, much to the dismay of the Bruins faithful.

1-1 after 20. Boychuck and Richards with th goals.

The playoffs are said to be the time that separates the good from the great, more often it’s the time that divides the whole from the healing.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have gotten back the services of Tyler Kennedy and Jordan Leopold, but lost their top penalty killer, and second best faceoff man this post season in Jordan Staal. For a team that isn’t noted for its defensive prowess, this is a huge blow. Given that Staal has accumulated 15 playoff goals in his young career, his loss also robs the Penguins of some of their offensive finish.

The San Jose Sharks have a lamed Heatley in the lineup but his effectiveness is somewhat limited. Former captain Patrick Marleau is listed as probable,  with flu-like symptoms. And both Wallin and Staubitz are listed with the dreaded “lower body injury”, although neither one are men who anyone expects to have any significant impact on the series.

The Canucks have four men injured. The only significant one is Willie Mitchell who as 3rd in TOIG during the regular season, not only do his lost shifts cost the Canucks his quality, they open the door for modestly talented players to fill in on the blueline and take plenty of stupid penalties, not that there’s anyone who has done that right? Ryan Johnson’s faceoff dominance will be missed, as will his willingness to block shots.

The Boston Bruins who got Marc Savard back in dramatic fashion for game one, have a parade of other “S” guys going through the trainers hands. Sobotka missed some shifts with an upper body injury during the first tilt with the Flyers, but is expected to play in game two. Mark Stuart who is dealing with his third stint on the injured list this season brings size, agility and aggression to the Bruins blueline and may make it back on the ice for late games in the series should it stretch that long is sorely missed for his experience. Boychuck, Hunwick and Mcquaid combine to have played one more NHL playoff game than Mark Stuart and more than forty less regular season games. Adding to the lack of experience in the defensive unit is the loss of Seidenberg who was listed as being out six to eight weeks after having forearm tendons sliced by a skate. Marco Sturm rounds out the injuries, he was only the leading goal scorer in the regular season this year and in the 07-08 season.  Sturm tore his knee to ribbons in his first shift against the Flyers.

Montreal

Markov is out, again, for the Hab’s with an injured knee having missed 35 regular season games due to an ankle injury. Despite the injures he still put up 34 points during the regular season and is a big part of the teams power play.  Former divisional rival Jaroslav Spacek is out with an “illness”, and Mara has been out of the lineup for months. They also experienced a scare with Marc-Andre Bergeron during Sunday’s game when the Penguins Adams rammed him into the boards from behind.

Chicago

The Blackhawks have health in plenty, the only injury is Johnsson who has been out with a concussion since March.

Detroit

Like the team that beat them for the division title for the first time in years, the Wings are reasonably healthy. Eaves will miss game two of the semi-final series with the Sharks, and Maltby has been off the ice since February and isn’t expected back before fall.

Philly

Having had injuries reduce their depth in goal to something not far from a summer league roller hockey teams, they lost a large chunk of their offensive punch with Carter and Gagne going down in the second to last game of the first round, the team gutted out the rest of the series and found four goals in game 1 against the Bruins but gave up five. The team will have to rely even more on Richards & Pronger to work their respective magics to keep them running in games against the Bruins. Boucher will have to stand on his head and play to the level that was expected when he was drafted as well.

There were games that teams played well, and better than the eventual series winner, and teams who just barely shuffled along in the first round. Here’s a look at how we got to round two.

In the Boston – Buffalo series neither team wowed anyone with their offense. With injuries piling up on the Bruins blueline coming into the series, the Bruins looked ripe for exploitation. Miller played like a god, and could have won with even a little better offense in front of him. Unfortunately his dedicated offensive drivers failed their vitality tests.  Jason Pominville managed just 18 shots on goal in six games and almost 122 minutes of ice time. Derek Roy, the Sabres regular season points leader did an amazing zombie impersonation all series and barely managed to tie goon McCormick who played half as many games and just 32 minutes to Roy’s 137 for the series. And trade deadline pickup Raffe Torres was limpid in four games and had zero goals.  All these gelded Buffalo’s contributed to a power play that didn’t notch a single goal.

Senators vs Penguins

When the unknown guys are the only reason you make it a series, you are in trouble. When your best goalie has a 2.84 GAA, you don’t go far. Together these were enough to sink a series. Alfreddson and Spezza were a combined -5 despite contributing to most of the series goals.  If anyone asks you who the stars of this series were, find the guys in the orange arm bands because they did more to influence the outcome of each game than any skater on either team. Crosby had an impressive series, but with the Senators being called for nearly twice as many penalties, I think the zerbras are entitled to their victory lap. The lopsided 4 misconducts for the Senators and 0 for the Penguins are at least a curious anomaly.

Devils vs Flyers

Anyone who’s watched these two Atlantic division foes spill bodies, blood, and teeth to the ice in the regular season would expect a spirited and entertaining series. Sadly, no. Even the injection of one of the best goal scores in the world into the New Jersey lineup couldn’t keep the team from flatlining. Martin Broeduer was playing the Flyers nearly by himself. In 5 games the Devils managed just nine goals against the suspect goaltending hailing from the City of Brotherly Love. Averaging a lackluster 27 shots on goal per game, and managing six less goals than the Bruins who were the regular seasons least dangerous offense and lacked their top scorer of the last four seasons.  The Flyers for their part showed slightly more energy, and suffered costly injuries, but looked only slightly better than the men they sent golfing.

Chicago vs Nashville

Whoever writes the script for the Nashville seasons must love country music. In the end the Predators are always neutered, defanged and declawed. Despite the ownership of two of the NHL’s fifteen best defensemen in Weber and Suter, and having the better goaltender in the series, the Predators lacked the killer instinct to put the Hawks down and feast on their enemy. They led the series two games to one after game three. Game four on they just laid down and died scoring seven goals in the final three games and being shutout entirely in one. True, they did play my pick to win the cup, but some things are inexcusable.

Kings vs Canucks.

This series was the antithesis of the Boston – Buffalo tilt, free wheeling and scoring by the dozen. Vancouver scored more goals than any team in the first round, and took advantage of a goaltender who while talented, has been carried by a very good team. Despite a power play that clicked at a level that stands at the far end of the scale from the Washington lower cases, the Kings couldn’t bear down and beat a team that couldn’t stay disciplined for a full period to save their momma’s lives.  A 58.3% success rate on the penalty kill places them dead last of all teams in the playoffs, and 35% below their second round opponents.  Luongo was clearly beatable in this series, and with his Olympic play, his preseason schedule and the combined 74 NHL regular and post season games, one has to wonder how many more saves he’s got before the fumes are exhausted.

Red Wings Coyotes

The series that almost wasn’t. The Coyotes were almost moved, almost folded and written off by everyone before the season started. The Red Wings players spent so much time on injured reserve this season you’d think they were only gonna play on nights Tiger Woods actually slept with the woman he’s married too. To top that off, they were breaking in a rookie goaltender who many doubted would ever stick in the NHL. When the peyote wore off and the snakes and octopi were cleared from the ice, the wiley ones were the Winged veterans, and not the post season newcomers. A critical blow to the Coyotes was the loss of Shane Doan, captain, catalyst and points leader during the regular season. Despite being the higher seed, the Coyotes were considered the underdog, and the veteran composure of the Wings shown through.

Sharks vs Avalance

Many people expected Southern California’s most famous beach bums to bow out early so they could work on their tans and spend a couple extra weeks shooting the curl instead of the puck.  Yet despite a spectacular overtime gaffe by the tag team of Boyle & Nabokov, they managed to win the series. They, like the Canucks fell behind in 2-1 in the series, and then proceeded to school the Babylanhe in how the post season game is played. They scored 19 goals to Colorado’s 11, and laid siege to Craig Anderson’s crease averaging 40.8 shots per game while allowing the Avs the privilege of a mere 24.8. Nabokov was out played by miles, and only had to be the average goalie that he was in this round. For their sins, the Sharks get to take on the Wings in the next round.

Montreal vs Washington.

RJ Umberger kicked over a hornets nest in the waning days of the regular season by saying that Team Ovi would lose to any decent team in the west because they lacked a defense. Surprisingly, it was the offense of the beltway boys that let them down. Washington converted on just one of thirty-three powerplays for a mind boggling 3% conversion, this from the team that held claim to both the best offense, and best powerplay in the regular season.  Semin got 36 shots on goal, and zero goals. Norris Trophy finalist Mike Green showed his worthiness for that award by tossing up zero goals on 19 shots and getting tagged for penalties and an inexcusable rate. He got about .72 minutes of  penalties in the regular season, and more than doubling that in the playoffs.  Despite what the naysayers will tell you, Ovechkin was 5-5-10 and +5 in the series with a solid 1.66 ppg and netted the teams only powerplay.  The Capitals even outscored the the Canadiens 22 goals to 20, but managed just 3 goals in the final three games. Halak didn’t steal the series, but he probably ran back a bad punt by the Caps.

That’s the way it was, round two should be fun.

Quick predictions:

Wings

Bruins

Pens

Hawks

will all advance.

5) Despite some love taps McCormick did his damage with his stick in his hand and got an assist early in the game and through a few hits.  Almost a disappointment, but fighting to the last man is probably not something the Sabre’s would wanna attempt.

4) Through the early going of a game blacked out in the east, it certainly appear so. Doughty blasts the Kings into the lead with an early powerplay goal.  Bettman is in the building to confirm and or deny rumors of a conspiracy that may or may not exist.

3) Amazingly yes, just one man though. Patrice Bergeron.

2)  Given that he slashed a player from the bench after getting yanked for the extra skater, I suppose he’ll be playing elsewhere next season. I don’t blame him if that’s his aim.

1) No word on what Obama said about Miller’s penmanship, but “souces close to the situation” said he wanted to give Congress five for fighting.

5) With an over under of five shifts; How long will it take Buffalo’s “black ace” Cody McCormick to get down and dirty in an old school swing with a Bruins dance partner?

4) Can Doughty and the Kings keep Vancouver on its heels or will Luongo and company Burrows their way out of the slump they are in.

3) Will any player on either team leave game five in Boston with more points than the man who can claim seniority over everyone in the playoffs?

2) Will tonight be the night that of Carey’s resurrection as ‘Jesus Price Superstar’ or will his name be crossed out by Alexander Ovechkin ensuring he collects his thirty pieces of silver elsewhere next year?

1) Vezina nominee, Buffalo stalwart and real American hero Ryan Miller has signed a puck for President Obama. Will our Commander in Chief try and toss it over home plate or is there a small, small chance he understands a nod of respect towards hockey is good for America and American business?

5) It appears, that the Dan Boyle decided to take matters into his own hands and score a quick goal in the early going and get the fair weather fans back on his side, Nabokov played a solid game behind a defense that was solid if not spectacular.
4) We’ll know the answer to this one later, but I suspect a Tuesday night will not draw that many viewers. The Pittsburgh – Ottawa game had so little flow and soul I expect it could win American Idol.  Part of this was just some dumb play and like in the Flyers – Devils tilt the lions share rested on the plate of the officiating. I think both sets of officials were looking to be first star of the game.
3)  Well, maybe. You’ll have to decide what you think. Please note they like their tinfoil hats shiny side out and made of recycled materials.
2) Sadly no, the delightful and deluded fans proved that their is a bottom to the depth of Hab’s hatred. But fear not, anytime you feel the need for a stroll across the square at Memory & Twitter, just click here.
1) None that I saw, but then again I cried at the end of Old Yellar…

So today’s 5 Up questions focus on the second most important people in hockey, the fans.

5) How will Boyle and Nabokov be treated by fans when they step on the ice? Objectively speaking both were at fault for a truly stupendous gaffe that was but the frosting on a seven layer frustration cake.

4) Will fans tune into the games in higher numbers than the two records that have been set so far? Better still will any one other than Marty be cheered for the Devils?

3) Will the Vanspiracy folks manage to out do themselves?

2) Can all the jokes about #Canadienstactics continue right through game time and beyond?

1) Will any fans prove more gifted at foaming at the mouth than Buffalo fans as the playoffs continue? http://bit.ly/aK2PEj

Stay tuned and tweeted.