Hangover Or Not, Bruins Will Be Challenged to Make It Past First Round

If you're like me, you spent last spring breathlessly repeating that the Bruins were going to win the Stanley Cup. It ruled.  

Fine, so we didn't exactly stick the landing, but we read the tea leaves correctly: The path was there once the Lightning crashed and burned in the first round, and if the Bruins had played to their potential, there'd be a banner-raising ceremony at the Garden.

Now let's read them for this season and say this: Don't get your hopes up. A Cup run? The Bruins might be lucky to reach the second round.  

Putting aside the "hangover" that could of course occur, just consider how unlikely it is that the road to a championship will be as easy as it was in the spring. I won't even mention the gimme they got in the conference finals with the Hurricanes, because the Bruins probably aren't getting that far.

Best-case scenario, the Bruins have the problem they expected last year, which would be a second-round meeting with the powerhouse Lightning. To do that, however, they'd need to get past the Leafs in the first round, something I wouldn't bet on happening for a third straight time.

While the cash-strapped Bruins did what they could to keep the band together, the very Leafs that took Boston to seven games got better. They replaced Nikita Zaitsev with Cody Ceci (eh, whatever), but the big get on defense was trading annual postseason suspension Nazem Kadri for Tyson Barrie. Kadri's a solid third-line center, but they got another one (Alexander Kerfoot) back in the Barrie trade.

So the offensively star-studded Leafs (Tavares, Marner, Matthews, Nylander) now have an actual blue line behind them. After finishing third in the Atlantic the last two years and getting bounced the Bruins in seven games each time, they seem primed to -- and I hate saying this because nothing brings me more joy than unhappy Toronto fans -- leapfrog the Bruins for second in the division and host Boston in a first-round matchup.

Injuries and trades can change things, but let's assume these teams are what they look like now. Knowing that the Bruins have had to scratch and claw their way past inferior Leafs the last two years, wouldn't it stand to reason that would be much more of a challenge against an improved Toronto team?

Say Boston does get through another first-round matchup with the Leafs. Waiting for them would be the Lightning. We got to stop talking about the issue of having two of the best teams in the league in the same division for a minute last year because Tampa lost, but that problem isn't just going to disappear.

And I'd caution against any and all "the Lightning will choke again" logic. Bruins fans should remember that the B's were once the laughing stock that suffered postseason embarrassment in 2010. Rather than imploding, they came back focused the next year and won the Cup.

As for the ol' hangover: After winning the Cup in 2011, the B's were bounced in the first round the following spring. Their 2013 Cup run was followed by a second-round exit against Montreal. It's harder to make a run when you didn't get the time off your opponents did.

The Bruins are going to have an entertaining season. They're going to be one of the better teams in the league and they're going to make the playoffs. Their competition will be stiffer, however, and that doesn't bode well for a team that just played into June.

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