It’s no secret that NHL players always hope to be playing their best brand hockey at playoff time, and Boston Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk has managed to do that thus far.
The B’s left winger has scored goals in each of the first two playoff games against the Washington Capitals in their first round series, and he’s finishing checks, hunting the puck and playing solid two-way hockey while generally doing the things he wasn’t always doing during the regular season. The six shots on net and plus-1 rating in two games are strong indicators his involvement level has elevated all around, and that’s exactly the kind of thing the Bruins have been seeking out of DeBrusk all season.
“I think there’s always a couple of times during the year when there is reset opportunities,” said Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “For Jake, he very well could have said to himself it doesn’t matter now (how the regular season went), it’s whatever happens in the playoffs. That was the message to some of the guys who maybe weren’t happy with their regular seasons. I know Jake falls into that category: ‘Help the team win.’
“That might be a number of different ways. For him, [DeBrusk] has the ability to be a wild card in terms of scoring goals for us. He has done it in the playoffs, he has done it in the regular season and he’s doing it now.”
As Cassidy mentioned, the 24-year-old DeBrusk has the unique ability to be an X-factor for the Bruins in the postseason. He now has 16 goals in 51 career playoff games and he’s only a couple of postseasons removed from dominating a first round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs when he scored five goals over the course of the seven-game series.
Perhaps the best news: His goals against the Washington haven’t been the byproduct of anything but hard work around the net. Those are the kinds of scoring chances that are often rewarded during the postseason and that’s been the case for DeBrusk over the course of the first couple of playoff games.
“Good for Jake. And they’re not lucky, he’s gone to the front of the net, he shot the puck, so they weren’t just fluky goals, they were well-earned,” said Cassidy. “He’s invested, that’s what we need, good for Jake.”
It’s probably no surprise that DeBrusk is answering the bell now given the urgency of his situation with the Black and Gold. The Bruins are happy with the play of hulking left wing Nick Ritchie and have both Taylor Hall and Brad Marchand installed at the top two left wing spots, with the intention of re-signing Hall at the right time this offseason.
That doesn’t leave a lot of room at the inn for DeBrusk unless he can become an impact player at right wing, or change their minds about somebody else.
It was to the point just a couple of weeks ago where DeBrusk was point blank calling out his own struggles after posting just five goals and 14 points in 51 games this season.
“I’ve been struggling. It’s not fun when you’re struggling,” said DeBrusk, toward the end of the regular season. “You try to find little positives and things like that and move on from there. It’s not the end of the world. Obviously, I’d like to do a lot more with what I can do, but at the same time, it obviously hasn’t been meant for me. I understand that my time will come.”
So, it feels like DeBrusk could become the odd-man out unless something drastic happens, like a massive playoff performance that pushes the Boston Bruins to a deep, successful postseason run over the next few months. He’s at the start of something like that a couple of games in, so it’s going to be fascinating to see how it all turns out for DeBrusk with so much, both individually and team-wise, riding on this current postseason.