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Colageo: Bruins, Maroon Keep Plan for Maple Leafs



Boston Bruins, Pat Maroon

The Boston Bruins will stick to the script against the Toronto Maple Leafs, or so players and coach Jim Montgomery said. 

In the three days it takes to play two hockey games, 10 months of work carefully cultivating rosters, game plans and in-game strategies built around theories and even philosophies will go up in smoke.

That’s what makes the Stanley Cup playoffs so volatile. That’s what makes hockey lifers try to watch every single series, and that’s what draws in viewers whose interest typically wanes during the 82-game grind that cannot manufacture the emotion that sets this annual tournament apart.

So much is at stake, and so much can happen in a matter of hours.

And so it will be when the Bruins, who squandered a Presidents’ Trophy season a year ago in Round One against the Florida Panthers, will keep the same strategies beginning Saturday against Toronto. 

A team will play a certain way, and another team (or two or three) will not be able to solve it. Such a scenario will emerge from at least one of the eight postseason series that begin this weekend.

Identifying the monkey-wrench team of the playoffs is not that simple, but be on high alert for an opening-round series like the one five years ago that Jon Cooper called “a five-alarm fire.” The Tampa Bay Lightning had just completed the third 60-win season (62-16-4) in NHL history when they fell in four straight to Columbus.

Alas, the house-money Blue Jackets did not prove to be the monkey-wrench team of the playoffs, the one whose strategy turns multiple opponents upside down and inside out, sending their coaching staffs into emergency meetings and leveraging reinventions nowhere near the victimized team’s radar in over six months of regular-season hockey.

For two weeks, Columbus looked like the monkey-wrench team of the playoffs but, alas, were not bound to keep it going deep into May, much less June.

The Blue Jackets took a 2-1 series lead in their second round but were then solved by the Boston Bruins, who won that series in six and then swept Carolina in the conference final before finally meeting their match in the final against St. Louis. A member of that Blues team is now helping the Bruins get ready for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“You’ve got to stick with your structure throughout the whole series, you can’t change much,” said Pat Maroon, the newest Bruin but a veteran of two different championship franchises over the past five years.

Maroon helped the St. Louis Blues beat the Bruins in seven games for the Stanley Cup, and he went from there to Tampa Bay where he won two more convincingly. The Blues and the Bolts are rarely compared, but Maroon noticed commonalities leading up to those triumphs.

“You’ve got to see what works, and whatever works, you’ve got to continue to do that. You’ve got to keep doing it over time and time and time again, so you’ve just got to stick with it,” he said after Friday’s practice at Warrior Arena in Brighton. “Both teams are going to come heavy, both teams are coming right out of the gate. It’s going to be fun. We’ve just got to find a way to keep doing it over time – over and over and over time again.”

This monkey-wrench talk seems silly, but Claude Julien engaged the theory when asked prior to the 2011 playoffs, saying, “I think we can be the monkey-wrench team of the playoffs.”

And so it was.

The 2023-24 Boston Bruins have shown they can impose an aggressive forecheck that is two parts speed and one part physicality, but it comes in goes, usually from the bottom six and usually at the start rather than the end of games.

Sustaining the method is the magic, according to Maroon.

Maroon is only the newest outsider to the Boston Bruins organization who has been acquired to help accent the team in a manner that will translate into postseason success.

Even though his specific role with the Bruins stems from the lineage of Nick Foligno’s 2023 departure to Chicago and the subsequent Milan Lucic comeback that went sideways, Maroon also fits into the context of several journeymen brought on by General Manager Don Sweeney to influence a young hockey club in need of deputy leaders.

The paces that Boston Bruins Coach Jim Montgomery put his team through on Friday majored on in-zone possession and cycling drills, both at even strength and powerplay situations.

While the Bruins were on the ice, blue hockey bags bearing the Maple Leafs’ logo were stacked in the hallway outside the visiting dressing rooms.

The Leafs are famous for their skill, and you wouldn’t know they eliminated the Lightning in last year’s playoffs the way they get dismissed around Boston as a glamour troupe ill-suited for the minefields of playoff hockey.

Despite their own success, including many days of the 2023-24 season sitting atop an Atlantic Division, they forfeited to Florida in the final week. The Bruins have been humbled enough to understand very clearly how they need to play in order to win.

“When we’ve had success this year, we stayed in our structure and … created our offense with what was given to us and tried to play down low as much as we can,” said Morgan Geekie, who played 13 playoff games last year with Seattle, helping the Kraken eliminate defending champion Colorado.

He knows what this part of hockey, a playoff clash between rivals from the league’s six-team era, is all about, and he’s excited to be part of it.

“I mean, those players over there, everyone sees what they do in the regular season, and I’m sure they haven’t had the success they wanted. We know they’re great players, and they’re going to show up to play in these big games,” said Geekie of the Leafs. “We can’t say enough good things about how good of a team they are … but I like what we’ve got in this room. I like what we bring to the table, and we’re ready to go in Game One. We’re going to have our fans on our side, which is nice.”

Geekie is impressed with the roster depth that Sweeney has assembled, and given the role injuries can play, depth cannot be underplayed.

Montgomery hasn’t announced a starting goaltender, but he has pronounced the Boston Bruins ready for the second season. If he sticks with the script, we’ll see both Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman, but once the puck drops anything is possible, and Montgomery has readily acknowledged that.

Question now is whether either of these teams is hiding a monkey wrench.

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