Bruins gearing up for final act with core group of stars

Tuukka Rask's seemingly imminent return signals the final act for this Bruins group. (Getty)
Tuukka Rask's seemingly imminent return signals the final act for this Bruins group. (Getty)

Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy noted on Sunday that goaltender Tuukka Rask could return to the lineup in three weeks. The news isn't shocking as Rask has been practicing with Boston and has stated that he only wants to play with the Bruins.

His seemingly imminent return has all of the feels of a cast taking the stage for the final act.

It's no secret that the Bruins as we've come to know them over the past 10-plus years are entering the twilight of their reign. Since 2010, Boston has compiled one Stanley Cup championship, three Cup Final appearances, a league-leading 405 regulation victories, and the fourth-most overall wins with 494. It's been a run fans of most teams dream of witnessing.

The 2021-22 campaign has felt a lot different than past years, though. Due to a combination of middling play and an odd schedule thus far, the Bruins currently sit outside of a playoff spot. It's important to note that Boston has played as few games as any team in the league, but still, there's a growing sense that the Big Bad Bruins aren't nearly as big or as bad as they used to be.

Now two seasons removed from Zdeno Chara's final game with the franchise, the defense has been left in good hands with Charlie McAvoy taking over as the leader of the unit. The 24-year-old has developed into a perennial Norris Trophy contender and one of the league's bright blueline stars, but long are the days where Boston's defensive grouping struck fear into its opponents. Brandon Carlo and Matt Grzelcyk are fine defenders when healthy, but their availability has been an issue. Due to injuries, neither Carlo nor Grzelcyk suited up in more than 40 games last year. Both have managed to stay healthy this season, but their track records are concerning. The unit grades out well in most defensive metrics, but it seems fair to suggest that it clearly no longer ranks a cut above the rest of the competition.

David Krejci's absence has left a gaping hole on the second line. The Czech center played the role perfectly during his 15-year career with Boston but decided to return home this season and play for HC Olomouc in Extraligia. Often underappreciated by the fanbase, Krejci was a reliable presence on a second line that didn't always offer the best supporting talent. He topped 50 points in eight of his final 13 seasons, which also includes a lockout-shortened year and two seasons compromised due to COVID-19. He's one of just 22 players since the 2008-09 season to register more than 700 points, and there's no question Boston has missed his ability to provide consistent secondary scoring. This year, only five Bruins forwards have reached double digits in points. Comparatively, the Toronto Maple Leafs have 10 forwards who've hit the mark.

The departures of Chara and Krejci have left Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and soon, Rask, as the only members still lingering from the 2011 championship team. The two forwards haven't shown any discernible signs of decline as Bergeron has recorded 23 points across 25 games, while Marchand has registered 27 points in 21 outings. There are some red flags, specifically with the team captain, however, that can't be ignored.

Bergeron, 36, is undoubtedly at the stage where it'd be presumptuous to assume he'll be back beyond this season. Playing out the final year of an eight-year contract he signed prior to the 2014-15 campaign, Bergeron has been noncommittal when discussing his intentions for next year. He's done everything there is to do in hockey at the professional and international levels. It wouldn't exactly be a surprise to see him call it an end to what is surely a Hall of Fame career.

Marchand, 33, is still at the peak of his powers and certainly has some quality years remaining, but it's nearly impossible to think of the winger playing on a line without Bergeron centering it. Sure, David Pastrnak would still be around, but there's no "Perfection Line" without its pivot man.

Rask, 34, is coming off of surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right hip which he underwent in July, and it remains to be seen what effect the ailment will have on his play. When Boston won the Stanley Cup in 2011, Rask was just Tim Thomas's understudy. The hope is that the veteran goaltender, who is tied with Ken Dryden and Dominik Hasek for the all-time lead in save percentage, can pull it together and deliver one more star performance.

This era of Bruins hockey is nearing the final curtain, but Bergeron, Marchand, and Rask are still playing the most important roles. They are the ones who will decide how this show ends.

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