Core injuries have hampered Patrice Bergeron for two years. Will he come out the the shutdown and be able to spark the Bruins? Matt Slocum/Associated Press


There is one big question facing the NHL and the rest of North American team sports and it’s a simple one: Can this actually be pulled off? Only the coronavirus knows.

But while certain parts of the U.S. have seen some recent upticks in cases, and 11 players across the league have thus far tested positive – including one Bruin and several Lightning, causing the shutdown of the Tampa Bay’s informal skates – it has not been enough yet to derail the league’s momentum toward the unique 24-team tournament set for late July/early August. The league has been culling prospective hub cities with Columbus and Minneapolis/St. Paul reportedly out of the mix.

So with a wait, and hope that the league can continue to safely move forward, here are five smaller questions as they pertain to the Bruins and their quest to win one more playoff game than they did last year.

1. Will youth or experience be the greater determining factor for success?

Brad Marchand was one of the first to speculate that younger teams would have an easier time coming out of this unusual lengthy lockdown, while others have pointed to the professionalism and dedication to fitness that some of the Bruins’ older veterans have shown over the years as a positive indicator. But the Bruins have four key vets who are 33 or older – Tuukka Rask, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Zdeno Chara – and it can be harder to get the engine going as you get older.

While they have tons of playoff experience among those vets, this year’s planned tourney will be nothing like they’ve dealt with before. But the old bones were fast out of the gate to start the season last October as they began what felt like a redemption tour. It will be interesting to see if this team can regain the focus it exhibited all season.

Meanwhile, the Bruins have a couple of key young players – Jake DeBrusk and Charlie McAvoy, for example – who have had some slow starts to seasons in their young careers. While the tourney is a continuation of the 2019-20 season, this will be like a new season. Slow starts by too many players will spell a quick doom.

2. Can the health of Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara hold up?

Bergeron has been dealing with core injury issues for a couple of years and, though some fans have expressed hope that the long layoff will ensure a healthy No. 37, that’s not necessarily so. He had to be shut down fairly early this season at the end of November for a couple of weeks when issues cropped up again.

Chara, meanwhile, is 43 years old. His role has changed in recent years. He’s no longer the team leader in icetime and he doesn’t play on the power play. But even at his age, Chara remains a vital defender for this team, especially on the penalty kill. Two-plus months of playoff-like hockey can take a toll on anyone, even a workout warrior like the Bruins captain. One aspect of the usual playoff wear-and-tear that won’t come into play is travel, which should help out players like Chara and Bergeron.

3. Is there a role for Jaroslav Halak?

The Bruins 1A-1B goaltending tandem system has worked to near perfection. Last year, Halak gave Tuukka Rask enough rest during the regular season to come within one game of the Stanley Cup and most likely the Conn Smythe Trophy. This year, the pairing won the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed.

But any advantage the Bruins would have had by having a rested No. 1 going into the playoffs last April is now gone. Every team will be entering the tournament in the same situation. Coach Bruce Cassidy has made it clear that Rask is his playoff goalie. The netminder gave Cassidy no reason to change in the playoffs last year.

But if Rask has any difficulty in regaining his form right off the bat after such a long layoff, it’s not out of the realm of possibility we could see Halak. He hasn’t seen playoff action in five years, but he does have a .926 save percentage in the postseason and he spearheaded the Canadiens’ unexpected run to the Eastern Conference Final a decade ago. After his performance last year, Rask undoubtedly deserves the nod to start but he’ll need to be sharp from the get-go.

4. How will the Anaheim-East contingent fare?

Nick Ritchie and Ondej Kase arrived from the Ducks in two separate trades near the deadline and they barely had time to get to learn their new teammates’ hockey nicknames before the league shut down on March 12. Kase played just six games, Ritchie only seven and they combined for just a goal and two assists between them.

Both considered to be middle six wingers, neither had the opportunity to settle into roles and form chemistry with linemates. After some experimentation from Cassidy, the pair was last seen bookending David Krejci on the second (third?) line while Jake DeBrusk, Krejci’s regular left wing for the last two-plus seasons, was moved onto Charlie Coyle’s line. The hope is that Kase regains the high-end skill potential he demonstrated two years ago when he popped in 20 goals for the Ducks in his second NHL season, but his production with the Bruins amounted to one assist in a half dozen games. Ritchie, obtained in a trade for Danton Heinen to add a little size and snarl, brings a presence that the Bruins needed. He’ll need to use that to fight through traffic and get to the net to score the odd dirty goal.

5. Is the Bruins’ blue line stout enough?

The Bruins back end was able to handle a serious physical challenge from the Blue Jackets in the second round last season but the Blues were just a little too much to handle. It didn’t help that undersized puck mover Matt Grzelcyk was taken out of the series for five games on a bad head shot from behind by St. Louis’ Oskar Sundqvist.

It is essentially the same with the notable exception of one player. Jeremy Lauzon had supplanted Connor Clifton on the third pairing. While Clifton plays with an attitude that endeared him to fans, Lauzon also brings an edge but, at 6-1 and 205 pounds, he has a little more size to back it up.

McAvoy’s half-season goal drought helped to disguise the fact that he was having a very good season in his own end playing against the oppositions’ top lines. This could also be the last chance for Torey Krug, who is without a contract for next season and with the salary cap expected to remain flat at best, to win a championship in Boston.

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