Bruins vs. Oilers: Debating the big questions ahead of Thursday’s clash

NHL fans have had this Thursday, March 9, circled on their calendars for quite some time.

Tonight’s game featuring the Boston Bruins against the Edmonton Oilers (7:30 ET, exclusively on ESPN+ and Hulu) is not just a rematch of the 1990 Stanley Cup Final — although perhaps it is a preview of the 2023 Stanley Cup Final.

History is being made on both sides. The Bruins are on pace for 65 wins and 136 points this season, both of which would be NHL records (the current marks are 62 and 132, respectively). They were the fastest team in NHL history to reach 100 points. Goaltender Linus Ullmark could threaten the NHL record for wins and is well ahead in the Vezina Trophy race.

On the other side, Connor McDavid leads the league with 54 goals and 124 points — he’s 10 points clear of the league’s No. 2 in goals (Boston’s David Pastrnak), and 28 points clear of No. 2 in points (Edmonton teammate Leon Draisaitl). Pacewise, he’s on a path to 68 goals and 156 points. The 124 points is already ahead of McDavid’s league-leading point total from 2021-22, and if he stays on his current pace, it would be the highest mark since Mario Lemieux’s 161 in 1995-96.

If you weren’t sold on tuning in already, we’ve gathered our hockey reporters here to debate the big questions heading into this matchup:

The Bruins will finish the season with _____ wins and _____ points.

Ryan S. Clark: Let’s go with 65 wins and 136 points. They have won 79% of their games this season and … that’s beyond ridiculous when you say it out loud. The figures I quoted are what would happen if the Bruins keep going at their current pace.

It’s not to say those numbers can’t change. They certainly can. But at this point, it’s hard to argue against a team that made additions at the trade deadline to become even more indomitable.

Victoria Matiash: The Bruins will lose two of their final 20 in regulation and two in overtime. That works out to 49 plus 16 — carry the 1… — 65 wins and 137 points. Patrice Bergeron & Co. don’t only care to break the record, they want it shattered. Plus, this crew intends to ride into the playoffs as hot as possible.

Kristen Shilton: Boston will end up with 64 wins and 134 points. Once the Bruins break the NHL record for most regular-season victories — which feels like a foregone conclusion at this point — it only makes sense that they will rest some of their veterans. That’s in preparation for what they hope — and we all assume — will be a long spring ahead.

For as good as these Bruins have been the past several months, the real Boston behemoth must earnestly emerge in April.

Greg Wyshynski: The Bruins will finish with 63 wins to break the NHL record for most in the regular season and 132 points to tie the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens for the most in NHL history in a single season. (Montreal wins the tiebreaker, having done it in 80 games.)

Besides being a steamroller, Boston has a pretty manageable schedule the rest of the way, with an equal number of playoff contenders and lottery teams. They’ll make history, then give their veteran players a much-deserved breather before the postseason grind.

Connor McDavid and David Pastrnak are tops in the league in goal scoring right now. Who’ll win the Rocket Richard at season’s end?

Clark: It’s likely going to be McDavid or Pastrnak. Although, if we have to pick someone outside those two, maybe Tage Thompson is the answer.

As of Thursday, Thompson is only two goals behind Pastrnak. Remember, Thompson scored 13 goals in the month of December. He has shown that he can piece together these notable scoring streaks. Now he’s trying to do it while the Sabres are fighting for a playoff spot. He seems like the strongest non-McDavid/non-Pastrnak candidate.

Matiash: McDavid wins the Rocket with 70, scowling all the way. Mikko Rantanen finishes second with 55, shaming many of us for not showering him with enough comparative attention this season.

Shilton: It’s hard to bet against a player in McDavid who has scored multiple goals in 12 of 65 games this season (so far). McDavid can flip the switch like no one else in hockey.

It would take a truly uncharacteristic dry spell or major injury to hold McDavid off winning the Rocket. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see McDavid finish the season with 70 goals.

Wyshynski: McDavid almost set an NHL record for consecutive multiple-goal games, and I don’t see this scoring bender ending any time soon.

I’ll say Connor will end up with a total of 69 goals as he completes the best point-scoring season in NHL history by anyone not named Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux.

Will this be our 2023 Stanley Cup Final matchup? If not, who ya got?

Clark: Not right now. Boston looks like it has everything needed to reach the Cup Final this season. But it’s not often that the Presidents’ Trophy winner also brings home the Stanley Cup. Nevertheless, this version of the Bruins looks like it might simply be different.

Edmonton is a tricky one. It’s a team that has struggled to find consistency. But that could also play to the Oilers’ advantage, given the West has been so tight this year that no clear-cut favorite has yet to break away.

Matiash: Why not? After having lost all of eight games in regulation since October, now the Bruins are expected to drop half that total in a given stretch of two weeks or less? That math doesn’t make sense. Plus, the club is even better in current form with Dmitry Orlov and Tyler Bertuzzi aboard. Never even mind that forward Taylor Hall could be good to rejoin forces up front once we get to the knockout stage.

Out west, the best player in the world’s club finally acquired a much-needed defensive zone dominator in Mattias Ekholm. That helps. A lot. From a tight contending crowd also including the Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche — who failed to grab a better option to serve as a second-line center — Vegas Golden Knights and Minnesota Wild, the Oilers sport as good a chance as any of reaching the ultimate round.

Shilton: Oof. If only! Imagine, first of all, three rounds of watching Connor McDavid in the playoffs. That’s good theater. However, Edmonton’s postseason track record makes it tough to anoint it a true Cup Final contender just yet. We all know the game changes come playoff time. Can the Oilers bring those defensive elements needed to go all the way?

On the other side, the Bruins have shown their capabilities across the board all season. Other than the whole “Presidents’ Trophy winners never get anywhere” narrative, there’s zero flaw in arguing that Boston is a Cup Final favorite. The Western Conference has more dark horses than the East. Thus, it’s harder to predict who will come out on top.

Wyshynski: We’ve got one team from my preseason Stanley Cup Final, and that’s the Oilers. My preseason pick was the Oilers against the Carolina Hurricanes, as we party like it’s 2006. I’ll stick with that as long as I can, in the hopes that I’ll look like a genius if it hits.

But if you’re looking for a spicy take here on the Bruins, here it is: I’m taking the field against Boston in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The next three best teams in the entire NHL after the Bruins are the Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs. The Tampa Bay Lightning, who are seeking a fourth straight trip to the Stanley Cup Final, and the New York Rangers are both in or near the top 10. There’s a chance the Bruins could face Sidney Crosby in the first round of the playoffs — and anyone who saw the Pittsburgh Penguins’ series against the Rangers last season knows how he can assert his will on a series.

Maybe there’s a reason the entire East made trade deadline moves. Maybe those teams don’t see the Boston juggernaut as unstoppable.

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