Not that the Hub of Hockey should celebrate prematurely, but the way the Boston Bruins are playing right now, some may already be calling to get those Duckboats ready.
In midst of their 10-game winning streak, the Black and Gold are unquestionably the hottest team in the National Hockey League. Moreover, they have avoided any post Olympic break hangover and are picking up right where they left off prior to heading overseas.
Dating back to the middle of January, the Bruins are 18-2-3 in their last 23 games. They have outscored their opponents 91-47 in that span. They have surpassed the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference standings and have a five point lead over the Metropolitan Division leaders. They also find themselves trailing the St. Louis Blues by only two points for the best record in the NHL.
Need any more evidence on how hot the Bruins really are? Well they have a plus-74 goal differential, which puts them in a tie for first with St. Louis for tops in the league. Their 223 goals are second only to the Blues and defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, who come to the TD Garden a week from Thursday.
Their success is not coming from one guy either. Sure, Jarome Iginla is en fuego with six goals in his last four games. But fellow linemate David Krejci is en route to a career season with 60 points (16 goals, 44 assists), while Milan Lucic is having a nice bounce back year. The second line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Reilly Smith has been consistent for most of the season, and Smith is starting to pick things up after his long scoring drought. The recent play of the Carl Soderberg, Chris Kelly and Loui Eriksson line gives the B’s another scoring option, while the Merlot Line – Shawn Thornton, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille – continues to do what they do best and provide the team with energy.
This trend sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Just look at the 2010-11 regular season where the Bruins had a plus-51 goal differential (good for second in the league), and stellar goaltending from Tim Thomas. Three years later, Tuukka Rask is making his case for the Vezina Trophy and is in the top five or ten in every major statistical category among goaltenders. Oh, and they also got contributions from all four lines, too.
Yet, that 2010-11 season saw the Bruins go in a bit of a tailspin in the middle of March. This came after a seven-game win streak that included six in a row on the road and wins over the eventual Western Conference champion Vancouver Canucks and the Tampa Bay Lightning, their eventual opponent in the Eastern Conference Final. The B’s eventually got out of that slump and went 6-3-1 in their last 10 to enter the playoffs on a high note.
Three years later, Lucic, Claude Julien and the rest of the Bruins are peaking again as we head closer to the postseason. But are they peaking too early?
“It’s a good feeling that we have right now,” Lucic said after the 5-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes Saturday afternoon at the TD Garden. “We’ve got to keep pushing and keep wanting more. I hope we’re not peaking right now.”
Claude’s response to Lucic after his comment: “Well if he thinks we’re peaking too soon I can show him a lot of areas where we can get better. That’s not hard for me to find.”
As good as the Bruins have been during this recent stretch, they’ve also held that same sentiment from Claude (including Lucic). And, for sure, there’s still work left to be done.
Defensively, the Black and Gold have seen some improvements since the season-ending injury to Dennis Seidenberg. At the trade deadline, they added depth in Corey Potter and Andrej Meszaros, who is doing pretty well while trying to get accustomed to a new team and a new system.
Meanwhile, Johnny Boychuk, who despite missing the last two games with a foot injury, is having himself quite the season and could very well pair with Zdeno Chara during the playoffs. Dougie Hamilton is taking great strides from year one to year two, and could also pair with the Bruins captain. Matt Bartkowski, Torey Krug have had their shares of ups and downs in their own this season, but both are good in moving the puck in transition. And Kevan Miller is filling in nicely for Adam McQuaid as a hard hitting, stay at home blueliner.
Still, Julien has some tinkering to do with his pairs on the back end before the playoffs, and some of the defensemen listed above still need to work on their positioning when the B’s don’t have the puck. But its also a luxury to have for the seventh-year Bruins bench boss, as he looks to get the pairings in tact come crunch time.
Their execution during this 23-game stretch – including the last 10 games – has been excellent. Yet, as good as they’ve been, the Bruins’ best hockey may very well be ahead of them. And that’s saying something with the rest of the schedule that includes foes like the Canadiens, Blackhawks, Avalanche and Flyers, just to name a few.
“We’re finding ways to win, but I don’t think we’ve played our best hockey yet,” Chara said after the B’s 2-1 win over the Coyotes last Thursday in Boston. “For sure, there are areas we need to improve, but we are finding a way to win hockey games right now, so that’s all that matters.”