Nearly one-third of the way through their 2017-18 campaign, the Bruins are getting close to having their ideal lineup intact.
The fact that they’re in a position of strength is a testament to how the Black and Gold have handled their early-season adversity.
Even in their 5-3 loss to the Predators, their second setback in their last eight games, the Bruins showed character coming back from 4-0 to make it a one-score game in the third period. The defensive mistakes and the early deficit, however, were too much to overcome against the defending Western Conference champions.
With or without a fully healthy lineup, Monday’s game in Nashville was a prime example of the peaks and valleys of an 82-game season. Those will continue even as players like Jake DeBrusk (a game-time decision for Thursday’s game against the Coyotes) and Adam McQuaid (still roughly 1-2 weeks away) are on the cusp of returning.
“There’s been some ups and downs for sure coming up to this point,” DeBrusk, who missed the last three games due to an upper-body injury, said following Wednesday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena. “We’re on a good stretch right now. Obviously, we didn’t like the result last game but overall the last little bit here has been good and we’re getting more healthy.”
The Bruins know they have some work ahead of them. Starting with Thursday’s tilt versus the lowly Coyotes, the Black and Gold face a 9-game-in-17-day stretch before the Christmas break. Five of the eight teams in that stretch are ahead of them in the standings entering Wednesday’s slate of games.
The fact that the Bruins are on the cusp of a playoff spot given all the injuries is pretty remarkable. Whether it’s David Pastrnak dazzling with his offensive prowess, Brad Marchand picking up right where he left off in his three games since returning from injury or Charlie McAvoy and Danton Heinen leading the youth movement, the B’s are finding ways to gel in their upward trend that began during their three-game trip to California.
Patrice Bergeron and company sit one point behind the hated Montreal Canadiens for third place in the Atlantic Division standings. Come seasons end, that third place divisional spot will be coveted as the Metropolitan Division will likely seed the two wild card berths.
“You always want to be higher in the standings and you always want to be better. But that being said, I think we’ve done some good things and we’ve gotten better as a team,” Bergeron said.
“A lot of young guys got some different looks and different opportunities to learn and be better and to quickly anticipate it. I think in the long run that’s only going to help us and we have to keep getting better as a team, but I think we like where we’re at and I know that we can be better and that we can keep climbing that ladder.”
Even as Ryan Spooner gets re-evaluated for a lower-body injury, the Bruins are in a pretty good spot with games in hand on the rest of the competition.
As proven by their costly mistakes against the Predators, the Bruins know that there is always room for improvement – even with an ideal lineup.
“Given the circumstances, we’re doing alright,” said David Backes, who logged a season-high 19:20 of ice time in Nashville during his third game back from colon surgery.
“I don’t think we should necessarily feel good about ourselves, or feel like we’ve accomplished something. We’re maybe a third of the way through a long season, and we’ve got to take it day by day. Enjoy the victories for what they are and the sacrifice that we had to get those two points and enjoy them for what they are, but put them in the rearview mirror – just like the losses – learn something from them and be better the next day.”
“We’re kind of in that hunt with games in hand. We understand that, and we understand that the opportunity is there,” DeBrusk added. “We’re just trying to win every game and put us in a good spot before Christmas – and going into that break – and just continue building chemistry with everyone and get better with each game. That’s all you can try to do, and that’s what we’re focusing on.”
Getting a clean bill of health can only help the Bruins’ focus in the long run.