Let’s face it, the Bruins are coming off a high from their Winter Classic victory over the Blackhawks at Notre Dame on New Year’s Day. But they’re quickly returning to reality as the red-hot Calgary Flames come to TD Garden Thursday night.
Don’t believe me? Well, let Bruce Cassidy explain.
“You get two points. But it’s more than just an average game in front of 80,000 people on national TV with two historic franchises,” the third-year Bruins coach said. “I’ve said it before, everybody wants to see a good hockey game and we just wanted to be — and I’m sure they [wanted to be] too — on top. It worked out for everyone and specifically for us.”
The Bruins rang in the New Year on a high note. Now, they want to turn that high into bigger and better things.
“Let’s hope we do build off that,” Cassidy added. “We have a tough game coming up. We’ve got Calgary and we don’t have a lot of time to breathe. They just popped in eight goals against a pretty good defensive team [San Jose], so we have to get back to work in a hurry. But we’ll enjoy it for 24 hours and move on.”
Cassidy gave his team a needed day off. They’ll return to Warrior Ice Arena for a pregame skate before facing the Pacific Division-leading Flames.
Even without Charlie McAvoy (lower-body) and David Backes (serving the final game of his three-game suspension), the Bruins may catch a break. For one, the Flames have a late night flight from Detroit and will come off short rest. They could avoid facing David Rittich, too, as the Flames netminder is day-to-day with a lower-body injury.
But the Bruins still have a tough road ahead with nine games in 17 days before the bye week. Five of those — including regular season series-ending tilts with the Canadiens, Maple Leafs and Sabres — come against teams currently in the top-8 of their respective conference.
They’ll have a little better slate coming out of the All-Star break as of Jan. 2. Only 15 of their final 33 contests come against teams currently in the playoff structure, including three against the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning.
Of course, things can change between now and the end of the season with teams jumping in and out of the playoff picture. The Bruins enter Thursday sitting third in the Atlantic Division. The resurgent Sabres have the same amount of points (48) but the Bruins have the tiebreaker with three more regulation or overtime wins. Claude Julien’s Habs are one point out, and Barry Trotz’s Islanders sit two points behind.
Will there be a hangover effect from the allure and pageantry of the Winter Classic? Well, if history is anything to go by, the Bruins may be in trouble, at least initially.
Like this year’s team, the 2010 Bruins encountered injuries — including Marc Savard’s career-fatal concussion — and a 10-game skid following their overtime win over the Flyers at Fenway Park. In fact, they failed to win a home contest for another two months following their thriller on the old Yawkey Way. Yet, they somehow made the playoffs and upset the Sabres before blowing a 3-0 lead to Philly.
Fast forward six years later where the shorthanded Bruins came off a 5-1 shellacking to the hated Canadiens at Gillette Stadium. The B’s never really recovered and failed to make the playoffs for a second straight season.
The Penguins and Red Wings are the only teams that advanced to the Stanley Cup Final after winning the Winter Classic in 2008 and 2009 respectively. The Flyers made it to the Final in 2010 months after losing to the Bruins at Fenway. The 2015 Blackhawks, who lost to the Capitals 3-2 at Nationals Park on New Year’s Day, are the only team to capture a Stanley Cup in the same season.
The Bruins would love nothing more than to hoist Lord Stanley months after their win at Notre Dame. They’ll either have to go through both the Maple Leafs and Lightning in the Atlantic bracket or face the defending champion Capitals in the first round as the top wild card team. They need upgrades on the second and third lines to have any shot of a deep playoff run.
Boston came away with a victory at a historic venue. That’s now on the backburner. But that doesn’t prevent them from bucking a trend and making history come season’s end.
After all, hoisting the Cup and winning the Winter Classic in the same season sounds pretty historic in and of itself.
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