After a well-deserved 10-day layover, the league-leading Boston Bruins are eager to return to the ice.
Through 51 games, the Bruins sit comfortably atop the NHL standings with 83 points, seven ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes. Come Saturday afternoon; they’ll look to ride some momentum from their slump-busting win in Toronto on Feb. 1 and build another winning streak when they host Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals on Saturday afternoon.
With a wider proverbial target on their back, a pivotal home stretch awaits the Bruins. From playoff contenders like the Capitals and Penguins to a stout Hurricanes bunch looking to pull within striking distance, every team the Bruins face the rest of the way will have their incentives to interrupt their quest to surpass the 132-point campaign set by the legendary 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens.
As a busy slate second-half awaits, here are three Bruins’ developments to watch for coming out of the break.
Jake DeBrusk’s upcoming return
The 2015 first-round selection likely envisioned himself at a new home at this time last season. Now he’s on the cusp of returning following his triumphant moment one month prior.
DeBrusk captivated the Hub the last time he donned a black and gold sweater. Withering through a hand and lower-body injury, DeBrusk scored twice in the third period to cap off Boston’s thrilling Winter Classic victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Here we are a month later, where DeBrusk hopes to deliver an encore. But his return to the lineup will come a little later than anticipated.
The Bruins hope to have DeBrusk available during their upcoming two-game road swing. Ideally, they hope he’s ready for Tuesday’s tilt in Dallas or by Thursday in Nashville.
“We’re hoping for Tuesday,” Montgomery said of DeBrusk, who skated in a red no-contact sweater on Friday after missing Thursday’s practice because of travel issues. “But we’re not going to take any chances. If he’s not ready for Nashville, then he won’t go then either.”
Thursday’s tilt in Nashville will mark the six-week mark from DeBrusk’s originally expected return timeframe. Whenever that development comes, DeBrusk will provide needed stability on the top line after a rotating forward core, including Taylor Hall and Craig Smith, provided a short-term stopgap next to Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron.
How Don Sweeney approaches the trade deadline
Within the last week, the Islanders and Rangers added firepower in their respective trades for Bo Horvat and Vladimir Tarasenko.
The Bruins enter the trade deadline period in a position of strength. Over the next few weeks, Don Sweeney will mull over potential upgrades ranging from marquee names like Jakub Chychrun, Timo Meier and Jonathan Toews to depth players like Luke Schenn and Noel Acciari.
With Tomas Nosek still hobbled from his non-displaced fracture on his left foot, the Bruins could use another bottom-six centerman, and/or a second or third-pairing defenseman between now and March 3. But they shouldn’t shy away from adding potential top-six pieces to improve their immediate and long-term outlook.
A difficult road to potential history
Through 51 games, the Bruins are on pace to notch 133 points. Maintaining that torrid run will only become more difficult during the playoff push.
Beginning March 9, the Bruins will embark on a hectic year-end slate with a 20-game-in-36-day stretch. Ten of those tilts come against teams currently in the top eight of their respective conferences, including a back-to-back weekend slate against the Lightning (at home on March 25) and Hurricanes (in Raleigh on March 26).
“We had a great first half, great. But we didn’t gain anything from that,” forward Charlie Coyle said. “This is the real deal. This is where it really counts the most, and we want to keep playing and growing and being the best team we can. I think we have even more to give and more to gain here. So it’s up to us to use it each day and each game, so when playoff time comes, we’re getting off to a running start, feeling good, and making something happen.”
Even if they surpass the ’76-77 Habs, the Bruins won’t want to settle for making something happen come playoff time.
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