I’m not comfortable with this. Not at all.
I know what my eyes tell me — that the Bruins have won seven straight games entering this weekend, won the second game of three back-to-back stints in the month of March already, and are among the NHL’s hottest teams since the Olympic break. Frankly, it’s a bit unsettling.
The (pre-2004) New England sports fan in me is searching for a reason to hate: Something — anything — to be miserable about with this hockey team right now, but it’s just not there. Even the media-created “The Bruins Were The Biggest Loser At The NHL Trade Deadline” headline is laughable just over a week after the fact. Losers, schmoozers. They’ve haven’t lost since the deadline passed.
How good have they Bruins been? Here’s a list:
Claude Julien became just the second head coach in team history to earn at least 300 wins thanks to the Bruins 2-1 win over Phoenix on Thursday;
The team is 3-0-0 since new defenseman Andrej Meszaros made his debut in the lineup last Sunday in Florida;
Backup netminder Chad Johnson is undefeated in his starts at home this season;
The Bruins enter the weekend with the best record in the Eastern Conference;
Boston has a nearly insurmountable lead over Toronto atop the Atlantic Division — 13 points with 16 games remaining and two full games in hand over the Maple Leafs;
The team has three 20-goal scorers already this season, plus another four players with more than 15 goals at this point in the campaign;
Tuukka Rask leads the NHL in shutouts with six, and of goaltenders who have played at least half of their team’s games, he’s he league leader in save percentage.
So, you can see how frustrating it is to try and take a discerning eye to the Bruins and find anything wrong.
If you’re trying to be nitpicky about it, you can always say things like, “They looked horrible in the third period against Phoenix on Thursday night” or “They don’t have a single dominant offensive player in the lineup on a given night.” Big deal.
They were horrible in the third period — a game they WON, by the way — because they were playing their fourth game in six days, less than 24 hours after having beaten arch-rival Montreal in Montreal. They don’t have a singular terrifying offensive threat because they have four physical lines that wear teams down while all creating ample scoring chances.
Even the team’s sometimes too-young defensive corps has grown by leaps and bounds. Matt Bartkowski is among the team’s top four defensemen in ice time since Dennis Seidenberg’s injury, and Kevan Miller looks like he’s belonged in the NHL for years now. He’s buoyed by a physical style and a defensive awareness that far exceeds his experience level.
Heck, the team that was supposedly unable to beat Montreal — a classic bad matchup for the Bruins over the years — went into the Bell Centre and smoked the Les Habitants in their own building this week.
I won’t lie.
I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.
I keep waiting for some sign that there is imminent collapse lurking in the next dressing room, in the next game, in the next period, on the very next shift. So far, that stuff hasn’t happened.
There is reason for that, of course. The Bruins have been smart about retaining their core players for a number of years — players like Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand aren’t young anymore, among a number of 20-somethings on the roster who have been through a couple of deep playoff runs now. Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuck and even the injured Adam McQuaid have all hoisted the Stanley Cup. Rask, still very young for a netminder at 27 years old, has performed well in playoffs past — and has elevated his game to a point where you have to be confident about his chances in the postseason this time around.
Julien himself deserves a mountain of credit.
More than once during his tenure behind the Boston bench, his head has been called for on a platter — even during the 2010-2011 season when the team went on to win the Cup. But we’ve come to understand that things like “process” and “patience” aren’t just coaching buzzwords that Julien tosses around to fend off the media. They are real and tangible things — things that pay off in wins, home ice advantage in the playoffs and, ideally, a Stanley Cup ring.
It’s worked before. It’s working now.
All the team needs to do now is survive the next 16 games and then try not to lose what they’ve built when the unpredictable postseason begins.
At which time, we can all return to turning every bad penalty, poor decision and ill-timed line change to an immediate referendum on their chances of hoisting another Cup. For now, though, just try and enjoy the ride.
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