Haggerty: Bruins poised to become NHL's top team because they've earned it

Haggerty: Bruins poised to become NHL's top team because they've earned it

NEW YORK – It was impossible to imagine this when the Bruins were scrapping the bottom of the Eastern Conference back in mid-November, but the Black and Gold are now on the cusp of becoming the best team in the NHL. 

They’ve essentially been the best team the past three months while tearing off a 27-4-4 run since mid-November and have outscored opponents 124-68 in that span. 

The Bruins aren’t just winning at this point. They are crushing their opposition. They did that again with a 6-1 dismantling of the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night. 

At 11-1-2 since the beginning of January, the Bruins are now a point behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for first place in the Atlantic Division – and, more impressively, for the NHL’s best record.

“We’re trying to win every game that’s on the schedule in front of us,” said Bruce Cassidy. “If we catch [Tampa Bay] then great, and if they play great then that’s the way it goes. We obviously pay attention to it, but it’s not our main focus as a group. I think the guys just want to play from period-to-period. It showed even at the end where we some trying to pull the reins back there, and you had our 40-year-old [Zdeno Chara] flying up the ice. There’s a lot of passion to their games, and it is fun to be around.” 

Oh, by the way, the Bruins also still have a game in hand on all of the other top teams around the NHL with no signs of slowing down. Clearly, the B’s players know where they are in the standings right now and are fully aware of the NHL penthouse that awaits them with a few more wins added to their ledger. 

They’re just not getting too carried away with anything in the middle of February. That was apparent on the second night of a back-to-back when the Bruins finished with a strong flourish while other teams simply can’t do it.

 “We’re working really hard. We keep talking about staying focused and pushing each other to keep getting better. It’s no different,” said Patrice Bergeron. “I feel like we’re working on things that we want to work on, that we need to work on. That’s the mindset and the process that we’ve had. We don’t want to be too high or too low, you know? Obviously, we want to catch up to [Tampa Bay], but that being said we want to worry about what we can do…and just keep getting better.” 

The victory in New York was a perfect example of the Bruins' perfect mixture of strong character, committed work ethic and depth of talent overwhelming teams at every turn. Each of Boston’s four forward lines generated a goal against the Blueshirts with fourth-liner Tim Schaller knocking Henrik Lundqvist out of the game in the second period with a breathtaking and scoring dangle through the defense. 

The Perfection Line kicked in a pair of goals with Bergeron adding to his team-best total of 24 this season and 13 in 15 games since the turn of the calendar to 2018. Only Evgeni Malkin has more goals since the beginning of January and nobody is playing a more dominant two-way game (it was Bergeron that also made a play on Vinni Lettieri at the doorstep to save a goal at the end of the first period) than No. 37 in perhaps the best stretch of his career. 

Couple that with a defense that’s been very good on most nights, a goaltending duo that saw Anton Khudobin and Tuukka Rask put forth stellar efforts in back-to-back games and a team that somehow got stronger in the Big Apple on the second night of back-to-back games, and there’s something special going on with these Bruins as they barnstorm across the NHL collecting points wherever they go.

“It just shows our depth again. That’s why we’re playing so well right now…because we have every line stepping up every single night. It’s hard to defend against a team where you can rely on everybody,” said Brad Marchand, who returned after a five-game suspension with an assist and a plus-2 rating in 17:05 of ice time. 

“It’s been a process. Early on, with the amount of injuries we had and the adversity we went through, it was tough. But now with how we’re feeling, how we’ve jelled as a team and the chemistry that we have, we’re not overly concerned with the standings right now.

“We’re just concerned about our game and not worried about the process. If we focus on coming to play every night then everything else will play itself out.” That’s exactly what’s happening with a Bruins team that’s on the cusp of taking the driver’s seat for the President’s Trophy with roughly two months to go in the season. 

The Bruins are a legitimate Stanley Cup contender given every bit of well-rounded dominance they’ve shown over the better part of three months and they’re about to overtake the mantle of the NHL’s top team while still holding three head-to-head games against the Lightning in the stretch run. 

The Bruins hold their destiny in their hands and have a legit shot to be the NHL’s top seed going into the playoffs with only one team in front of them. Let all of that sink in as the Black and Gold continue pulverizing opponents with depth, two-way dominance, elite goaltending and the best top line in the NHL. 


Morning Skate: Yes, Kessel values Cups more than scoring titles

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Morning Skate: Yes, Kessel values Cups more than scoring titles

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while shaking my head at the disparity in talent levels between Ilya Kovalchuk and anybody on Team offense to the guys we sent over there.

*Phil Kessel said he values winning Stanley Cups over scoring titles, but does he value them more than hot dogs from his favorite food stand in Toronto? That is the question.

*Here’s a fine tribute from FOH (Friend of Haggs) Steve Conroy about his late partner at the Boston Herald, columnist/hockey writer Steve Harris, who sadly passed away a couple of days ago while still manning the beat until the past week or so. It’s still such a shocking loss for everybody in the local hockey community, and this piece does a good job of capturing his spirit.

*So, controversial Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk is going to now also be the CEO of the team as well? Yikes.

*Damien Cox takes a look at the Canadian NHL teams that look like they’re going to fall short of the playoffs and what they need to do to right their respective ships.

*The Nashville Predators explain how they are “all in” at the NHL trade deadline with another clear shot at a Cup run.

*For something completely different: A ranking of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies from worst to best that suffers from recent-itis where a number of movies just released are probably given way, way too much deference even though they are good superhero flicks.



Bruins look for another turning point with rugged trip ahead

Bruins look for another turning point with rugged trip ahead

When the Bruins take the ice against the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night deep in the outer reaches of Western Canada, there will be a couple of things at play. One will be the start of a long sprint to the end of the regular season with 27 games in a scant 52 days with no more long breaks to catch their collective breath.

The worst of the worst will be 16 games in March, which could be the thing that ultimately knocks the Black and Gold down a peg after they’ve managed to play through everything else this season.

Trailing the Tampa Bay Lightning by just a couple of points for the NHL’s top spot, the Bruins know the schedule itself will be one of their biggest challenges of the season.

“We’re certainly aware of our schedule the rest of the way, and we know that it’s going to be a challenge. There aren’t too many more days off and we’re pretty much playing every other day,” said Patrice Bergeron. “So some of it will be about getting the proper rest and making sure we’re doing everything to be ready to play. But this has also been a group that’s done a really good job of handling other things that have been thrown at us whether it’s injuries or something else. This is just another challenge to take on.”

But the other, smaller picture is of the five-game trip through Canada with a final stop in Buffalo next Sunday. The Bruins will play those five games in ten days in their longest trip of the regular season. They hope to conjure up some of the same mojo that kicked off their three-month winning binge way back in mid-November. It was then that the Bruins righted the ship on a trip through California and won games in Los Angeles and San Jose that kicked off a four-game winning streak that helped change the season.

The Bruins are much more comfortable now with a giant cushion for a playoff spot and a legitimate chance to overtake the Lightning, but Bruce Cassidy is hoping to see the same kind of hunger in this particular long stretch away from home.

“This is much more about what we are and what we look like, but having said that the [California trip] was the beginning of us [turning things around]. It had us gutting out some wins in typically tough places to play like L.A. and San Jose. [Anton] Khudobin was in net and we were relying on some call-up guys, but that was really when our D-corps really stiffened up,” said Cassidy. “It kind of got us back to our heads above water, and from there we kind of took off. But now this is a different group in a different position, and we’re pushing to be in a different position.

“I think you can say Tuukka [Rask] won us all these games or [Brad] Marchand or [Patrice] Bergeron. Our best players have been our best players, but our support players have been very good, especially on those nights when we’ve needed to lean on them a little more when they’ve able to shut down [the Bergeron Line]. I think our support players deserve a lot of credit for that.”

The Bruins clearly hope this mammoth trip can be another seasonal turning point that pushes them in a direction toward a strong, decisive finish to the marathon of a regular season.