Bruins

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. 

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Bruins wary of negatively impacting "very good chemistry" at trade deadline

Bruins wary of negatively impacting "very good chemistry" at trade deadline

TORONTO – It doesn’t take much searching on the Google machine to uncover noteworthy accomplishments from the Bruins this season. 

The Bruins are top-five in the NHL in offense, defense and penalty kill, and they have gone an amazing 31-6-4 since the middle of November while storming to the very top of the NHL standings. Along the way they’ve overcome injuries, tough losses bad starts, one lengthy Brad Marchand suspension and a fan base that was only half paying attention until the season ended anticlimactically for the New England Patriots a couple of weeks ago. 

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They also did all of this while introducing a lineup with five or six rookies in it every single night, and playing for a head coach in Bruce Cassidy in his first full year running the NHL team after 13 years between NHL gigs. They’ve been resilient and filled with fighting character all along, and they’ve overwhelmed opponents with their depth and quality of players on the vast majority of nights. 

They’re an entertaining and fun hockey club to watch, to be sure, and they are a group that sticks up for each other and genuinely likes one another while also sitting mere points behind the top dog Tampa Bay Lightning. That was all evident when the entire team enjoyed a night out together in Toronto on Wednesday, and wound up using the team-wide get-together as quality content for their Instagram accounts. 

Long story short, the Bruins have been extremely good this season on a consistent basis and look primed for an intriguing run into the postseason as the NHL trade deadline beckons. 

With all that in mind, it’s a delicate balance for Bruins management between making necessary roster improvements and not upsetting a tangle team chemistry that’s been notably special this season. The always candid Cassidy admitted as much when asked that question while meeting with reporters at the Bruins team hotel on Thursday morning. 

“I think it’s been factored into conversations between me and Donny [Sweeney] that we have a group with some real togetherness there this season,” said Cassidy. “At the end of the day if you can add and make your team better then you always have to look at it, and Donny is looking at that right now. 

“Adding [Nick] Holden I think he’s done that and we’ve added some more depth. But after that I do worry about if we subtract somebody from the room. If you’re adding and you’re not subtracting, i.e. future assets, then as a coach you always prefer to go that way. But Donnie will do what’s best and as a coaching staff we’ll take it from there so to speak. But there is a good chemistry with that group…a very good chemistry in that locker room.”

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Translation: There's a real concern that trading away a young NHL roster player like Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen or Brandon Carlo could be altering the team's DNA a little too boldly. 

This is the factor to keep in mind chasing after rental wingers like Michael Grabner, Thomas Vanek and Patrick Maroon that are unlikely to cost more than a “B” prospect or reasonable draft pick in exchange for them. It’s expected that the Bruins would need to give up at least one young NHL asset, possibly two in a true blockbuster for a player with term, if they chased after bigger ticket targets like Rick Nash or Ryan McDonagh with the Rangers.

Certainly there might be some level of impatience that the Bruins should go for broke at the deadline based on the promise this group has shown this season. Perhaps some are worried the window is starting to close for some of their veteran core players, but the numbers say otherwise with players like Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand all enjoying vintage seasons. This isn’t a 2011 “Go for the Cup” type situation this season with the Bruins where they were primed and ready for a lengthy playoff run, and deals for Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly and Tomas Kaberle helped put them over the top. 

This year’s group is much more reminiscent of the 2008-09 Bruins that blew away expectations with a strong regular season, and enjoyed breakout performances from a number of younger players that saw them soar high above expectations. The youth and inexperience caught up to the Bruins that season when they were eliminated in the second round during a rugged seven game series with the Carolina Hurricanes, but the experience helped grow them into a contender on a steady trajectory over the next three seasons. 

That’s where the Bruins are this season. 

They’re a pleasant surprise team with a group of talented youngsters helping to push them to a higher level, and they’re due for a learning experience down the stretch and into the postseason. That isn’t likely to develop into an extended two-month Cup run unless a lot goes tremendously right for the Black and Gold, but the experience will pay dividends for next season and beyond. 

It might be that there’s just one more player for the Bruins to add ahead of Monday’s deadline, and that it will be more “sensible roster addition” than “take-your-breath-away blockbuster.” But that’s really okay when it comes to the Black and Gold.

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It’s okay because it means Don Sweeney hasn’t attempted pulling the roster apart at any of the seams, and will instead roll with his chemistry-filled Bruins regular season juggernaut to see exactly how good they stack up to be in the postseason. They’ve certainly earned that right after kicking the tar out of the rest of the NHL for the last three plus months, and it’s starting to feel like they’re going to get it.

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Bruins' Bjork out for season after undergoing shoulder surgery

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Bruins' Bjork out for season after undergoing shoulder surgery

TORONTO -- Anders Bjork's up-and-down rookie season has come to an end, as the Bruins' left wing underwent left shoulder surgery this week that’s expected to keep him sidelined for the next six months. 

Bjork was knocked out of a Jan. 30 loss to the Anaheim Ducks when Francois Beauchemin caught him with a cross-check to the left arm, but it’s unclear whether he was already playing through some level of shoulder injury prior to that collision. According to the B’s release, the 21-year-old winger “underwent successful left shoulder arthroscopy and labral repair on Tuesday” at Mass General Hospital. Bjork had been spotted around the Garden in recent weeks wearing his left arm in a sling, but it was difficult to guess the severity of the injury based on what looked like a fairly run-of-the-mill hit from Beauchemin. 

The injury and season-ending surgery ends a bit of a lost year for Bjork, who cracked the Opening Night roster and finished with 4r goals and 12 points in 30 games.

He showed the speed and skill required to be a top-6 forward at the NHL level, but also appeared to need more development time when it comes to battle level and adjusting to the physicality level in the pro game. The former Notre Dame star never seemed to fully bounce back from getting steamrolled in the neutral zone by Matt Martin in the middle of November, and ended up spending time in Providence as well prior to his season-ending injury. 

Bjork’s injury certainly doesn’t rule him out completely as a trade asset ahead of Monday afternoon’s trade deadline, but it probably makes him less attractive to NHL teams looking for young, NHL-ready talent that can step into their lineups right now. With Bjork headed for the long-term injured list and Frank Vatrano traded to the Florida Panthers for a third-round pick, that certainly opens the door for both a) a deal to bring on a veteran rental winger ahead of the trade deadline and B) a spot to be opened up in the Bruins organization for Ryan Donato when the Harvard University star, currently at the Olympics, is ready to sign.

Those are both very good things despite the downer news about Bjork, who watched fellow rookies Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen live up to the expectations many had for him.

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