I've heard this a few times over the past week following a Bruins win:
"God, I love this team."
Ehhhhh. Maybe you do in this moment, but this season? You haven't.
You haven't loved the 2020-21 Bruins. You've been frustrated with them because they couldn't score and didn't have enough on the back end. Deep down, you didn't expect them to make any real noise.
You know the story: Last year's team was fool's gold and the biggest offseason moves were departures. This would be another year of enjoying watching Brad Marchand and Co. make plays and not much else. Shame, really, since the B's weren't going to have to face Tampa early in the playoffs this year.
But now, in the stretch run of the regular season, "God, I love this team" stonks are up, and they should be. This team is a contender.
Before the trade deadline, the Bruins had too many needs to make them buyers worthy of spending key assets. Trading a first-round pick for a scorer wasn't going to be enough. That would fix one line, and really the Bruins had issues on three.
The Taylor Hall deal has been a godsend, though. Not only does Hall give David Krejci an upgrade on his left, the inclusion of bottom-six center Curtis Lazar upgraded the fourth line in a season that's had Sean Kuraly in Bruce Cassidy's doghouse.
The second line's been better. The fourth line, with Lazar in Kuraly's usual center spot and Kuraly playing left wing while Trent Frederic remains out, has been better. (I still think Kuraly's too good a postseason player to eventually be bounced from the lineup, but the B's will cross that bridge when they get to it.)
The Bruins, once a far cry from having decent depth, just might end up having four lines. That they were able to improve their situation that well without spending a first-round pick is a massive win.
This all buries the lede, though. A lot of us have been asking how Mike Reilly only cost a 2022 third-round pick. The answer: Nobody thought he was that good. Dominic Moore said Sunday on NBC10 that the Bruins are surprised by how well the former Wild/Canadiens/Senators blueliner has fit in, and that's probably underselling it.
Either way, the end result is a second-liner, a fourth-liner and a top-four defenseman for a second-round pick, a 2022 third and Anders Bjork.
The question then becomes whether Taylor Hall, Mike Reilly and Curtis Lazar can be the difference between "don't take this team too seriously" and "there's a run to be made here."
I say yes, and the best part is that they don't *have* to make that run. They didn't put all their eggs in this season's basket. They made necessary upgrades on the cheap, so if they end up going far, fantastic. If they don't, we can remember that we realistically didn't see this team making a big run.
So no matter how you felt about this team before -- smoke and mirrors, untapped potential, just held back by injuries -- you can now feel the warmest, fuzziest feelings. Are they perfect? Hell no. I can still see the inexperience on defense hurting them, though obviously nowhere near as badly as it was going to.
But if this team is healthy -- and that's mostly on the back end, which is missing Brandon Carlo and Matt Grzelcyk -- the Bruins are really good. As Nick Goss points out, their five-on-five scoring is up. Their goaltending, whether with Tuukka Rask or Jeremy Swayman, is the [plural of what other sports use instead of a puck].
The Bruins are really good. Good enough to win a playoff series against any team in the East division. The Islanders have been a nightmare for Boston, but the post-deadline B's have won both of their meetings. The Capitals have been better than the Bruins, but their question mark at goaltending might be bigger than any of Boston's potential holes.
So after slapping the "paper tiger" label on the Bruins for the last season and a half, let's remove it and watch a run.