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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Rangers hire David Quinn away from BU as new head coach

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File photo

Rangers hire David Quinn away from BU as new head coach

In what is becoming a growing trend, a National Hockey League team has dipped into the collegiate ranks to find its next head coach. After a successful five-year stint as Jack Parker’s successor at Boston University, David Quinn has been named the 35th coach of the New York Rangers.

Quinn reportedly received a five-year contract to oversee a plan to reload the Blueshirts roster.

In that respect Quinn is perhaps the perfect choice for the Rangers -- a young, enthusiastic coach that excels in the teaching aspect of the game with young player. He posted a 105-67-21 record in his five seasons with the Terriers while developing young NHL talent like Jack Eichel, Charlie McAvoy and Clayton Keller. Quinn didn’t win a national title at Boston University but did finish as college hockey’s runner-up in his second season, losing to Providence College in the 2015 NCAA title game.

Leaving BU for New York had to be a difficult choice for the 51-year-old Cranston, R.I., native, given that the BU job probably could have been a lifetime gig (as it was for the legendary Parker before him). But there were certainly things about the Rangers job that Quinn couldn’t pass up, among them the prestige of coaching an Original Six team and also where familiar faces like Jeff Gorton and Chris Drury are part of the management team. Being able to compete head-to-head against his good friend Mike Sullivan, the coach of the Penguins, certainly didn’t hurt either.

Quinn expressed all of those mixed emotions in a statement released by BU when New York made his hiring official on Tuesday.

“I’m incredibly excited for this new challenge, but leaving a job like this is very hard to do,” he said. “BU is a special place that has given me so much, not only as a player and a student, but also as a coach. The lifelong friendships I’ve developed here over the years absolutely mean the world to me.

“I was so fortunate to work with the very best in athletic director Drew Marrochello and senior vice president Todd Klipp. BU hockey has always been bigger than the coach and they will bring in an outstanding one to continue the winning tradition here.”

Quinn is the latest in a new movement by NHL teams to pluck their coaches from the college ranks, which is producing so many quality players these days. The Flyers kicked it off in hiring Dave Hakstol away from the University of North Dakota a couple of years ago, and earlier this month the Dallas Stars hired Jim Montgomery away from the University of Denver after the Rangers initially showed interest.

It will be interesting to see where Boston University goes next. The Terriers have a wide swath of hockey-playing alumni to choose from, and people like Bruins assistant coaches Joe Sacco and Jay Pandolfo could also be candidates list if they wanted a college job.

Morning Skate: Look for Lightning strike in Game 7

Morning Skate: Look for Lightning strike in Game 7

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while we’re almost ready for Stanley Cup Final time.

*Who is going to step up in Game 7 between the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning for the right to play in the Stanley Cup Final? Put my money on Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy for the Bolts, but don’t sleep on Brayden Point either. That dude has been awesome in this postseason for Tampa Bay. Make sure to check out all the action tonight (8 p.m.) on NBCSN where Game 7’s are treated with the proper gravitas and import.

*Interesting piece from Pittsburgh columnist Ron Cook, who says part of Pittsburgh’s downfall this spring had to do with a “sour relationship” between Phil Kessel and Mike Sullivan. Is Phil Kessel becoming a problem in an NHL dressing room? This is me with my “not shocked” face.

*Pierre Lebrun talks with TSN 1040 out in Vancouver about the Evander Kane contract extension with the San Jose Sharks, which is supposed to be in the seven-year, $49 million range. That is a massive gamble on a player that’s scored 30 goals once in a career where he’s underachieved most of the time. To put it in perspective, Kane will be getting paid $1 million more per season than a much better player in Boston in Brad Marchand. That’s the makings of a really, really bad contract in my humble opinion.

*PHT writer James O’Brien says that the Carolina Hurricanes trading Jeff Skinner would haunt the team, but it sure looks like the Canes are moving for a house-cleaning in Carolina.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Jason Pothier out in Vegas says that all of the skepticism is gone when it comes to the Golden Knights acquiring Ryan Reaves after his big playoff moment.

*For something completely different: I’ve always wanted to see Mysterio on the big screen battling Spider-Man, and it looks like we will see that sooner rather than later as played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Sounds groovy to me.  

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