SUNRISE, Fla. --The Boston Bruins are going to win the 2018 Stanley Cup.
Some might call that wishful thinking -- to the extreme -- and it certainly seems premature. After all, there are a lot of heavy hitters out there: A Tampa Bay Lightning team that’s led the league wire-to-wire with a veritable All-Star roster that also added Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh at the trade deadline. A Pittsburgh Penguins squad that still demands the highest respect as reigning back-to-back Stanley Cup champs.
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But as the Bruins themselves like to say, this is less about everybody else and much more about themselves. They've got something special cooking.
The latest bit of evidence was Tuesday night’s magical third-period comeback where the Bruins wiped out a three-goal deficit against the Carolina Hurricanes in the matter of 77 seconds. Three goals in 77 seconds! The comebacks and the quick-strike explosions of offense that the Bruins have shown of late have to be intimidating to possible playoff opponents as the B's continue to pile up wins even as the grueling month of March is upon them.
“With this team, it seems like we are never out of a game,” said Brad Marchand. “[It’s the] character in the room that’s come through all year long. It’s that feeling on the bench when we get a goal that we just kind of start to take over [the game]. That’s what happened again [in Carolina]. When we have that life, it’s dangerous [to our opponents].”
These are the kinds of things that happen along the way to a team that’s building Stanley Cup confidence, Stanley Cup chemistry and a Stanley Cup belief that they are never, ever out of a game no matter how stacked the odds against them.
It’s why they’ve gone a ridiculous 38-9-4 since the middle of November, it’s why they’ve outscored opponents 81-46 in third periods this season, and it’s why they’re on a pace for a blistering 110 points. Injuries have hit both on a massive level early in the season and on a significant level this month, with Patrice Bergeron and Charlie McAvoy on the shelf, but that has done nothing to slow them down.
Instead it’s built up a mental toughness to withstand these bouts of adversity, and it’s forced them to cultivate their depth with players stepping up. It's also showed that the buttons pushed by both coach Bruce Cassidy and GM Don Sweeney have worked almost completely this season.
The Bruins made big moves at the deadline by dealing for Rick Nash, Tommy Wingels and Nick Holden, and by signing Brian Gionta off the street after his stint with the U.S. Olympic team. All of those moves have made major impacts, and fortified the B’s in case of struggles from the significant rookie faction on the roster or to the injuries they’re now facing.
These are all the makings of hockey teams that go on long runs in the spring, and are built for long-term playoff voyages rather than a one-and-out, just-happy-to-be-there day trip.
Certainly things will have to fall into place as they do for any team with Stanley Cup aspirations, and that means the Bruins getting both Bergeron and McAvoy back ahead of the playoffs. It also means that Zdeno Chara, Jake DeBrusk and Torey Krug can't be seriously hurt after all three were forced to exit in the win over Carolina before the Bruins waged their comeback late in the third period.
But this humble hockey writer hasn’t written a midseason column proclaiming the Bruins as future Stanley Cup winners since 2011, after watching that team reel off seven wins in a row amidst a long road trip right after the trade deadline. The memory of Mike Felger scoffing at my column on the Felger & Mazz Show is still fresh, even as Tony Massarotti famously came to the same conclusion shortly afterward while watching that Bruins team clearly hit its stride.
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It was during that stretch that one could see the possibilities, given their overwhelming depth, their strong combination of productive offense and choking defense, and their top-notch goaltending.
This Bruins team is built a little differently, of course. It's not quite as physical or nasty and not nearly as big or heavy up front. It's also a little longer in the tooth with their soon-to-be 41-year-old No. 1 D-man in Chara.
But these Bruins are also faster, much more skilled, and blessed with higher-end talent. Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak are all legitimate game-breakers at this point in their respective careers. Their special teams are obviously much better with a power play that’s lethal at its best, and at its worst still far better than anything cobbled together during that sad special-teams run in 2011. It’s also much more of a unique mixture of youth and veterans with rookies McAvoy, DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, Matt Grzelcyk, and Sean Kuraly all contributing heavilyon a nightly basis
The biggest question for this year’s team is the goaltending, and whether or not Tuukka Rask is good enough to backstop a Stanley Cup champion. But after watching win after win after win, and seeing how the Bruins can play when they get things going, as they did in the third period in Carolina? These Bruins are good enough to win the Cup with or without Rask at his best, and they will make their No. 1 goaltender look good while playing in front of him in the postseason.
That’s why I'm finally, grudgingly, fully on board after watching them accomplish mind-blowing things all season.
NHL teams have had all season to find the weaknesses on the Bruins roster and exploit them, to knock the B's down a peg when injuries, the schedule, or a plain old slump has negatively impacted them. But that hasn’t happened. Not at all.
It's now mid-March and they've only lost back-to-back games in regulation three times all year. Since their hot streak began in mid-November, they've only lost consecutive games of any kind, overtime and shootouts included, twice. Nobody can keep them down for long, as the Bruins have shown resiliency and a dominant will that will be extremely difficult to beat when the Stanley Cup playoffs get going less than a month from now.
Something feels different and special this year. And because of that, the Bruins are going to win the Stanley Cup a few months from now.
Book it, print the parade tickets and get the duck boats ready.