The Boston Bruins have won nine of their last 10 games and have been the best version of themselves since coming back from the NHL All-Star break and bye week.
That’s the good news coming out of a weekend where they beat a couple of teams they should beaten in the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers.
Sunday afternoon's 3-1 win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden pushed the B’s to 86 points for the season, three points ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning and seven points ahead of everybody else in the league.
But the Bruins did lose a key battle on Sunday when they missed out on a forward they were interested in, as the New Jersey Devils dealt Blake Coleman to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a first round pick and top forward prospect Nolan Foote.
The 28-year-old Coleman has been a thorn in the Bruins' side over the last couple of seasons and would have been an excellent fit for the B’s given his skating game, his grit and his pesky ability to be a factor on the penalty kill. He was also already signed for under $2 million for next season, so Coleman was a 20-goal scorer with a bargain-basement salary price for teams bumping up against the cap ceiling.
That’s undoubtedly part of the reason the Lightning paid a premium for him while beating the Boston to the punch for his services.
The Bruins would have needed to deal a first round pick and Urho Vaakanainen as a comparable offer, though a first rounder and 2015 first round pick Jakub Zboril feels more like an offer the Bruins would have made for a player they were clearly interested in ahead of next Monday’s deadline.
The bottom line: With Coleman now joining a Lightning team that’s only lost two regulation games since the Christmas break, Tampa Bay just got even better while remaining hot on the Bruins' heels in the Atlantic Division. The Pittsburgh Penguins also improved via their pre-emptive deadline deal with Minnesota for a skilled winger in Jason Zucker, who adds depth and scoring to a Pens team dealing with some injuries this season.
Now Don Sweeney is on the clock in a big way for the Black and Gold and badly needs to pull off a deal that’s going to net the Bruins a top-6 winger ahead of next week’s trade deadline. The window is closing for a group with an aging core and now is the time just as it clearly is for teams like the Penguins and Lightning.
Chris Kreider is still at the top of Boston’s list of available impact wingers, while Columbus power forward Josh Anderson is a classic buy-low asset with just one goal this year after posting 27 goals and over 200 registered hits for the Blue Jackets last season.
There are others like Tyler Toffoli, Ilya Kovalchuk, Andreas Athanasiou, Sam Bennett and Mike Hoffman who may be dealt ahead of the deadline, and centers like Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Joe Thornton and Chris Tierney that would bring talent while also forcing the Bruins to rearrange their forwards like deck chairs in a situation that would be less-than-perfect.
The Bruins have now watched a pair of teams that they may face in the playoffs vastly improve, and the pressure is on Sweeney and Co. to match those acquisitions with a big upgrade of their own.
They may end up paying a bargain price (comparably speaking) by waiting a little bit to edge closer to the deadline, but the supply is also beginning to shrink as at least two of the available top-9 wingers are off the market with the early Zucker and Coleman deals going down.
It's Sweeney’s turn to make a move. The sooner the better for a Bruins team that clearly needs another impact player on offense, and can’t afford to sit around and wait while their adversaries are making power moves.