Cup-hungry Bruins shrug off shot at NHL records
BOSTON - In a season full of extreme numbers, the Boston Bruins know exactly what value they put on winning the most games in NHL history.
“Zero,” defenseman Charlie McAvoy said last week, a day before Boston became the fastest team in history to 50 wins. “Bottom of anything I care about.”
The Bruins have been cruising through the regular season, and racking up milestones along the way. But even though they could amass the most wins ever – and most points, too -- the players and brass insist they don’t have any interest in the biggest regular-season records of all.
“We play for the Stanley Cup,” Bruins President Cam Neely said flatly. “I tell everybody, ‘Enjoy the ride, but it’s all about the Stanley Cup.’”
The Bruins were coming off back-to-back 100-point seasons – and three straight early playoff exits – when they fired coach Bruce Cassidy last summer and hired Jim Montgomery to replace him. Key players like McAvoy, a Norris Trophy contender, and Brad Marchand, the team’s No. 2 scorer, were recovering from surgery, but the Bruins didn’t wait until they were at full strength.
They won six of seven games before Marchand got back on the ice, moving to the top of the Eastern Conference in the second week of the season; McAvoy’s return helped boost them to the league’s No. 1 overall seed, where they have remained since Veteran’s Day. They didn’t lose at home in regulation until January.
They were the fastest team in NHL history to 100 points and 50 wins, and the first one to clinch a playoff berth this year. Still, after winning their 50th game, which also turned out to be the playoff clincher, goalie Linus Ullmark couldn’t be less enthusiastic.
“Congrats to us, then,” he said. “I guess.”
Boston has a chance to post the most wins in NHL history, surpassing the 62 by the 1995-96 Red Wings and tied by the 2018-19 Lightning. It also has a chance to surpass the record 132 points amassed by the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens.
But for a team that has already won the Presidents’ Trophy twice since 2004 – and failed to win the Cup both times – a league-leading third top finish doesn’t hold much allure.
“To me, the regular season (record), it is nice,” captain Patrice Bergeron said. “But you’re working hard to get into the playoffs. And that’s where the main focus is.”
Montgomery said the team hasn’t talked about the records, instead concentrating on getting in shape for the playoffs. If the Bruins have only the records to play for in the final days or weeks, he said, they will instead try to make sure everyone is rested and healthy for what they hope will be a two-month postseason slog.
“Us preparing for the Stanley Cup playoffs is more important than anything in the regular season,” he said.
Defenseman Matt Grzelcyk allowed that the regular-season record “would be quite an accomplishment,” but one that is “pretty low on the list.” It hasn’t escaped his notice that neither the ’96 Red Wings nor the ’19 Lightning won the Cup.
“We’ve seen that it’s kind of bit teams in the past,” Grzelcyk said. “We’ll just go out there and compete and let the chips fall where they may.”
Similar fates befell the 2001 Seattle Mariners, who won 116 games but didn’t even make the World Series; the ’16 Golden State Warriors, who broke the NBA record with 73 wins but lost in the finals; and the ’07 New England Patriots, who won all 18 games in the regular season and playoffs before losing in the Super Bowl.
“It was an unbelievable season, ’18-19, but I think it was almost too easy for us to play great,” said former Lightning winger Ondrej Palat, whose team was swept by Columbus in the first playoff round.
“It was very frustrating after a year like that,” Palat said. “But I’m not saying it’s like the Bruins. The Bruins are playing unbelievable hockey, and they have a big chance in the playoffs.”
Of course, Tampa Bay won the Stanley Cup in each of the next two seasons.
Neely never played his way to the trophy, losing in the finals to the Edmonton Oilers in 1988 and again two years later; he did get his name on the Cup when he helped build the Bruins team that won it all in 2011. That was their last championship, a drought this year’s team is looking to end.
“It’s been a pleasure to watch this team, there’s no question,” the Hockey Hall of Famer said. “Records are great, they’re nice to have -- and especially team records. But it’s really about who wins the last game of the year.”