Now that the 82-game regular season is over with a shootout win over the Buffalo Sabres, the Bruins can pinpoint exactly when things turned around for them this season.
There was the 10-game hangover to start the season, the two months of dominating hockey in November and December and then the heavy malaise that infected the Bs just after the holidays.
The Bruins tried plenty of different things to jump start their time during the two plus months of mediocrity, but it took until the Ottawa Senators had overtaken the Bruins for the Northeast Division lead for those Bs to finally get their Stanley Cup champion house in order.
The Bruins capped off a 9-2-1 finish to their regular season with a 4-3 shootout win over Buffalo on Saturday afternoon, and now theyre hitting the postseason with both confidence and positive momentum. The winning streak didnt just magically happen for the Bruins, however.
After a horrifically bad trip through Pittsburgh and Florida in early March, the Bruins flip-flopped with the Ottawa Senators in the standings. For a brief 24-hour period the Sens were in the Northeast Division lead over the Bruins, and with that came a No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
That turn of events pushed Boston down to the No. 7 slot in the East, and that was all the Bruins needed to slap themselves silly and escape their funk. The Bruins went out and beat the Flyers in a Saturday afternoon matinee performance, and reclaimed their No. 2 slot never to be lost again.
Maybe that was kind of a realistic wake up call. We were still kind of a .500 team and other teams were playing much better hockey than the .500 hockey that we were playing, said Zdeno Chara. So they made that jump to the second seed and we got the six, seven spot in the Eastern Conference and that for sure wasnt good enough for us.
Once you see it on the board thats when you actually realize okay this is something that we need to address and we made some adjustments and we were playing better.
While its not always ideal, the Bruins have long been a hockey team that plays a better brand of hockey when their collective backs are squished up against the wall.
We had to do something. We kept digging ourselves a hole, and the hole just kept getting bigger for us, said Patrice Bergeron. We knew that if we kept going down that path that it was going to be too difficult to turn it over. We talked about it as a team and we found a way.
It wasnt rocket science. We just came back to playing our game at our speed, and stopped worrying about what the other team was going to do to us. It was more about what we were going to bring to them. Were not the kind of team that should be worrying about the team thats in front of us. Were a team that should just be going from the get-go.
As many concerns as cropped up during their season-worst four-game losing streak punctuated by allowing six goals to both the Lighting and the Panthers in back-to-back games, they disappeared over the seasons final dozen tilts. Tim Thomas back in elite goaltender form, the defense stabilized once Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg were paired back together and the Bs third line scored enough to give the Bruins a deep fleet of scoring forwards.
While Claude Julien wouldnt deny that brief flip-flop with Ottawa was a turning point factor in the Bruins finally getting the engine moving again, the Bs coach saw a veteran hockey club that finally got the playoff scent back in their nostrils. The energy and enthusiasm churned out by the playoffs brought the Bruins back to their style of play, and now theyre in the thick of it with the Washington Capitals invading Boston for Thursdays Game 1 of the playoffs.
Falling behind Ottawa had some sort of an impact. Im not going to say its impossible or doesnt do a single thing. I dont think we liked seeing ourselves in the seventh spot, but the one thing that really helped us through it is that we started sensing the playoffs were getting close, said Claude Julien. We knew that we had to play better to be a good playoff team. As I said numerous times, I think it was more of a mental struggle this year than anything else.
Our guys are well-conditioned athletes, so physically its never an issue. But the mental part was an issue. If your mind tells you youre tired, youre going to look tired. If your mind tells you youre not then youre going to perform with better energy. It was a big mental obstacle that we had to overcome this year because our guys, at one point, we looked tired. I think once the excitement of the playoffs started getting closer and we started seeing the playoffs around the corner -- all of a sudden we started getting excited again. And you say, Oh, look, they dont look like theyre tired. They look like theyve got a lot of energy. Well, I gave them days off, but those days off alone wouldnt have been enough. The big part right now is our psyche. If were excited to go into the playoffs, then were going to be just as good as any other team.
The Bs psyche is clearly important headed into another grinding postseason, but there is one thing Julien underplayed. If the excitement and proper frame of mind is there then the Bruins should be better than any other team out there in the NHL as 16 teams vie for the Stanley Cup.
While the Ottawa Senators deserve little thanks for dropping out of the playoff picture when it could have been them playing the Bruins in the first round rather than the Capitals, they played a supporting role in the forward movement thats got the Bruins rolling headed into the playoffs.
All it took was one day of the Bruins looking up at the Senators in the standings, and Boston is locked, loaded and ready for the long road ahead.