Haggerty: Bruins face tough road from here out

Haggerty: Bruins face tough road from here out
December 28, 2011, 2:01 am
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BEDFORD, MA. The Bruinscrushed their cushy home schedule over the seasons first three months, they had their time offat home during the holidays and they took full advantage while rocketing back up to the top of the standings.

The Bruins are first in nearly every statistical category and have been embarrassing teams since the calendar turned to November. It's not often that a hockey team rips off a stretch where they go 20-2-1, so it's to be appreciated andduly noted.Theyre on a pace to match the franchises best season when they won 57 games during a 1970-71 campaign that featured the best that the Black and Gold have to offer during the regular season with the caveat that blockbuster B's bunchcame up short when it mattered most during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The most robust, optimistic Bs fans couldnt be blamedwondering if things can only get worse from here. The Bostonhockey clubhas put together some of their best hockey over a two-month stretch, and it's a long way down from the top. First a couple of admissions before bursting into full alert mode: its not a hot streak when it lasts two months as it has for the Bruins in November and December.The Bruins are among the NHL's best teams this year, and their roster depth, toughness, talent and Cup experience makes them a monster on most nights. But the B's prolific two-month performancealso begs a perfectlypessimistic question: how much better can things get between now and the playoffs.The quick and dirty answer would be "not much."

Injuries, suspensions, the natural fatigue of an 82-game hockey schedule, trades and the inflated egos borne out of great success could all gnaw away at the Bruins between now and the end of April. Thats a genuine New Englanders view of things when they appear to be going too well, but its also the approach the Bruins are taking in a roundabout way by dominating right now.

The Black and Gold banked as many points as possible leading into the Christmas holiday because theyve looked at the schedule, and the players know it wont be nearly as favorable in the second half of the year. They're a team built on lineup depth and they've shown good organizational depth with Zach Hamill's emergency performance in December, but that will be severely tested over the next three months.

It starts with a Western road trip through Phoenix and Dallas that begins Wednesday night, and the Bs players acknowledged the pros and cons of hitting the road as they prepared to board the team charter at Hanscom Air Field Tuesday morning.

Were a team that plays pretty well on the road historically and we like being on the road. It felt like we were at home for pretty much the entire month of October, so now were getting into the thick of it over the next few months, said Shawn Thornton. So its back to eat, sleep, play hockey and thats about it.

My whole time with Claude Julien hes been really good about days off. Maybe there have been a couple more this year, but weve been home a lot more this year and theres been an opportunity for it. Were probably going to have to find days here in the second half, but were all aware that we played until mid-June last seasonand rest is important.

The Bs have 48 games remaining in the regular season schedule, and 28 of those will be on the road with largeroad trip chunks inboth the months of January and March. Its something the Bs knew was coming when they played 13 of the first 17 at TD Garden to open their Stanley Cup defense along with a schedule givingfew days off once the Bruins hit Dallas for a New Years Eve tilt.NHL All-Star weekend in Ottawa looks to be the only real oasis for most of the players as they get into the grind of the campaign.

So the chances are legs will start getting heavy, shifts will get laborious,raw emotions will be more difficult to summonand the results wont necessarily be there once the dog days of the season hit the Bs. Couple itwith the overlap effect from last years Stanley Cup run, and Boston has a good test coming up if they want to remain at the top of the conference. The Cuphangover is most assuredly over, but it will be interesting to see just how much gas the Bs have in the tankduringthe latter moments of the regular season.

It looks like a pretty tough schedule coming up here. It looks like they tried to give us some time at the beginning of the year to recover and rest up as much as we could, said Brad Marchand. Were just going to have to rest up as much we can to prepare for whats coming ahead.

Theres little doubt the Bruins will be one of the best teams if things remain as theyve been over the last 60 days, but there will be some very real challenges facing this team in the coming months.

Health and good fortune were on their side last season, and its going to take some luck from the hockey gods for that to happen once again for the Bruins. Theyve been the best team in hockey over the last two months, and the challenge nowis to sustain that over thelong haul from now until the playoffs.