BOSTON -- Don’t look now but the Bruins are making their move in the Eastern Conference.
There’s been a fair amount of angst and anxiety over life without Dennis Seidenberg and Boston’s rustiness coming out of the Olympic break, but during that time the Bruins have moved to within three points of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the top spot in the East.
The Bruins are 10-2-3 in the last 15 games, and seem to once again be rolling after a 4-1 dispatching of the Florida Panthers that hit all of the marks both offensively and defensively.
The Bruins could have been a single point behind the Pens if Pekka Rinne had defeated Pittsburgh in his first game back from a season-long hip infection. But instead the Bruins have widened their division lead to eight points over Montreal, and a commanding 10 points over a Tampa Bay Lightning team that’s struggling with a fuming Marty St. Louis at the center.
“It’s funny, I didn’t even realize that, but I guess we had a strong finish before the Olympic break and gained some ground on [the Penguins]," Milan Lucic said. "I think just being able to focus on our game and doing what we need to do to be successful. and get some wins and get some points, has gotten us closer to them. Obviously they’re still a great team, and they’re still first in the conference.
“So, there are a lot of games left, 21 for us, [and] 21 for them after tonight. We’ve just got to keep winning games and taking care of business and wherever we fall in the standings, we fall.”
Most in Boston have just assumed that the Bruins and Penguins are on a collision course for a date in the Eastern Conference Finals, and that’s certainly gone into the Bruins roster-building strategy at the trade deadline. Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero is a formidable hockey executive at the trade deadline, and has brought in a whopping 17 players in his seven NHL trade deadlines in Pittsburgh.
But Shero and his Penguins are having major problems of their own.
Former Boston College winger Brian Gibbons is riding on the right wing with Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby now that Pascal Dupuis is out for the season, and that’s a major need for Shero to upgrade. Nobody knows how long Kris Letang will be out after he suffered a stroke, and the brittle Paul Martin is out with a broken hand.
That would essentially be like if the Bruins suddenly lost Jarome Iginla and Johnny Boychuk on top of already missing Seidenberg.
Shero and the Penguins are in much more desperate straits than Peter Chiarelli and the Bruins entering the trade deadline, and undoubtedly they can feel the Black and Gold breathing down their necks.
Jarome Iginla remembers being the prized object that the Penguins infamously brought in during last year’s deadline, and the pressure that went along with it.
The right wing was expected to be Crosby’s linemate, but instead Iginla was relegated to the off-wing on the third line when everything was said and done in Pittsburgh.
Iginla takes the high road now, but one gets the sense it wasn’t a very pleasurable experience for him. For him, a weight has been lifted knowing he won’t be a trade deadline acquisition this time around.
“It’s definitely a lot less stressful and a lot less pressure," Iginla said. "I do know what guys are going through at the deadline now. I hadn’t really been through it before. It’s unnerving. It’s something I guess you go through once, and so you appreciate the quieter deadlines and also what other guys go through and how it is a tough situation: the move and all that the guys go through. It’s a good learning experience and guys coming in and trying to understand more of what’s going on at the deadline. Because it’s fun to watch trades on TV, and you see all this and that stuff.
“But those are guys moving, and new teammates and families -- so it’s a little bit different than all the fun of it. Not complaining, it’s just more, understanding all that goes into it as opposed to all the fun. It definitely was a different perspective.”
Every NHL source, insider and pundit believes that Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler is the new object of Pittsburgh’s desire, and that the Penguins will stop at nothing to acquire him. Then they’re potentially going to also force him to play out of position on the right wing with Crosby and Kunitz, and once again set a player up in a less-than-optimal position headed into the playoffs.
“That’s been our goal, to try to catch up to Pittsburgh. At one point they had a pretty good lead on us, but we’re [three points] behind right now and there are 20 games left,” said David Krejci. “That’s pretty good time. We’re going to try to do everything we can to get as many wins as we can.
“Obviously, it would be nice to get first place and who knows what happens. In the playoffs, if you can get home ice advantage then that always helps.”
Some good, energized reinforcements can also help at this time of year.
The Bruins watched on Tuesday as the small-ish defenseman Andrew MacDonald was taken off the board for a couple of non-first round picks, and a potential depth defenseman in Stephane Robidas went to Anaheim for a fourth-round pick. MacDonald, who went to the Flyers from the Islanders, was probably the best option in the defenseman rental market for Chiarelli and the Bruins, but the need isn’t as dire as some would lead you to believe.
Sure, the Bruins need another veteran defenseman to complement Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk among their D corps, and it’s clear the Bruins are giving up more goals -- and power play goals -- since Seidenberg tore up his knee at the end of December.
But names like Andrej Meszaros, Henrik Tallinder and Nick Schultz are still out there for rentals, and the Bruins have been consistently tracking the Columbus Blue Jackets team for a reason with Jack Johnson and Nikita Nikitin both potential players of interest, along with Slovakian sniper Marian Gaborik.
The Bruins are still one of the elite teams in a wide open Eastern Conference no matter what move they make at the trade deadline, and they are in a much better position than a Penguins team that’s limping to the finish line.
It’s difficult to sometimes maintain perspective when the hockey team closest to you has their problems magnified by the local fandom, but Chiarelli has always given his Bruins teams exactly what they need headed into the playoffs.
Sometimes it works out even better than anyone could have hoped like the trades to acquire Mark Recchi and Dennis Seidenberg, and sometimes it doesn’t truly pan out like when they acquired the entertaining, iconic Jaromir Jagr.
But there’s also no reason to fear a Penguins team that the Bruins absolutely blew out of the water in last year’s playoffs as the two teams once again seem to be in an Eastern Conference power struggle down the stretch of the regular season.
The Bruins have their own issues, but they’re quickly gaining on Pittsburgh, which has been buried by injuries all season and is starting to show some wear and tear.