BOSTON -- The Bruins have enjoyed a long run as the top dog in the Atlantic Division this season, and they lead the Eastern Conference with a plus-44 goal differential on the season. They haven’t exactly struggled in building themselves a four-point cushion in their conference, running with the Penguins as the two top clubs coming out of the East.
But there was also a nagging feeling that the B’s hadn’t been playing at their highest level, even as they were winning. The grind has now ceased for the time being as the Bruins are playing their best hockey of the season over the last six game. They have manhandled the competition in the last three games while outscoring the Flyers, Islanders and Panthers by a combined 18-6 total.
The Bruins have scored a season-high six goals in each of those three games, and continued the offensive outpouring with a 6-2 stomping of Tim Thomas and the Panthers on Tuesday night at TD Garden. The Bruins don’t want any satisfaction creeping into their game, but it’s hard not to recognize what’s going on when the B’s are finally hitting on all cylinders.
The B’s captain said that much of the success comes down to capitalizing on their chances now as Boston has always been a much better front-runner rather than chasing on the scoreboard.
“Anytime you capitalize on the chances you have, it shows on the scoresheet," said Zdeno Chara, who pulled into a tie with Shea Weber on Tuesday for most goals by a defenseman (13). "It makes a big difference when you’re playing with a lead, especially this time of the year. These games, it’s way better than creating chances and not scoring, and then all of the sudden they score one and it’s a different game. For sure, it’s a much better feeling to play with a lead.”
It’s also the best brand of Bruins hockey when 11 different players in the Boston lineup end up with points as they did in the one-sided win against the Panthers. Three of the four lines ended with goals, and the B’s top line finished with a pair of Milan Lucic goals and seven points in the blowout.
Even better the Bruins have eight players that have reached double-digits in goals even as their leading goal-scorer (Reilly Smith potted his 18th on Tuesday night) doesn’t even rank among the top 30 in the NHL’s goal-scoring list.
“It doesn’t put so much emphasis on one guy scoring all the goals. We’ve never been a team with a 50-point goal scorer, or anything like that. We’ve always had success by having different guys stepping up at different times,” said Lucic. “Our team play is what has given us the most success. It seems like the lines are clicking and the line combos that are together right now [have] eight guys have been able to hit that double-digits in goals.
“But in saying that, we want to keep pushing for more. I think it’s great that it almost seems like we’re pushing each other to want more. I think that’s a good thing to have in this room.”
That certainly has seemed the case. The KIL Line [Krejci, Iginla, Lucic] line has a big night against Philly with Iginla notching a pair of goals, so then the PBR Line [Patrice, Brad, Reilly] drops nine points on the Islanders and is matched by the seven points from another big KIL performance versus Florida. Those top two lines are playing a game of “we can top this” on a nightly basis against beleaguered defenses and shell-shocked goaltenders, and then the bottom six forwards and defensemen corps are filling in the gaps with good situational scoring.
The Bruins are also the only NHL team with two defensemen (Chara, and Torey Krug) that are in double-digits for goals.
That is Bruins hockey at the core, and it’s the exact hockey gospel they’ve been preaching in the last 11 games while looking for a strong finishing kick prior to the Olympic break.
“I just think our overall game has been better. [Against Florida], we had a great start again, which we did [Monday] night on Long Island. That’s been real healthy for our hockey club,” said Claude Julien. “I thought in the second period, with that four-nothing lead, you start getting cute a little bit, and you get away from the type of game you want to play, and you get a little bit of a setback.
“But we were able to reel our team back in the third period, and come back and play the way we want to play. That made a big difference. It’s just our overall play. We’re a committed group right now. We seem to be excited to play. We seem to have the right energy. You can sit here and try and figure out the reasons why all night long, but the season’s a long season. Every team is going through [a good stretch] at some point.”
While it’s true every team goes through a solid stretch of hockey during a long 82-game season, there are few teams capable of piling up six goals in three straight games that include back-to-back tilts with travel involved.
The Bruins struggled for a few weeks after losing Dennis Seidenberg to the knee injury, and that was a stretch for the Black and Gold to do some serious soul-searching as a team. Were they still good enough with some new pieces and a seriously big one missing in the German defenseman?
It seems that the Bruins have found their answer, and it’s a resounding “yes.”
They look every bit as good as the B’s teams that have been to the Stanley Cup Final in two of the last three years, and the 5-0-1 stretch has been a warning shot to the rest of the league.
“We had a tough stretch a long time ago, but the last five or six games we’ve been playing pretty good hockey,” said David Krejci. “So we’ve just got to keep it going. I think we’ve got five games left before the break, so just try to get as many points as we get and go from there.”
The Bruins have gone out hunting for points before the break, and the rest of the league is in their crosshairs right now.