WILMINGTON, Mass. The Bruins developed a killer instinct during the playoffs last year, and they once again can smell blood in the water.
The Bs have weakened and bested a pair of Eastern Conference adversaries over the last two weeks. Pittsburgh announced Kris Letang was out indefinitely the morning of its game with Boston, and then watched Sidney Crosby go back on the shelf after a particularly nasty battle between the two Eastern titans. They're 2-3 since losing to the B's.
And after Zdeno Chara pounded Philadelphia's biggest, baddest player, and then rained goals upon the Flyers' heads, it's not hard to see Philly -- already without Chris Pronger for the season, and now facing the prospect of losing Sean Couturier for a period after he was hit in the head by a teammates' shot on Saturday -- falling into the same kind of tailspin.
All of that has the Bruins close to the only real gift on their Christmas wish list: Sole possession of the Eastern Conferences top spot.
Our goal is to be on top of the Eastern Conference. We want to win the next two games leading up to Christmas and we want to win every game, said Dennis Seidenberg. Our goal is to play well the next two games, win those games and then go out on the road to start against winning run out there."
And the first of those two games is against yet another rival, more in spirit these days than in the standings: The Montreal Canadiens.
You want to be ready for every game, but when youre playing, for example the Flyers . . . theyre a big, physical team and youre so close in the standings, said Zdeno Chara. There is always extra motivation in those games.
"With Montreal its always a rivalry. Sometimes those things help you to get ready for the games.
Montreal is reeling, with 3 wins in its last 10 games and a new head coach in Randy Cunneyworth. Jacques Martin was fired after a coaching tenure that never truly lived up to Montreals great expectations.
The Habs badly need a victory. But they're playing a team that has won 18 of 21 since the beginning of November.
Its something thats out of our control, said Chara when asked about the mess that is Montreal. We know theyre going to be fired up and playing well, but we always have good games against each other.
The Bruins have done an almost flawless job of vanquishing their enemies and closest opponents this season, and that chance presents itself again on Monday night.
Those are the kind of contests the Bruins live for in an 82-game regular season schedule.
You guys in the media get excited about those rivalry games, and so do the players and coaches," said coach Claude Julien. "They are great games to play, and theres no doubt its much better than playing some game against a team in the other conference that youll see once this season. The two points are nice, but it doesnt create the same gap as a four-point game against a team like Montreal.
If the last two months are any indication, the Bruins will be ready for the challenge.