Haggerty: Bruins complete a Cup-worthy regular season

Haggerty: Bruins complete a Cup-worthy regular season
April 15, 2014, 2:00 am
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(USA Today Sports Images)

BOSTON -- With days and days until the Boston Bruins open their first-round playoff series Friday night against the Red Wings, there'll be plenty of time to forecast, prognosticate and breathlessly break down the first playoff matchup between these two Original Six teams since 1957.

So let’s take a few moments to instead stand back in awe at one of the best regular seasons put together by the Boston Bruins in the 90-year history of the franchise.

The 54 wins and 117 points were the most in each category by a Bruins squad since the 1971-72 Bobby Orr Cup-winning edition, a team considered by many to be one of the best collections of NHL talent of all time. A good rule of thumb for the Boston Bruins: it’s a very good sign for the team if they’re doing things that haven’t been seen since the Orr days.

We’ll even take it one step further: the 2013-14 Boston Bruins are the best group assembled in the Peter Chiarelli/Claude Julien era in terms of talent, performance and balance throughout the lineup.

Clearly none of this will matter if they don’t follow through during the playoffs, but these Bruins accomplished everything an NHL team possibly can during the regular season.

Chiarelli isn’t going to be lulled into making grand pronouncements about his team prior to the ultra-important playoffs, of course. But the B’s general manager also didn’t have a problem recognizing just how dominant the Bruins were in capturing the President’s Trophy. He couldn’t think of one particular moment that stood out and symbolized this extraordinary season, but stood in appreciation of quality performances across the board.

“There’s been a lot of really good performances by players on this team. We’ve got this Seventh Player Award, which everyone’s talking about . . . there were six or seven candidates for it,” said Chiarelli. “I don’t think there has ever been that many candidates for it. It speaks to kind of the performances [we received] across the board. I can’t single out one particular moment.”

The Bruins have a Cup champion nucleus literally in the prime of their careers, led by a few elder statesmen like Zdeno Chara and Jarome Iginla (combined 198 games of playoff experience). There’s a world of difference between a group of players who think they can win it all, and a group of players -- like the Bruins -- who have climbed the Mt. Everest of the NHL, and know what it’s all about when the going gets a little rough.

“It’s all about experience,” said Chiarelli. "I don’t know what our average age is, but there is a group of five, six, maybe eight players that are all in that kind of 26 to 29 range that are really key core players, maybe even 25 to 29. They have gone through those years. Even today, today is a perfect example, if they were coming in to the playoffs for the first time, it might dominate their mind all day, like, ‘What’s it going to be like?’

“These players know what they have to do, they know kind of that you have to have a good practice tomorrow, a good practice the next day, have some rest and eat properly. All that stuff is in place, so it’s all about experience. Obviously they have to get it done, and they have gotten it done before. But it’s about experience and knowing what to expect. [It’s about] knowing that there are going to be ups and downs throughout the way, and to get through it on a level even keel.”

Clearly it all starts with Chara, and has since he arrived seven seasons ago. But the young veteran core for the Bruins is highly decorated and accomplished: David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask all already have their names etched on the Cup, and have a long track record of performance the most elite levels.

That group of established players was augmented by an influx of new faces from all avenues. Iginla, Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith all blended in seamlessly this season, as Dennis Seidenberg did a few years earlier, and Carl Soderberg proved to be the ultimate payoff for Chiarelli after he waited six years for the Big Swede to try out the NHL. Diligent scouting and development brought Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski aboard in the last two seasons, and Johnny Boychuk before them.

All that group of players did is completely dominate the NHL after playing all the way until the end of June last spring. The Bruins finished third in goals scored (3.1 goals per game), second in goals allowed (2.1 per game), third in power play, eighth in the penalty kill, and first by a country mile in goal differential (plus-84), 5-on-5 for/against ratio (1.53) and third-period goal differential.

Those are championship numbers, and reveal a Bruins team without much in the way of weaknesses. Clearly the second-pairing defense is something to look at closely as Bartkowski and Andrej Meszaros attempt to fill in for the injured Seidenberg, and B’s depth at forward goes as far as their top 12 will carry them. Most people forget Tyler Seguin was the 13th forward going into the 2011 Stanley Cup run, and this season Jordan Caron will fill that role for Boston.

They are both former first-round picks of the Bruins, but these B's are in considerably more trouble if their 13th forward becomes a factor in any of their playoff series.

But much of it is nitpicking. They are the clear favorites to take the Eastern Conference, and should physically impose their will against any opponent they will face in the first three rounds.

Sure, the Bruins potentially face opponents in the first two rounds [Detroit and Montreal] that have held them to a 2-5-1 record this season. But it’s going to take a truly special club to knock the biggest, baddest Bruins hockey team off the block this postseason. There’s a very good chance that hockey team doesn’t actually exist, and we’ll find that out over the next two months.

The Bruins have already proven through 82 games they’re just that good, and stand ready to start showing it again Friday night.