Haggerty: Bruins show why they're NHL's best

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Haggerty: Bruins show why they're NHL's best

PITTSBURGH So what do the Bruins do for an encore now?

Recruit Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Dominik Hasek, Ray Bourque and Paul Coffey to headline a team of retired All-Stars, and go head-to-head at an undisclosed barn in the Canadian countryside for 60 minutes.

Maybe?

Play for full periods of 5-on-4 hockey while down a man the equivalent of giving a long head start in a race that the favorite knows theyll eventually come back to win?

Perhaps.

How about letting a beer league goalie man the pipes in road cities for alternating periods to let the lucky puck-stopper know what its like watching the NHLs best team play in front of him?

Why not?

All of these things might just be possible because the Boston Bruins are making things look way too easy since they activated the mechanism in the month of November and started their NHL demolition job.

Now the Bs have finally got the machinery going and its become a runaway victory train just piling up wins and points for a club that started the season on top of the hockey world.

The Bruins havent lost in regulation since two days before Halloween, and capped off their 14th victory in 15 tries in strong fashion with a 3-1 win over a Pittsburgh Penguins team leading the Eastern Conference.

The slim lead might not be for much longer given the way the Bruins have become a points factory, but the Pens still have a one point lead over Boston after getting outplayed in a competitive 60 minutes at CONSOL Energy Center. The Bruins talked before the game about testing themselves against the Penguins amid their torrid victory pace, and they aced yet another hockey pop quiz.

We dont know how were going to win every night, but were going to do it in different ways with different guys, said Tim Thomas. Its all of us together at the same time. Its been nice to be a part of.

The Bruins are rolling and theyve become the team to beat in the NHL above and beyond anybody else. Detroit and Pittsburgh are potentially great teams, and the Rangers, Panthers, Blackhawks and Wild are in the mix.

But theres only one champ and one hockey club thats taken 29 out of a possible 30 points while winning in every manner possible. Injuries and unforeseen adversity can always change things in a hot second.

The Bruins know that firsthand, but its difficult to envision the battle-hardened, diverse incumbent champs falling away from the top of the league.

The Bs plus-36 goal differential this season is more than twice any NHL team not named Detroit. The Bruins have outscored their opponents by a 64-26 margin in the 15 games played since the start of November, and it seems that only things like spaghetti legs on back-to-back nights or a steady diet of bad bounces could push them far off track.

There was so much to like in the gritty, playoff-style win, and the fact it comes after the Bruins have been on a roll for a month is making a statement.

Weve tried to go from game-to-game and just focus on the next one, said Zdeno Chara. We dont want to look too far ahead of us, but at the same time we dont want to get complacent or satisfied. Were in a place where we know every game is important and we need to show up.

Whats important is that were sticking with the game plan, and not trying to play like somebody else even if we have a better record. Were using the strong elements of our game, and not getting away from it even if were up a few goals or playing a different team. Thats the key.

The common sense thing to utter about the Bruins is this: the Bs werent as bad as the 3-7 start in October and they werent as good as their 12-0-1 month of November.

But the Bruins keep on winning and beating down their East competition, and showing theyre a lot closer to the NovemberDecember bulldozer than the October hunk of junk.

Tim Thomas made 45 saves for the Bruins in securing his career-high 10th win in a row, and looked perfectly impregnable until a defensive breakdown led to his one and only goal surrendered midway through the third period.

Third and fourth-line grinders like Gregory Campbell and Benoit Pouliot were the offensive difference-makers in the decisive second period, and the Bruins trumped the depth of a Pittsburgh team boasting Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal on its top three lines. The Bruins killed off a pair of 5-on-3 Pittsburgh power plays including a full two minute two-man advantage in the closing minutes of the second period.

The Bruins returned every chirp, stink eye and muttered expletive that the touchy Sid the Kid threw at them. The image of the night might just have been David Krejci leaning over the Boston bench to give No. 87 an earful during a war of words between the two benches.

There was no backing down by a Bruins team looking to make their own statement with a victory.

Thats a good hockey team in Pittsburgh. But so are we, said Campbell. Were both recognized as good teams around the league. We have to hold ourselves to a high standard of play.

The challenge for us is to not only compete against certain teams, but to compete every night whether its on the road, against a top team or a team thats out of the playoffs. Our challenge is to be consistent.

There will eventually be some slowdown to the Bs seasonal progress and there will be off nights. One could even be on the horizon Tuesday night in Winnipeg 24 hours after the Bruins played such an emotional, satisfying game against the Penguins.

But its also okay to say it.

The Bruins have won a Stanley Cup, and theyve come back the following season as the team to beat in an NHL. Theres no reason to speak about a Detroit or Pittsburgh with hallowed reverence anymore. The current winning streak is no mirage.

The Bruins are better than they were last season when they captured the Cup, and theyre not going anywhere.

Haggerty: Legacies on the line at edge of another Bruins collapse

Haggerty: Legacies on the line at edge of another Bruins collapse

BRIGHTON, Mass – Let’s start with the straight fact that it’s asinine, apologist drivel to let the Bruins off the hook, and perpetuate an off-the-mark myth there isn’t enough talent on the B's roster to be a playoff hockey team.

They are middle-of-the-road in the talent department to be sure, and the roster depth clearly isn’t what it was in their elite years, as the Bruins balance an aging core group with an influx of youthful talent from the next generation. But this is also a proud, talented group with one of the best all-around centers in the NHL in Patrice Bergeron, a former Norris Trophy winner and future Hall of Fame defenseman in Zdeno Chara, a legitimate Hart Trophy candidate and in-his-prime All-Star left winger in Brad Marchand, an emerging 20-year-old offensive superstar in David Pastrnak and a former Vezina Trophy winning goaltender still in his prime in Tuukka Rask.

That doesn’t even mention high-end players David Krejci, David Backes and Torey Krug that are game-changing talents in their own right.

Combine that with the other players on the Bruins roster and this is a team interspersed with proud Stanley Cup winning players and enough talent to still take care of business in the final eight games and punch their playoff ticket. Winning a Cup in 2011 can never be taken away from Chara, Krejci, Bergeron, Marchand, Rask and Adam McQuaid, and neither can the seven straight seasons in the playoffs under Claude Julien.

But there’s a danger now of some late-in-the-game tarnish on Black and Gold legacies for some of those distinguished, proud players if they once again collapse down the stretch this season and miss the playoffs for the third year in a row with a late-season nosedive. Four consecutive regulation losses have cast doubt into everything for the Bruins and roused all the same old uncomfortable questions from the past three years.

Bergeron and Marchand need to find their best games and dominate the way elite players do in big-game situations like Saturday night vs. the Isles. Pastrnak, Brandon Carlo and Frank Vatrano need to show they're ready for the playoffs.Rask needs to finally show he's ready to shine as a No. 1 goalie and lead his team to victory in a big game rather than buckle under weighty pressure. 

“This is their legacy, those guys. They are Stanley Cup champions and they missed last year. Each year we talk about writing our own story, and I believe that because guys come and go,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “But generally there is a core group of guys and it’s their legacy. I’m sure they want to reach the playoffs and get back to being a Stanley Cup contender every year.

“That’s what they want and to a man I’m sure they would tell you that. I do believe that they believe it’s different [this season]. Until you change the course of your results, those questions are going to come. We have to change the results to make then go away. One week of not getting results that we want doesn’t mean we’re panicking, but we do understand what’s at stake. We want to be playing in April and May.”

If the Bruins can’t pull out a win on Saturday night against the Islanders, who just pushed even with them at 82 points on the season, then their playoff lives will no longer be under their own control anymore. It will become another late-season choke job by a team that will have its character and courage questioned. The highs of six years ago will be matched by the bitter lows of the past three seasons.

People won’t talk about a scrappy, little underdog Bruins team that just couldn’t get over the hump once again. Instead, they’ll lament a formerly proud, tough-minded group of hockey players that somehow turned into NHL tomato cans all too willing to play the victim once the going got tough late in the regular season.

That’s no way to go out if you’ve ever had your name etched on Lord Stanley’s Cup, and the Bruins that know better should be taking that to heart right now.