BOSTON – Don’t look now but the Boston Bruins are the hottest team in the NHL.
The Black and Gold members tamed some dragons in Montreal on Wednesday night at the Bell Centre and followed by taking care of business with a 2-1 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes at the home TD Garden environs on Thursday night.
It gives the Bruins a season-high, seven-game winning streak and has them rolling at 15-2-3 in their past 20 games. That has shot them straight to the top of the Eastern Conference. While the Bruins are keenly aware of their accomplishments, they’re certainly not letting it get to their heads.
“We are finding a way to win hockey games, but I think there is always room to improve. We can’t get complacent or satisfied when we look at the record, or [winning a] few games,” said Zdeno Chara. “I think that it’s nice to win games, but at the same time we have to keep ourselves honest and accountable about the need for things to be improved upon, or touch up on things that need to be corrected.
“It’s a fine line – you want to keep that momentum and confidence, but everybody has to be honest. When there are mistakes, obviously they will happen, but we just try to make everything possible so that when we go into the playoffs that our game is where it should be.”
Well, the Bruins have outscored their opposition 27-11 in those seven games and taken down potential playoff-caliber teams in the Rangers, Capitals, Lightning, Canadiens and Coyotes. Tuukka Rask has ramped things up to playoff form between the pipes and looked masterful shutting down breakaway after breakaway against Montreal and Phoenix, while stopping 56 of the 58 shots that he faced.
Even better the Bruins are getting balanced scoring up and down the lineup. Gregory Campbell carried the offense for a couple of games, the Soderberg/Kelly/Eriksson line continues their mission “to become the best third line in the NHL” in the words of the Big Swede, and Boston’s top six forwards continue to carry their weight offensively.
Zdeno Chara potted another goal Thursday night and even has a chance to top the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career with a strong finishing kick over the next month.
Perhaps the only sign of strife is the puny 12 power plays earned in the past seven games as the NHL’s least power-play rewarded team continues to get no respect from the referees.
Still, the contributions up and down the lineup have the B’s veteran leadership group excited about the possibilities.
“I think we’re playing well. I think there have been different types of games, and a big part of it is, you know, we’ve had great goaltending all year. We’ve had that in this [streak]. But also it’s been fun that it’s been all different lines all different nights of the winning streak and really all season [different lines] have been carrying the play on different night,” said Jarome Iginla, who scored the game-winner on a tipped Johnny Boychuk shot in the first period. “On some nights we have everybody going, and we have an exploding night [offensively]. Bergy [Patrice Bergeron] has been flying and Carl’s [Soderberg] line with Kells [Chris Kelly] and Loui [Eriksson] are going, Soup [Gregory Campbell] for a few games he was – you know [carrying us], in New York...You just name it.
“It’s been fun. It’s a big part of being a team, but it is fun to be on a team when everybody has their runs and their moments. It’s fun to cheer, and it’s just that everyone shares it.”
In the past two-month stretch the Bruins have opened up a massive 15-point lead over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Atlantic Division and continue to set pace with the Pittsburgh Penguins for tops in the Eastern Conference. Now it’s about maintaining the peak level of play that the Bruins are reaching in the middle of March, and making sure it’s there when they really need it a month from now.
“I see commitment from everybody. It’s pretty obvious when you play the number of games that you’ve played, and you look at the way you’ve played, there’s a pretty good commitment right now from our guys,” said Claude Julien. “It was certainly a good effort on a back-to-back night [against the Coyotes] again, and everybody knows we came off of a pretty important game, in our minds, yesterday, about going out there and playing your game, and making everybody understand that it’s not so much the matchup [with Montreal] than it’s been our make-up.
“All that put together, I’m pretty pleased with our effort, and it’s not so much the streak. It’s the consistency, and the consistency leads into that streak that you’re seeing.”
Until then the B’s coaching staff will tinker with the defensemen pairings, and find pockets to rest some of the players – such as Chara – that have handled the heavy burden of a long, full NHL season.
For now, the Bruins are riding high, winning virtually every time they don the Black and Gold sweaters and making a statement that they’re the team to beat in the Eastern Conference this season. Plenty of question marks have been answered by the Bruins in the past 20 games, but they need to keep the answers coming as the degree of difficulty heightens down the line.