By Joe Haggerty
OTTAWA Any time the current crop ofBruins draw comparisons to their 1972 Stanley Cup-winning edition, it means things are going pretty swimmingly.
That about sums it up for the Black and Gold after finishing a perfect 6-0-0 on a just-completed road swing divided into three parts a two-game winner of a stretch against Eastern Conference cellar-dwellers in the Islanders and Senators, a more impressive three-game romp through Western Canada that included galvanizing victories over the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks, and the finale, a 1-0 win Tuesday in Ottawa.
It means a lot, said Tuukka Rask, who bookended twin victories at the beginning and ending of the six-game road stretch. It all started off on Long Island against the Islanders and then the trades came in. We really came together as a team during the trip, and bonded together during that time in Vancouver. "Its a big thing.
Theres little doubt some of the answers have come from theoutside help. Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly and Tomas Kaberle have helped tremendously on both ends of the ice, and the Bs power play has been worlds better despiteenjoyingjust a 1-for-13 success ratiosince Kaberle came on board.
But the answers have come just as much from withinled byscoring sources that had gone dry duringthe middle months. Those goal-scoring sourcesare again flourishing. Nathan Horton scored the game-winner in Tuesdays victory, and did it the old fashioned way: the right wing crashed the net after shots by Adam McQuaid and Brad Marchand, and forced a second-effort goal past Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson.That's the fourth goal for Horton in the last five games, and his sixth point (4 goals, 2 assists) in the last six games. David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Michael Ryder have all enjoyed some offensive success as of late, and embody one of the deepest groups of forwards still intact in the Eastern Conference.
The key that set Boston free in Hortons eyes: a move away from individual focus, and back towards unselfish, detail-orientedtogetherness that grinds opponents down.
The exhausted B's did just that against the Senators after appearing to have little energy through the first two periods. But like all good teams, the Bruins found a way to grit it out.
Its working together; back-checking, said Horton. Doing all the little things. Nobody is caring about goals or assists . . . or anything individual. We care about winning, and thats about it.
The six-game road winning streak was certainly a big thing to Zdeno Chara, who has helped craft this Bruins team into a hard-charging, complete hockey club hell-bent on finishing as high as possible in the Eastern Conference standings.
There were a handful of 1972 clubrecords matched or broken when the Bruins put up 116 points during the 2008-09 season and romped all the way to the Eastern Conference title witha team armed tosimply overwhelm opponents with offense and physicality. Those featsdidnt faze Chara then, and certainly dont now with an older, wiser, more experienced and talented group of Bruins earning their stripes late in the regular season.
Its more about a Bs team with 19 games to go in an Eastern Conference race that's wide open, as so many perennial favorites struggle withinjuries and inconsistency. The Bs outscored their opponents 20-9 over the six-game road winning streak, rank fifth in the NHL with 3.1 goals per game, rank second in the NHL with 2.3 goals allowed per game, and are the leagues best team at the most important juncture in a hockey game: the third period.
Whether judging by the numbers or simply evaluatingwiththe naked eye, the Bruins are a good hockey club with few weaknesses. They have very little true star power, but they're a team build on depth and chemistry.
That ability to score and defend coupled with their elite goaltending the Bruins also lead the NHL with nine shutouts this season makes them a tough out for any otherteam in a seven-game series. That became obvious when the new-look Bruins went on the road and set the Western teams straight.Weve always believed in those guys and its just a matter of putting it together, said coach Claude Julien. Weve talked about consistency and when you win six in a row, to me thats consistency. Weve had some real big challenges along the way but what we wanted to do was win this game and set ourselves up for a real good match against Tampa Bay Thursday at home and we got that now.
The Penguins are beset by injuries, and wont be getting Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby back anytime soon. The Capitals are pinning their playoff hopes on Bruins castoffs like Dennis Wideman and Marco Sturm, and Boston fans know exactly how that tune goes.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have little big-timeplayoff experience aside from Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis, and are a year or two away from doing real postseason damage.
The Flyers are loaded in the back and up front, but theyre relying on young, unproven goaltending the same recipe thats been Phillys undoing so many times in the recent past.
Chara appreciates his teams mention in the same breath with Bobby Orr, Gerry Cheevers, Derek Sanderson and so many other legendary members of the 1972 champions. But their road accomplishment across three time zones is about much more than hockey history. It's aboutan undefeated road trip through some challenging NHL outposts is a clarion call to the rest of the league that this Bruins' editionis ready to carve out their own identity inthe next three months.
I don't think we have any of those kinds of names or players," Chara said. "Those are such legends that it's hard to really be compared to those guys. We're really trying to focus on playing well and playing our game and playing for each other, and win as many games as possible and have good feelings after the games, no regrets.
The Bruins had few regrets during an extremely successful six-game road trip, and there doesnt appear to be many difficultiesin their future if they can simply maintain the mojo captured somewhere between Long Island and Vancouver. Things are starting to appear special for these Bruins, and they'ddo best not to misplace it.