The Boston Bruins have played excellent hockey heading into the bye week. Even with the hiccup in Pittsburgh on Sunday night, the Bruins have not lost a game in regulation since mid December. In their last 23 games the Bruins are 17-3-3 and have moved all the way into second place in the Atlantic Division. Now with five days off ahead of them and three games in hand on the third place Toronto Maple Leafs, the Bruins are firmly cemented into a playoff spot.
Coming into the season the Bruins’ roster posed several questions. One of the big concerns focused on the depth, considering most of the unknown young players. After a slow couple of months plagued by injuries, the roster has developed into one of the most formidable in the NHL. Offensively, the Bruins have rapidly evolved into one of the most dangerous teams in the league. Not because of overall talent. They have plenty of that. But rather their performance as a team. Currently the Bruins are averaging 3.28 goals per game. This ranks sixth in the NHL and third in the Eastern Conference.
Led by the dynamic trio of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastranak, the Bruins have one of the best top lines in the entire NHL. However, the depth of the Bruins allows Bruce Cassidy to keep his forwards fresh by rotating through four productive lines. Outside of Brad Marchand, who averages 20:01 TOI per game, no other forward on the Bruins plays more than 20 minutes a game. This has been the key to the Bruins’ recent emergence in the standings. They are getting contributions from places that many people, including opponents, would not expect. Lately, the fourth line has developed more of a scoring touch while Riley Nash has provided an offensive jolt. Even Ryan Spooner is starting to play to his potential offensively.
The story does not end with the offense. The Bruins rank third in the NHL in goals allowed per game, giving up a mere 2.55. This also ranks second in the Eastern Conference, trailing only the Lighting. Like the Bruins offense, the defensive production has not been from a singular player. It’s a group contribution. Only one defenseman in the Bruins starting six has a minus rating. That defender is Torey Krug, who is only a minus one and whose playing has improved. The other five: Charlie McAvoy +14, Zdeno Chara +20, Brandon Carlo +8, Kevin Miller +10, and Matt Grzelcyk +13, combine for an impressive +65 rating.
On top of that, the B’s have found themselves a very versatile set of blue liners. Chara and Miller provide some veteran experience and toughness to the back end. McAvoy, Krug, and Grzelcyk provide an offensive threat that true contenders need. Lastly, Carlo adds some needed defensive responsibility to the young group of defensemen. While not perfect, the Bruins defense core has made a complete 180. They’ve moved from one of the worst in the NHL only a few years ago to one of the most reliable. Don Sweeney deserves a lot of credit for that one.
As Tuukka Rask put it so eloquently last night against the Penguins, in a playoff-like game he played like “horses–t”. This hiccup in Pittsburgh snapped a personal six-game winning streak for the Finland native in which he had posted an otherworldly .963 save percentage. Tuukka did make some eye-opening saves to get the Bruins into the extra period. But he got beat on shots that he admits should have stopped.
Even with the poor performance last night Tuukka Rask has been the best goaltender in the NHL for the past month. In Rask’s last 13 starts the Bruins have earned at least one point, going 11-0-2. This extends the longest streak of Tuukka’s career. In December, the Bruins earned 22 points in 14 games. This pushed them into contention for a top spot in the East led by Rask. During December, Rask has nine wins and two shutouts, along with a .955 save percentage and a video game like 1.22 goals allowed average.
Benched for longtime backup Anton Khudobin earlier in the season, Rask is the reason for the Bruins recent emergence to contenders. Every player needs a kick sometimes to get motivated. Bruce Cassidy knew just how to get the message through to Rask. If he can play at the same level as in December, then Boston has a chance against Tampa in a seven-game series. There is still plenty of hockey to be played in the long season. Up to this point everyone has been wrong about Boston. No one could have predicted that they would be this good. Lets see how far the rejuvenated Bruins can go.