Too many times to count on this site you’ve heard my grumblings about Boston sports. But, even if you choose not to listen, a very real threat exists that the 2015 Bruins could follow in the footsteps of the 2013 Red Sox and 2014 Patriots. No, this isn’t a conspiracy theory, it’s cold hard facts. The Bruins are rolling after a sluggish start, and this should hardly come as a surprise.
There is an art that good teams in winning cities have mastered known as “pacing oneself.” The St. Louis Cardinals are masters at it in baseball. The Patriots have done it since before Facebook was invented. For the second year in a row, the Bruins are proving how benign first-half struggles can be. On March 1, 2014, the B’s trailed six teams in the race for the President’s Trophy, including the Anaheim Ducks by 10 points. They swept aside any doubt by going on a 15-1 tear that ultimately landed them atop the NHL with 117 points.
Though far less dominant, this year’s Bruins team is starting to take shape, surging from almost falling out of the playoff picture to the first wild card spot and still hot on the heels of the reeling Detroit Red Wings. A six-game skid left Boston at 28-30 overall on February 20. The Florida Panthers were smelling an opening just one point behind, but since that moment everything has changed. Boston has gone 8-2 over the last 10 games, doing so despite the absence of second-line center David Krejci. Though Krejci may not return in 2015, the Bruins’ mojo certainly has.
A veteran team like the Bruins is getting key contributions from its youngsters, most notably forwards Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak They have added speed to complement the likes of physical forces Milan Lucic and Zdeno Chara. But above all, the Bruins have very little “playoff baggage” that is likely to weigh down some of the other Eastern Conference contenders. The New York Rangers are coming off a Stanley Cup finals appearance, but the Montreal Canadiens are in a title dry spell since extending their own record of 24 back in 1993, the Tampa Bay Lightning have missed the party five of the last seven seasons, and the Washington Capitals have failed to even reach the conference finals despite six postseason berths in the past seven years.
The Bruins will not be the top seed this year, there is no doubt about that, but that suits them just fine. Their two Stanley Cup appearances, in 2011 and 2013, came as a third and fourth seed, respectively. As a second seed in 2012 they were knocked out in the first round by Washington, and only advanced to the conference semis as the top team in hockey last year before falling in seven to Montreal.
Somewhat amazingly, the Bruins are last among current qualifying Eastern playoff teams with a +11 goal differential, but they are still ninth in all of hockey in goals against average. Much of the credit goes to improved goaltending by Tukka Rask, who is tied for seventh in the NHL with a .924 save percentage. Over his past eight games, Rask is 6-2, posting a .947 save percentage and shutting out the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday, his 25th career shutout.
There is no team that will intimidate the Bruins in the playoffs, and likely a gaggle of teams that will be intimidated by them. After all, this is a franchise that two years ago pulled off the most improbable comeback in playoff history, rallying from three goals down in the final minute and a half to stun the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7. Boston sports is simply living a charmed existence, and it would hardly be a surprise if the Bruins ride the coattails of the Sox and Pats and help the city hit double-digits in major pro sports championships in the 21st century. There is a certain aura of confidence about Boston teams, and the Bruins have the leadership and coaching — Claude Julien deserves a ton of credit — to keep the good times rolling.