So here we are now, with 29 games remaining in this season and the Montreal Canadiens entering the TD Garden tonight, and the Bruins claim to be thinking bigger. In separate radio interviews yesterday on Boston's two all-sports stations, Cam Neely and Peter Chiarelli said so. The trading deadline is fast approaching and the Bruins are equipped to deal, and the truth is that Bruins ownership and management have absolutely no excuses this year should they fail to improve this team in the coming weeks.
In the wake of last spring's historic collapse, Bruins players have sufficiently responded with a regular season, thus far, that has solidified the Bruins as one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.
Now it is incumbent upon management to do its part, too.
These last few weeks have been rather eventful for the Bruins, who still have a great deal to prove, beginning with tonight's game against a Montreal team that the Bruins have yet to defeat this season. Daniel Paille was suspended. Andrew Ference spoke up. Marc Savard shut it down. And all of it pales in comparison to what will happen over the next few weeks, when the Bruins must make the kind of deal that will inspire faith among a fan base that has been waiting for a championship since Watergate.
These are the facts: the Bruins are in contention. They have a good, young nucleus. They have budding youngsters and draft picks aplenty, and they now have salary cap space in the wake of the Savard injury. All of that comes amid the stigma of last spring's unceremonious collapse in the playoffs, the kind of historic event that shakes an organization and fan base to its core.
You see? No excuses. Ownership and management have no outs. They have the players, the money and the chance. They even have the motivation. The failure to make a trade before the February 28 deadline would destroy much of what Bruins have built since Game 6 three years ago against these same Canadiens, against whom the Bruins showed the first signs of a heartbeat after years in a cryogenic freezer.
Turns out the Bruins weren't dead all those years after all.
They were merely waiting for a time to be restored.
These players? They have won nothing yet, though they deserve at least some credit for putting the burden back on ownership and management in the wake of last year's epic breakdown. Against Washington, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay this season - the other top teams in the East - the Bruins are 9-3-1. The victory over Dallas last week revealed a grit and togetherness that was lacking last year. Tim Thomas and Milan Lucic are among those who look far more like they did two years ago, when the Bruins entered the playoffs as the top seed.
That season, of course, ended like the last one, with a loss in Game 7 of the second round. A similar failure this year would continue a rather disturbing and developing pattern. As much as the onus is on management, too, Bruins players would be wise to remember that the regular season only means so much. As different as the last two seasons have been the playoffs ended in similar fashion.
Given the loss of Savard, the Bruins' current needs seem twofold: center and defense. Bruins problem-solvers certainly are encouraged to debate the merits of each, though Neely said yesterday on 98.5 The Sports Hub that his preference remains the ever-elusive puck-moving defenseman. As obsessed with another goal scorer as the Bruins have annually been, their greatest problem in each of the last two postseasons was their inability to get the puck out of their own end. Ray Bourque isn't walking through that door. The good news, presumably, is that Dennis Wideman isn't, either.
Regardless, Bruins players would be wise to continue the path they have established this season, particularly this week, starting tonight. The last time the Bruins played the Canadiens, the Bruins suffered a breakdown in the final minutes that turned a near-certain victory into defeat. Beyond that rest a pair of games with the Detroit Red Wings. The Bruins subsequently will play a stretch of seven consecutive road games that will carry them through the trading deadline, at which point they will officially be in the homestretch of their season.
By then, in theory, Neely and Chiarelli will have made the changes or acquisitions that will have the Bruins angled for the playoffs.
And if they have not, shame on them.
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