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The real Best Team Ever

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  December 6, 2011 09:04 AM

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The Cardinals had been World Series champions for fewer than 24 hours, Halloween candy wasn't stale, and the Red Sox had yet to receive compensation for giving Theo Epstein to the Cubs.

Wait, scratch that last one.

It has been 37 days since the Bruins last lost a game in regulation, a remarkable streak that continued last night in Pittsburgh, where the Bruins laid a big ol' statement game on the rest of the NHL, a 3-1 victory that was every bit as entertaining as it was defining.

Despite their 3-7 start, the Bruins have amassed 35 points, one fewer than Pittsburgh and Chicago, two fewer than Minnesota, which leads the way with 37. Only Chicago (93) has scored more goals than the Bruins (88) and no team has allowed fewer than Boston (52). During this streak, the Bruins have stockpiled 29 of a possible 30 points.

Quite simply, it's becoming mind-boggling.

Through 25 games one year ago today, the eventual Stanley Cup champions were 14-8-3, sitting in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. To that point, Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask had allowed only 47 goals, but Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Co. had managed to pot just 74 goals, which was tied for eighth-best in the conference. Still, that's an average of 2.96 goals per game. Not bad.

This season, it's 3.52 goals per game.

It's not exactly a stretch anymore to say that this year's edition of the Bruins is even better than last year, a fact rendered true by a combination of talent gelling together, the continued wonderment of the guy in net (45 saves for Tim Thomas last night, ho hum), and a universal belief in the coach and his approach to the game.

Wait. What?

We're living in bizarro land, folks. It's a world where the Bruins do everything right, they are the hunted, and the coach...the coach...has proven himself worthy of being classified as the greatest behind the bench in a generation. May we remind you, it was two weeks before the end of the regular season when Bruins fans legitimately wondered if Claude Julien should be fired? Imagine if the team's brass overreacted to the collapse against the Flyers and did what most assumed was the only correctable avenue. 

Now, the man is in search of a second Stanley Cup in two years. If he gets it, he goes down with the Causeway Street greats.

The players have long since bought into the coach, and though fans were slow to warm up to him, it's full confidence in Claude, 100 percent of the time. Had I made that statement in March, you probably would have switched off your computer, lathered yourself in cream cheese, and wandered out to find the nearest hungry wolf, if only to ground yourself in some semblance of sanity. 

The Bruins are the hottest team in the league, and have re-discovered that swagger than led them to their Cup victory last June. It starts in net, and trickles down to every player that Bruins fans questioned just a few weeks ago. Chris Kelly. Krejci. Benoit Pouliot.

Benoit Pouliot.

Maybe the horseshoe is spoked black and gold, but Pouliot and Kelly are examples of why this team is better than last year. There's an emerging familiarity now, a comfort level you'd have to wonder if even the likes of Tomas Kaberle would be experiencing had he stuck around. Tyler Seguin's emergence may be the biggest storyline of the early season, but as we go forward, the way this team has meshed will ultimately be the defining thread. They stick up for each other, they battle and focus like no Bruins team I've ever seen. They don't think they can do it on every given night. They know they can. And it was that sort of attitude that gave us the remarkable run against Vancouver. Thing is, they have to be better than last year's squad, which caught quite a few breaks along the way, namely Crosby and Malkin, and was a pair of Game 7 bounces from golf season. This time around, Sidney Crosby is back, Washington could be on the rebound after a coaching switch, and Toronto has emerged as a serious threat in the Northeast Division.

Yet not only can the Bruins hang with that crowd, they have taken every challenge and swiped it aside like a Phil Kessel slapper at the Garden.

This may or may not be the best Bruins team of all time. But it's definitely becoming everybody's favorite. 

The streak very well could end in Winnipeg tonight. That's a tough back-to-back stretch travel-wise. Then again, we've learned more than once not to doubt anything this team does. It is one fun ride. 


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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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