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Conference call: Bruins' stay atop Eastern standings may not last for long

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  March 10, 2014 09:26 AM

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It would be silly to consider this an omen, but the last time a local team won five games in a row before the Boston Bruins took their fifth-straight in Florida on Sunday, the Red Sox beat Detroit twice before taking three out of four from the Yankees last September. The World Series champions also boasted five-game win streaks both in May and July, and a season-high seven game stretch in April.

The Celtics? Their most recent win streak was four straight back in November to mirror their record at the dawn of a season that more and more appears to be a wasted one, thanks to Brad Stevens’ cockamamie doctrine of competing and winning. The Patriots also won four straight to begin the 2013 campaign before an ugly September loss to Bengals. The last time the Patriots had as much of a five-game winning streak, Tom Brady and Co. won seven in a row from Oct. 21-Dec. 10, 2012.

But in the Bruins’ case, a season-high winning streak probably wasn’t what people were expecting after the team came out flatter than Judge Doom in its first game after the Olympic break, a 5-4 overtime loss in Buffalo that showed the Bruins break down late, and gift-wrap things in a laissez-faire overtime period. Three days later, Boston looked like a team scrambling to get its parts back in order during a 4-2 loss to the Washington Capitals on Garden ice.

“I don’t think we were involved enough. We weren’t emotionally engaged enough for whatever reason,” Shawn Thornton told the Boston Herald in the wake of the loss. “There’s no excuse for that. We’ve had a lot of time off.”

Maybe that was the issue.

Nine days later, the Bruins have gone from 79 points, second in the Eastern Conference to 89, leap-frogging the idle Pittsburgh Penguins after Sunday’s 5-2 win over the Florida Panthers. Only the Blackhawks (90), Ducks (93), and Blues (94) have more points than Claude Julien’s Bruins in the NHL, and only a handful of other teams were on the short end of media criticism in the days and hours following last week’s trading deadline. But defenseman Andrej Meszaros picked up an assist in his first game with the Bruins Sunday, and also proved himself to be a pretty shot-hungry partner for Zdeno Chara, with six of Boston’s 42 official shots on goal. That had a lot of folks tabbing him anti-Kaberle. To put it in some perspective, Tomas Kaberle, who gave indecisive preschoolers in a candy store a good name, had 31 shots total over 24 regular season games with Boston after being acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2011.

The Bruins beat the Rangers on Oscar night. They said hello and goodbye to Tim Thomas with a pair of victories against the Panthers. They enacted revenge on the Capitals, and escaped Tampa Bay in a shootout Saturday, a game in which the Bruins had trailed by two goals. Up until this weekend, the team had been 0-15-2 in that situation this season.

It adds up to a perch looking down on Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference. For now.

“Hopefully it’s for more than a day,” Julien said. “We’ve worked hard to get ourselves back at the top of the conference. By the looks of it, it’ll probably be a battle right till the end.”

Well, the reality is that the Bruins may head into Montreal Wednesday night to face Thomas Vanek and the Canadiens back in second. Pittsburgh has a home-and-home against the Capitals Monday and Tuesday night, and could conceivably have a three-point cushion by the time Boston’s game at Centre Bell takes place. But with 18 games remaining on Boston’s schedule, the team should eclipse the recent high-mark of 116 points set back in 2008-09, back when the President’s Trophy at least served as a little compensation for the Bruins’ annual first-round playoff exit. Five years later, hopeful atonement comes in the form of watching Lord Stanley’s Cup get paraded on Garden ice for the second year in a row, with, hopefully, a much less grim atmosphere.

First step, first place.

"It's important," said Torey Krug, who broke a 1-1 tie in the third period Sunday. "It's one of our goals. Obviously it's not the main one, but we set our minds to something we want to accomplish it. It's one of the things we think about."

As of today, it would mean a first-round matchup against the Columbus Blue Jackets, with the Detroit Red Wings lingering in the weeds. After all, that’s all a five-game winning streak will land you in mid-March; uncertainty.

It’s no omen; just a nice stretch, a well-executed recovery after coming back from Sochi with a sluggish hangover.

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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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