The 2014 Winter Olympics are now in the rearview mirror, which means it’s time to get back to business for the NHL. The Bruins ended up with three medals at the Olympics, with Patrice Bergeron, Loui Eriksson, and Tuukka Rask bringing home hardware from Sochi, but now the team must refocus and shift its attention to the quest for the ultimate prize in hockey, the Stanley Cup. With the Bruins set to get back into game action Wednesday night in Buffalo, here’s a look at key components heading into the final 25 games of the regular season. Next
Where they stand after the Olympic break
The Bruins head into the final 25 games of the regular season in first place in the Atlantic Division. They went 7-1-2 in their last 10 games before the break, and their 78 points are second only to the Pittsburgh Penguins (83) in the Eastern Conference. They have a 7-point lead on the second-place Tampa Bay Lightning, and an 8-point lead on the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. Their 37 wins are tied for fourth in the NHL, and their 16 regulation losses are tied for fifth fewest. The Bruins have the fifth-highest goals-per-game average in the league at 3.07, and have allowed the second-fewest goals per game at 2.14, just .04 behind Los Angeles for the league lead.
The Bruins’ individual stats are not as impressive as some other teams’, but winning on talent alone is not what has made this team one of the NHL’s most successful franchises over most of the past decade. David Krejci leads the team in points with 50, the only Bruin among the NHL’s top 25 scorers. One of the keys in the Claude Julien system, however, is the utilization of two-way players, and in plus-minus, the Bruins have four players in the top 10 — Johnny Boychuk at plus-27, Krejci at plus-25, Jarome Iginla at plus-25, and Patrice Bergeron at plus-25 — and another in the top 15 (Brad Marchand at plus-23). Next
Do they need a trade?
Because of the Olympic break, the NHL decided to postpone the trading deadline to give teams a last chance to evaluate their needs after play resumed. The trade deadline is set for Wednesday, March 5 at 3 p.m., and already the discussions of players being dealt have heated up. It appears that the most pressing need for the Bruins is a veteran defenseman to help shoulder the load, with Dennis Seidenberg’s season ended by a torn ACL.
The Bruins should be getting Adam McQuaid back from injury imminently, which will help alleviate some of the burden on veterans Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk, but the Bruins could still look to deal for a rental defenseman for the rest of this season. Possible candidates include the Islanders’ Andrew MacDonald, Buffalo’s Henrik Tallinder, Ottawa’s Chris Phillips, and Winnipeg’s Mark Stuart. Next
One of the problems with having a two-week Olympic break smack in the middle of the season is that the missed games must be condensed into the time remaining. Entering the break, the Bruins were tied with the Sabres, Hurricanes, and Blues for fewest games played with 57.
The Bruins will play 17 games in March, including six back-to-back sets, the first being March 1-2, when they host the Washington Capitals, then travel to New York to face the Rangers. The next is on a two-day trip to Florida, when they play the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers March 8-9. They have two days off after that, but then play a back-to-back March 12-13, in Montreal, then home against Phoenix. The next week, they have two sets of back-to-backs, as they first host Minnesota March 17, then travel to New Jersey March 18, followed two days later by a trip to Colorado and Phoenix March 21 and 22. Their final back-to-back of the exhausting month sees the Bruins head to Washington March 29 and end their month in Philadelphia March 30.
On top of all of these back-to-backs, they still have to play single games at home against Florida, Washington, Montreal, and Chicago. Next
Who needs to step up?
While no one on the Bruins is lighting it up on the scoresheet across the league, the team has ridden its strong two-way play to being a Stanley Cup contender. David Krejci, the Bruins’ top scorer, has shown consistently strong play, as have his linemates Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla. An unexpected bonus has been the scoring touch of Reilly Smith, who has blossomed into a top player on Patrice Bergeron’s line; he and Brad Marchand have a good-natured rivalry going for the team lead in goals.
If there is any one player that needs to step up, it may be Chris Kelly. Kelly missed 22 games earlier in the year with a broken leg, but has come back and contributed on a line that has seen good chemistry with Loui Eriksson and Carl Soderberg. Kelly has been relegated to wing as Claude Julien eases him back, but he could stay there if Soderberg continues to create opportunities at center. With young winger Ryan Spooner showing great promise when given the chance, Kelly will have to show that he can still be a strong contributor and keep the third line helping the Bruins more than hurting them, as it seemed to do last season. Next
Whom to watch out for in the Atlantic Division
The race for playoff seeding in the Atlantic Division is shaping up to be very interesting, with the top four teams separated by just 8 points. The Bruins have a 7-point lead in the division but have their biggest opponents right on their tails. The Lightning have 71 points, but the Bruins have the comfort of knowing they have already won the season series by posting three wins against Tampa Bay.
The other two most pressing opponents for the Atlantic title, however, are a different story. The Toronto Maple Leafs, against whom the Bruins are 2-1 this year, have surged recently, taking points in eight of the last 10 games heading into the break, while the Bruins’ biggest rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, always bring out their best against Boston, having won both meetings this season. With the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators also in the mix, in wouldn’t be a surprise if both Eastern Conference wild-card teams come out of the Atlantic. Next
Make a "home away from home"
One area the Bruins are going to have to improve upon if they hope to secure the Atlantic title and contend with Pittsburgh for the top spot in the Eastern Conference is winning away from TD Garden. The Bruins had the luxury earlier in the season of playing a great number of home games, but the downside of that is that they now face a slew of tough road contests over the last quarter of the regular season.
While the Bruins have put together a home record of 23-6-2 — tied for most home wins in the league — they have been average on the road, winning just 14 of 26 games. In the last 25 games of the year, the Bruins will play 15 on the road in 14 cities. Of the seven back-to-back sets the Bruins will play, none feature two home games, and four don’t include a game at TD Garden at all. The Bruins will need to step it up on the road if they have any hope of overtaking the Penguins and grabbing home ice throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. Next
If the season ended today . . .
The Bruins have set themselves up for a strong stretch run. If the season ended today, they would win the Atlantic Division and be the second seed in the Eastern Conference, finishing behind the Metropolitan Division-leading Pittsburgh Penguins. Unlike in previous years, when the No. 2 seed played the No. 7 seed, the playoff format has changed, with two wild-card spots for teams not in the top three of their division. In this format, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings would be the wild cards, and the Bruins would play Toronto, the higher-seeded of the two.
Being two of the Original Six teams, the Bruins and Maple Leafs have a fierce playoff history. The teams have met 14 times in the playoffs, with Toronto holding an 8-6 edge. Perhaps the most exciting series of all happened just last year. The Bruins and Leafs split the first two games of the conference quarterfinals, but the Bruins won the next two in Toronto to take a 3-1 series lead. The Bruins couldn’t take care of business, however, losing both Games 5 and 6 to set up Game 7 in Boston. They took a 1-0 lead on Matt Bartkowski’s first career goal, but then allowed four consecutive Toronto goals to fall behind.
With just over 11 minutes to go, the writing was on the wall in TD Garden, with the Bruins down, 4-1, and hope beginning to fade. Nathan Horton made it 4-2 with just over 10 minutes to play, but the Bruins were still down two with under two minutes to play. The next minute and a half went down as one of the best moments in Bruins history, as Milan Lucic and Patrice Bergeron scored to tie the game. Then Bergeron won it in overtime to complete the most improbable comeback. Next
Last time there was an Olympic break . . .
The last time there was an Olympic break in the middle of the season was 2010, when Canada defeated the US in the gold-medal game in Vancouver. From that year’s Bruins squad, Patrice Bergeron, Johnny Boychuk, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Tuukka Rask, and Dennis Seidenberg played full-time and remain on the team. A 22-year-old Rask was asked to step in for Tim Thomas, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, after Thomas suffered a hip injury that kept him out for most of the second half of the season.
The Bruins went on to earn the No. 6 seed in the playoffs and defeated the Buffalo Sabres in the opening round. Bruins fans would rather forget the next round, as the Bruins lost their top scorer, Krejci and then lost a 3-0 series lead to the Philadelphia Flyers and a 3-0 lead in Game 7 — the worst collapse in team history. Back to the beginning
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