This team continues to have look of a winner
Seven goals and two fights. Who could ask for anything more?
You might as well get it into your head. The Bruins are serious. They are where they are in the NHL standings because they're good.
And they're more than just good. They're fun. Ask any of the 17,565 in the sellout matinee crowd at TD Banknorth Garden yesterday if he or she felt cheated in any way. It's not possible. The Bruins' 7-2 dispatch of the New York Islanders was a very good show.
The crowd had hardly settled into its seats following the anthem when Nate Thompson was allowed to come walking in on a guiltless Manny Fernandez to give the visitors a 1-0 lead at 1:46 of the first period. Five straight Boston goals later we had ventured into hockey's version of garbage time, except that hockey doesn't really ever have garbage time. The seventh goal basically makes the crowd as happy as the first.
I realize it's an alien concept, but these guys can score. A year ago, the Bruins were the only playoff team with a negative goal differential, but that business is so early '08. It's a whole different scenario now.
With yesterday's five-goal surplus the Bruins have solidified their position as the league's second-most-dominant team. We have played 28 percent of the 2008-09 NHL season and the Bruins have scored 24 more goals than their foes. Only San Jose (plus-30) is better.
This has been an offensively challenged team for a long, long time. But the Bruins have now scored seven goals twice in their last five games. They have scored five or more goals five times in the last 12, and six times overall.
What in the name of Phil Esposito is going on?
"We have four lines we can roll," says Michael Ryder, "and each line can produce."
OK, 24 hours ago you might have said, "Michael Ryder, you will speak when spoken to, and not before."
The team's most expensive offseason acquisition (three years at $4 million per) has been a very disappointing player. He entered yesterday's game with a meager three goals, the last of which found its way into the net Nov. 17. But he put the biscuit in the basket twice yesterday in his first opportunity to play with David Krejci and Blake Wheeler. Hey, whatever it takes, if he's going to play like this.
"We've been saying for numerous weeks now that he's had some great chances," said coach Claude Julien, who knows Ryder well from their mutual time in Montreal.
"It's not for lack of trying, or lack of work. I think he was snakebitten, for a while."
The Bruins scored 'em every which way in this one. Chuck Kobasew, Dennis Wideman, and Ryder scored on the power play. Wheeler scored on a great counterattack emanating from a failed Bill Guerin breakaway. Ten seconds later, Krejci blew by Islanders winger Jon Sim on the left boards to beat Joey McDonald. Wideman snapped one off to beat debutant Peter Mannino, who had just replaced McDonald. Yup, it was his NHL debut. Welcome to the bigs, kid. And Phil Kessel cashed in on a gorgeous swooping collaboration with Marc Savard and Milan Lucic.
(Aaron Ward very nearly cashed in on a bouncer he casually sent
Youth was served, but that's going to be the story for this team just about every night. At 28, Ryder was the oldest goal scorer. Kobasew is 26. Wideman is 25. Wheeler and Krejci are 22. Kessel is 21.
In their last 16 games, the Bruins are 13-2 and have a shootout loss to the Rangers. And the losses hurt them. The Oct. 30 loss in Calgary prevented them from sweeping a road trip.
They weren't happy about that. But what really pleased Julien is that they were very upset about losing in Buffalo Wednesday night. You might think they'd accept an L every once in a while, but, no, they took that 3-2 setback personally.
"Yes," said Julien. "I think so, obviously. You always want to bounce back. I liked the attitude of our players after that game. They didn't enjoy losing. That's a key sign, and we took appropriate measures to play a solid game [today]."
"Nobody wants that sour taste in your mouth," said Wheeler. "It's what good teams do, bounce back from losses."
It took the Bruins a while to get cranked up yesterday. It was 1-0, Islanders, after one, but from then on I'd say 80 percent of the action was in front of the Islanders' net.
"It was the adjustments we made between the second and third periods," maintained Wheeler.
The man enjoying the view from 200 feet away was Fernandez, making his eighth start of the season.
He had no real chance to stop Thompson, who came in unimpeded and fired one over the netminder's left shoulder before the game was two minutes old. But he was rock solid thereafter, not surrendering another goal until Richard Park scored to make it 5-2 at 11:23 of the third.
A three-goal lead was certainly sufficient to get the job done, but this Bruins team is cut from an entirely different bolt of cloth than its recent predecessors. Ryder and Kessel scored quickly to put the Islanders back in their place.
The way Fernandez sees it, rivals challenge the Bruins at their own peril. The Bruins like uptempo hockey.
"If they're going to open things up, we are there to capitalize," Fernandez explained.
"I think our forwards are gifted," Fernandez continued. "We have four excellent lines. Even our physical line has been very hard to play against. They've been doing all the little things."
So here come the Stanley Cup champion Red Wings tonight, hoping to wipe the smiles off the faces of all these players, coaches, management figures, and fans who are reveling in this hockey renaissance in America's oldest and best hockey city.
Bring 'em on, I say. It's a fair fight now.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.