It was a little more than a year ago in this space when we first posed the possibility of a Boston sports grand slam, an all-too-enthusiastic romance which, on the doorstep of Super Bowl LII, positioned 2018 to give the city yet another monumental achievement in professional athletics.
As it figured, the Patriots were a given over the Philadelphia Eagles last February. So all that stood in the way of Boston becoming the first American city to claim a Super Bowl, NBA, NHL, and World Series championships in the same calendar year were the Celtics, Bruins, and Red Sox living up to their ends of the bargain.
Instead, we were subjected to the consolation prize of only one world title when the Red Sox took last October’s Fall Classic. It was nice. But other cities go 1-for-4 in the title bout comparison. Boston isn’t other cities when it comes to Duck Boat parades. Case in point: In 2018 we had just as many championship celebrations as did Washington D.C.
Which is how we now find ourselves knee-deep in another chance at The Slam, with the champion Red Sox and Patriots paving the way for the Bruins and Celtics to spin a little magic into their own springtime playoff runs. Forgive the fact that all four titles wouldn’t come in the same calendar year, but if we can have the “Tiger Slam,” then we’ll even adhere to the nitpick and crown it the “Boston Slam.”
The Bruins took their first step over the weekend by clinching a playoff berth with a 7-3 trouncing of the Florida Panthers. Boston heads into Monday night’s showdown with the Tampa Bay Lightning with 101 points on the season, 19 fewer than the top-seeded Lightning, seven ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Atlantic. That increases the likelihood for home-ice advantage at the TD Garden when the Bruins and Leafs figure to face off (a 99 percent certainty) in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs next month.
Thirteen different #NHLBruins registered at least a point as the team clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Saturday night.
? Re-live all the highlights from the 7-3 win over the Florida Panthers: pic.twitter.com/qtF8w44qGm
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) March 24, 2019
Indeed, these Bruins have quickly blossomed from promising unit to NHL elite over the course of the last few months, throttling into a second half of the season that has positioned them as serious contenders for another Cup run. Boston is 24-6-5 over its last 35 games, a stretch during which it has outscored opponents by 31 goals. That wasn’t supposed to happen at the turn of the year, especially on a Bruins team where “pedestrian” used as an adjective to describe their scoring prowess might have been considered too lofty a compliment.
But after going almost two months (Jan. 19 to March 10) without a regulation loss, whispers about the Bruins playing into June didn’t seem so silly.
At least not as silly as team stud David Pastrnak slipping and pulling his best John Grahame impersonation by getting injured off the ice. But in the 16 games the Bruins’ then-leading scorer missed after ripping open his thumb, his teammates went a ridiculous 12-3-1, as convincing a period as any that demanded Bruins fans start to believe in the team’s depth. Now, with Pastrnak having rejoined Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand (who have combined for 96 goals and 235 points) on what has to be considered the best line in hockey, the Bruins have gone 3-0 while dusting off the likes of the Islanders, Devils, and Panthers to a combined score of 17-4.
Saturday saw Noel Acciari (prior to treating Mackenzie Weegar like a piñata on fire), Zdeno Chara (after signing a one-year extension with the team), and Steven Kampfer get into the scoring action. That’s a trio of Bruins players mulling among the back half of scorers on the team, but it’s an emergence of the sort of secondary scoring the team needs in order to be considered serious players to be playing in late May and beyond.
It’s the sort of top-to-bottom legitimacy the Bruins have been thwarting around the NHL ever since their historic points streak started back in January. Along the way, Boston has been able to survive injuries to Pastrnak, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Brandon Carlo, Jake DeBrusk, and now, forward Sean Kuraly, who will miss the four weeks after undergoing surgery for a broken right hand.
They’ve been able to find satisfaction in Tuukka Rask’s stellar season, one aided by the 1A backup prowess of Jaroslav Halak. They’ve even been able to find the lost soul of David Krejci, who, with 64 points, is having his best season in years, sparking the hope that the Bruins are able to ride that sort of thing into the playoffs, when Krejci had historically become a notable performer during the earlier portion of this decade.
Instead of a Bruins team that seems destined for early-round disappointment, these Bruins look like they may indeed be able to keep their part of the equation in the Slam run.
Now, whether or not the underachieving, maddening, combustible, and borderline dislikable Celtics could turn out to be lovable rebounders come the postseason remains to be seen. That’s been the line Kyrie and company have been trying to tout all while they seem about as interested in the basketball they’re playing down the stretch as Rob Gronkowski might during post-retirement business meetings involving quantum computing.