Sometimes it’s obvious who does their homework when it comes to hockey in this town.
Unfortunately for some individuals, the truth eventually comes to light.
Why is this season’s Bruins success surprising to anyone?
Let’s begin with focusing on what we knew before the season started…
THE COACH …
It all goes back to one major decision on February 7, 2017: the firing of Claude Julien. Despite a rash of injuries, interim head coach Bruce Cassidy managed to light a fire under everyone’s rear end in that Boston locker room. It was obvious that the players responded to the decision in a positive way.
I’m not privy to the environment inside the locker room, and I’m not going to pretend I understand the inner workings of the Boston Bruins. But it was clear that Bruce Cassidy was doing something right behind the bench.
It was the passion and fire from the end of last season that first inspired me to look closer at this Bruins roster.
THE GOALTENDER …
The second place any good hockey fan should examine a team is between the pipes. In this spot stands Tuukka Rask. The former Vezina trophy winner. The guy who had stood tall during a Stanley Cup Finals run. A man with a ton of experience and talent. The type of player who can steal games for you during the season, and stand on his head, if he has enough rest (we’ll get to that later).
THE EXPERIENCE …
Moving deeper inside the workings of this team is a core of experience that many do not have. Zdeno Chara is one of the best defensemen of his generation and formerly lead the team to a Cup Final win. A hulking force who proved just last season he still had plenty of legs under him to lead a team.
The Bruins also have one of the more respected players in all of the NHL, a former captain, David Backes — an injury riddled first season tempered expectations and many thought he was a terrible signing.
— JhonBreakingNews (@JhonNewsReports) March 28, 2017
Then of course you have guys like Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, and even Adam McQuaid. Most of these guys are among the best at what they do. Bergeron is possibly the best two-way player in the league. Krejci has an unfair reputation as being injury prone but has only missed 28 of the Bruins last 236 games. A crafty play-maker who has shown he can develop chemistry with a variety of players. Brad Marchand is one of the top pests in the league and is now one of the most elite goalscorers in the entire NHL. Adam McQuaid is one of those steady and strong defensemen that can stand up to anyone across the league and provide a sense of toughness.
Last year, the Bruins defensive core was a work in progress. Brandon Carlo stepped up and became a strong NHL player. Charlie McAvoy was outstanding for the short time he was called up.
But they still had Chara, McQuaid, and Miller. Three veterans who have more than proved their value at the NHL level. Throw in McAvoy, who is penciled in as the next franchise defenseman, and you have a hell of a start on the back end. And of course Brandon Carlo would return with a year’s experience underneath his belt.
Torey Krug has proved to be an offensive weapon who can hold the fort, totaling 103 points these last two seasons with 10 games remaining in 2018.
THE WILD CARDS …
Before this season started, there were certainly questions surrounding the Boston Bruins.
But they were taken to be negative, when they should have been viewed as positive.
How would the vast wealth of young talent perform when their number was called? Would the *backup* goaltender be able to help Tuukka Rask down the stretch? Do the Bruins have enough left shot defensemen (lol)? Would David Pastrnak reward the B’s for the big contract they gave him?
— Jay Kenney (@JayTKenney) September 25, 2017
AND NOW WE KNOW …
Putting all of this together before the season: a coach who seems to get his players to put the pedal to the floor, one of the strongest groups of veterans in the league, an elite goaltender, and an undeniably strong defensive core.
This is all before we even mention the talent coming in.
This is where the truth comes to light.
How many of the Bruins doubters sat in the stands and watched Ryan Donato at Harvard? Charlie McAvoy during the World Juniors and his time at Boston University? Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson? Anders Bjork dominance at Notre Dame?
The level of talent on this team was there for all to see. There was too much to fail.
Anders Bjork was penciled in to be on the first line from day one. It didn’t work out for him, and he ended up injured. What a disaster, right?
The Bruins are still in the hunt to win the President’s trophy.
AN EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES …
All the Bruins needed were a player or two to step up and perform, and they would be playoff eligible.
They got way more than that.
Guys like Riley Nash have 40 points. Jake DeBrusk has 39. Danton Heinen has 42.
Even a guy who many pegged as an afterthought like Matt Grzelcyk has taken his game to the next level, transforming into a valuable depth defenseman.
Sean Kuraly, Noel Acciari, and Tim Schaller have recreated the 2018 equivalent of the Merlot Line.
Hell, their injuries have forced an entirely new line, and people are now debating whether it is better than Kuraly, Acciari, and Schaller.
The top of the roster guys have been outstanding.
Bergeron and Marchand have both been mentioned for the Hart Trophy. McAvoy looks like the franchise guy. Pastrnak is an offensive weapon. Krug has already outpaced his point total from last season. Chara looks like he hasn’t aged at all as he turns 41. Miller is playing like one of the most underrated defensemen in the league. Rask has had stretches where he was playing some of the best hockey of his entire career. Backes has become an important veteran presence among a team of flourishing young stars.
— The Boston Globe (@BostonGlobe) March 4, 2018
All of this has gone without mentioning the important acquisitions of guys like Rick Nash, Nick Holden, Brian Gionta, and Tommy Wingels.
Don Sweeney went out and acquired a guy who has been one of the best goalscorers of his time in Rick Nash. He also signed another former captain, Brian Gionta, who was fresh off a stint with Team USA during the Olympics. Nick Holden was added for depth, and has provided some assurance in case the roster is riddled with injuries (like right now). Tommy Wingels has come to Boston and has given the Bruins maximum effort in his short duration here.
Hell, Anton Khudobin has looked like a starting caliber goaltender during stretches of this season. This effectively keeps Tuukka as fresh as possible moving forward. A vital bonus to having a fantastic backup goaltender.
THE CURRENT SITUATION …
Right now the Bruins are experiencing a rash of injuries as any team does during an 82 game season. But this is a little more than a rash. It’s more like a disease. They’re currently missing over 200 points of production between Krug, Chara, Backes, DeBrusk, Bergeron, and Rick Nash.
Bruins have 111 goals and 161 assists (Chara, Bergeron, Backes, Krug, Rick Nash, McAvoy, DeBrusk) out of tonight's lineup.
— Fluto Shinzawa (@FlutoShinzawa) March 22, 2018
Have they rolled over and given up?
They’ve continued to battle to the last whistle on a nightly basis.
Traveling into Tampa Bay against the best of the east, shutting them out 3-0.
Ryan Donato has played two games for the Boston Bruins while still living in the Harvard dorms, totaling five points.
This team loses when a referee misses a call or the game goes into overtime.
They seem to have an answer for everything.
HOW FAR CAN THEY GO? …
The sky is the limit. Not everything is predictable as the strong season they’ve had thus far.
COLUMN: Get the duckboats ready, the Bruins are going to win the Stanley Cup this season. Here's why: https://t.co/pO23vUB9mN
— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) March 15, 2018
Hopefully the injuries to Krug, Chara, Backes, DeBrusk, Bergeron, and Nash heal fast. Becomes they are only ten games away from playoff hockey.
The rare combination of strong goaltending, veteran leaders, and young talent is something I’ve never seen before. At least in Boston.
But to those who said this team didn’t stand a chance and the fans that couldn’t see this coming, I ask…
What planet were you on? And welcome to the Boston Bruins bandwagon.