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If you’re like me, a lot of concerned friends are asking you, “What’s wrong with the Red Sox?” When a reigning World Series champion spends most of April in the cellar, there’s a tendency to parse and analyze, maybe even panic. My answer? Let’s talk in June. In the meantime, focus on the best sports team in Boston.
I refer, of course, to the Bruins, the consensus pick to get to the Stanley Cup finals this season for the third time in four years, which no team has done since the Detroit Red Wings of 1995-98. The B’s won the Cup in 2011, breaking a 39-year drought, lost a thrilling finals to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013, then rebounded from that disappointment by posting the best regular season record in the NHL this year, going 54-19-9. It was the most wins by a Bruins team since the legendary Cup-winning 1971-72 squad (54-13-11) led by Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and Johnny Bucyk.
They are balanced, disciplined, and tough, and their ability to roll out four skilled lines makes them a match-up nightmare for opponents.
Pretty heady company. The Big, Bad Bruins of the early ‘70s were one of the best and most exciting NHL teams ever, and they broke the stranglehold the Celtics had on this city’s sports psyche every winter. What’s remarkable about this 2013-14 Bruins team is that they’re reaching similar heights without a superstar who can approach the accomplishments of Orr and Espo, perennial league leaders and record setters in scoring. The B’s leading scorer this year was David Krejci, whose 69 points placed him tied for 19th in the league. Nearly everyone agrees that center Patrice Bergeron is the team’s MVP, but his 62 points placed him a distant 36th among NHL scorers. As for captain Zdeno Chara, who some consider a defensive superstar, his plus-minus rating of +25 ranks only eighth best on his own team.
But as a group? Good Lord, this Bruins team has it all! They led the Eastern Conference in goals scored (261), while allowing the fewest goals against (177). They had the best home record in the NHL (31-7-3), and the second best away record in their conference (23-12-6), and because they won the President’s Trophy for most points in the regular season, the Bruins will have home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. With young Torey Krug quarterbacking from the blue line and 6’9” Chara an immoveable presence in front of the net, the Bruins had the third-best power play in the league. They also had the eighth best penalty killing unit. Where are the weaknesses? I can’t find any. They are balanced, disciplined and tough, and their ability to roll out four skilled lines makes them a match-up nightmare for opponents. Goalie Tuukka Rask, in both this year’s Olympics and last spring’s Stanley Cup finals, is a proven performer in big games. Meanwhile, steady, respected Claude Julien, in his seventh year behind the Bruins bench, may be the most underrated tactician in hockey.
The great Scotty Bowman used to say it was more important how a team was playing going into the playoffs than where they were seeded, and in that regard the Bruins have everything going their way. Not only were they seeded first, but they finished the season on a 25-4-7 run in their last 36 games. So on paper, this team looks like a lock to go deep into the playoffs. The problem is — and maybe this is why the city isn’t going sufficiently ga-ga for them right now — the best team doesn’t always win in the playoffs. A hot goalie, a bad bounce, a bad call, a stupid penalty — all can (and do) derail teams in a best-of-seven series. The Bruins should know. In each of their last three first round matchups, the favored Bruins had to go to overtime of a seventh game before it was decided — winning twice and losing once. First round upsets are as common as colds.
The great Scotty Bowman used to say it was more important <i>how</i> a team was playing going into the playoffs than <i>where</i> they were seeded, and in that regard the Bruins have everything going their way.
Bruins fans could be forgiven for thinking: Here we go again! when Wings goalie Jimmy Howard shut the B's out 1-0 in their series opener last Friday. Detroit, Boston! Original Six Death Match! Upset City! But the next two games seemed to put those fears to rest, as Boston responded with dominating 4-1 and 3-0 wins — the second in inhospitable Joe Louis Arena, where the Bruins hadn’t won in seven years — to regain home ice advantage and put the Wings back on their heels. I look for more of the same tonight. This is a selfless team clicking on all cylinders, with the requisite goaltending and special teams prowess to go all the way this spring.
I think they’ll do it. I think we’ll be talking about this Bruins team for many years to come. They are a special clan.
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