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BOSTON (CBS) – We just might be witnessing the evolution of a new era in Boston Bruins hockey.
It’s an era that was born last June with the raising of the Stanley Cup by members of the Black and Gold on enemy ice in Vancouver. It’s a new era of excellence.
Those of you who’ve been playing close attention to the Bruins lately know that they’ve been outshot in their last three games. In their last two contests, they were outshot by 19 and by 20 by Los Angeles and Ottawa, two middle-of-the-pack clubs, respectively.
The result: six points in the standings.
Yes, the Bruins are at the point where something less than their best game can earn them victories, whereas in recent seasons sometimes even their best performances didn’t come with reward beyond a pat on the back and some complimentary words from their coach or general manager.
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The Bruins tied Philadelphia for most standings points in the Eastern Conference with their win over the Senators Wednesday. Their 41 points are also tied for third overall in the NHL and they’re guaranteed to take the ice in Philly Saturday no lower than second in the East.
Now I’ll admit that the 3-7-0 start in October had me wondering whether what the Bruins built last spring and maintained for this season might’ve just been a house of cards ready to fall. Perhaps they were just “the hot team” last June. Now I’m thinking the other way. The Bruins just might be a perennial contender with the type of depth general managers and owners dream about. That they pulled out two, tight victories without captain and superstar defenseman Zdeno Chara, who’s a player the Bruins have rarely had to battle without, is yet another testament to this theory.
Of course, it all starts with the goaltending. And without delving too deeply into that topic again, anyone that wants to trade either of the Bruins’ puck-stoppers should have his thumbs permanently incapacitated as to not let him ever tweet again. Did you see the first period Wednesday night in Ottawa? Did you see the third period?
The Bruins, obviously, had a tough time finding their skating legs after getting into town late the night before. They were struggling to maintain their intensity, took a couple mis-timed penalties and made some turnovers at terrible times. Yet there was Tim Thomas, like Tuukka Rask in a similar situation the night before, withstanding the Senators’ charge nearly every time.
With Thomas and Rask the Bruins have the luxury of knowing a poor start won’t mean a deep hole, a late-game lapse won’t allow a game to slip away almost every time out. They know that even when the shots-against total rises with Chara out and several guys playing more minutes than they’re used to and in situations they’re usually not asked to play, they can survive.
The Bruins, however, aren’t a modern-day version of the ‘90s Buffalo Sabres, who relied on their goaltending to grind out 1-0 and 2-1 win practically every night. Their 3.3 goals scored per game, which ranks them second to Philly in the NHL, proves that. But there doesn’t seem to be an extended slump in this team because of the balance it uses to generate that offense.
Rich Peverley’s goals in consecutive games raised his total to six. Normally, a high-paid winger who has six goals on December 15 might be a subject of complaints. Peverley has mostly been above criticism. Why? Well, his solid two-way play is part of that. More important to that cause, though, are the 12 goals Chris Kelly has scored, the eight goals Daniel Paille and Benoit Pouliot have combined to score and 11 (yes 11!) points Andrew Ference has put on the sheet.
Tyler Seguin is goal-less in his last four and David Krejci’s line was in pedestrian mode the last two nights out. It doesn’t matter. There’s always somewhere around to pick up the offensive slack in front of a defensive game, led by the goaltenders, that never seems to let up.
You know what you call a night that the scoring is completely nonexistent and the goaltending’s a little off, like they were against Florida last week? An off night. What the Bruins have built to this point appears able to limit those off nights so that you can count them on your fingers.
The Bruins just may be setting the bar way up high for themselves and the rest of the league.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com. He operatesTheBruinsBlog.net and also contributes coverage to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on twitter @TheBruinsBlog.