BOSTON (CBS) — Even in the Stanley Cup-championship season of 2010-11, late January and early February weren’t periods of dominance for the Bruins.
They won their share of games, but lost their share too during the season’s “dog days.” And it was as difficult to tell at that point of the season if the Bruins were going to win the Cup as it was the next season, when they had a similar record in the heart of winter, whether they would repeat as champs or fall out of contention in the first round of the playoffs.
The end of January 2014, however, has been a time for the Bruins to look every bit the championship contender they thought they were when the season opened. They’ve won four in a row and five out of six, with a shootout loss in the sixth game. They’ve scored six goals in three straight contests.
One could worry that the Bruins, heading into their showdown with the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday at TD Garden, are peaking too early. But luckily there’s a two-week Olympic break coming up that’ll allow them to rest and then restart their engines once the medal are handed out.
The Bruins have the honor of a handful of players heading to Sochi to represent their countries. Plus their coach Claude Julien and general manager Peter Chiarelli are involved with the Canadian entry. However, the vast majority of players will be on vacation after the final horn of the Bruins’ game against the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 8.
And that might be the reason that the Bruins right now are playing just as well as they did through three-plus rounds of playoffs in 2013.
“Yeah … because you know you are getting some good time off, and almost much-needed time off in that sense, with how many games and travel and all that stuff that’s been thrown at us with this Olympic schedule,” Bruins left wing Milan Lucic said. “So you want to give it all you’ve got with these five games left because really there’s nothing to save it for with a two-week break. We have talked about that definitely – about leaving it all out there before the break, and we have five more games to do that and keep staying sharp and staying on our game and keep pushing for more.”
No one’s expecting the Bruins to sweep the final five games before the break. But with the way they’ve played lately, would you put it past them to ride into the Olympics on a nine-game winning streak? I wouldn’t bet against them.
Julien claimed prior to his team’s win against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday that he hadn’t asked his team to “empty the tank” before the break. He said he was just looking for some sound, smart hockey and for his players to adhere to the system. Well, obviously, some of the translated his message differently than he meant it.
The Bruins who aren’t going to the Olympics, and even the ones that are going but won’t qualify for the medal round, will be wise to utilize the rest time. In March, like in seasons past, they have a heavy schedule with 17 games in 30 days. It’ll be impossible to be at their best every night, and that might be a good thing. Because when you have goals like the Bruins do beyond surviving the regular season, you need to be at the top of your game in April.
But playing at peak performance right now isn’t the worst thing. They’re accumulating points that will come in handy should March make life difficult to wrap up the division title. Plus they’re getting a taste of how they’ll need to play when it comes time to really defend their Eastern Conference crown in the playoffs.
“The points before this break are huge,” forward Reilly Smith said, “and we’re trying to get all of them.”
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.