By Ric Duarte, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — It was the West Coast trip that had everyone worried that maybe they weren’t as good as they were hyped. Despite 19 Bruins shots in their initial period on that trip, Anaheim Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller shut the Bruins down and would post a 5-2 victory for the Ducks. Next up were the Kings and Jonathan Quick, and Los Angeles would dispatch Boston 4-2. Although the Bruins would only score one goal against the San Jose Sharks, it would be just enough as Tuukka Rask shut out Jumbo Joe Thornton and Co. 1-0.

Boston would come home to lose to their division rival Toronto, when the Maple Leafs soundly outplayed the Bruins and left with a deserved 4-2 win. There was concern.  The leaders weren’t scoring, the timely goaltending was not so timely and the Bruins’ loss of their solid defensemen Dennis Seidenberg  was really beginning to show.

The power play had begun to fail them and their solid penalty kill had become an Achilles heel. They had not made a substantial adjustment without the German Tank (Seidenberg) on the blue line partnered with captain Zdeno Chara, and it was costing them severely.

But it was the MLK Holiday weekend where you saw a significant change back to the way the Bruins are capable and how they should be playing. Against the Stanley Cup champs in Chicago, Boston lost in a shootout to the Blackhawks, but they were the Bruins we are used to seeing when they are winning. With forechecking, solid defense, and good, timely goaltending (tying goal notwithstanding) from Tuukka Rask, they came back to Boston with a point. They faced the Kings again, this time generating a different outcome — a solid 3-2 victory.

A bizarre scheduling quirk gave the Bruins four days off, and it seemed to revive the team and its scoring woes as it went to Philadelphia and annihilated the uncharacteristically passive Flyers, 6-1. They swept away the New York Islanders with another half-dozen tallies in a 6-3 win, and they scored another six against old friend Tim Thomas and his overmatched teammates, 6-2, for their fourth victory in a row, scoring21 goals in that span.

Which brings us to the end of January and remarkably the first visit to Boston for the team that, as a Bruins fan, you still can’t stand — the Montreal Canadiens. Despite Montreal’s recent woes of going 4-6-1 in its last 11 games, it’s never a given for either team when or where they meet, and there is no reason to think differently come Thursday’s tilt at the TD Garden.

Despite the fact that the teams seem to be going in opposite directions (though the Habs did shut out Carolina 3-0 Tuesday), there is no reason to think it won’t be another tight-checking, snarly affair. In the past 16 Canadiens-Bruins games, playoffs included, 14 were decided by one goal with the other two had an empty-net goal in final minute of the contests.

It’s easy to beat upon the likes of the Islanders and Panthers but this will be a true measuring stick game for the Bruins. Standings mean nothing when it comes to that team from Quebec. The Bruins will have to continue what they’ve been doing for the last two weeks. They need to convince themselves, their coach, and their fans that yes, they’ve gotten over that midseason lull that happens to all teams with a solid showing against the hated Habs!

Ric Duarte has covered hockey and the Bruins for various media outlets since 1986. You can follow Ric at and on Twitter @bruins_diehard.


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