By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — The West is no doubt the far superior conference this year in the NHL, but there’s a Black and Gold team from the East that’s making its case as the league’s best team.

That campaign for the Bruins continued on Monday night, St. Patrick’s Day, against the visiting Minnesota Wild, a team trying to keep its footing  in the Western Conference wild card race. It was a tall task for Minnesota, as it seems these days that no matter who lines up to face the Bruins, whether it be a first-place team or one desperately fighting for a playoff spot, the end result is the same.

On Monday, it was a 4-1 Bruins victory, the team’s ninth straight. It’s a stretch where little has gone wrong for the Bruins, as they’ve climbed to the top of the Eastern Conference and built a five-point lead over the second-place Pittsburgh Penguins.

“It feels good, but we’re really trying to stay focused on our game and what we’re trying to improve on,” said Jarome Iginla, who scored two goals in his 1,300th career game. “There’s some things we go over that we do need to improve on. I thought we were pretty solid tonight. Minnesota is a good club and they came out very strong. I thought it was a fun game to be a part of, I thought we pushed back psychically, and I thought it was a good hockey game. [Tuukka Rask] was great in net, but I thought physically, it was one of the more physical ones we’ve had lately and it felt good to be a part of it. Feels good to win it.”

The Bruins being able to fire on all cylinders is hardly an unprecedented occurrence, as it was just less than a year ago when a somewhat unlikely run to the Stanley Cup Final took place. Yet this year, the Bruins are getting a bit of a jump start on their postseason form.

“I think our team is playing really good hockey right now, we’re coming together, and our goalies are playing phenomenal too,” said Reilly Smith, who snapped his personal 15-game scoring drought with the B’s third goal. “It’s good to see our whole team going and I think we’re playing really good hockey right now. The biggest thing is to keep the momentum going.”

Rask, building his case for Vezina every time he takes the ice, was stellar yet again, stopping 33 of 34 shots. That included a point-blank robbery of countryman Mikko Koivu in the second period to maintain a 2-0 Boston lead.

“He was very good,” Koivu said of Rask. “We knew that going into the game, and he was as good as people say he is.”

Rask helped cover up some of the defensive breakdowns, as Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski each had their momentary lapses in the defensive end. And luck also was on the Bruins’ side, as Iginla’s second-period goal deflected off Jonas Brodin and eephused its way through Darcy Kuemper’s five-hole. But as the old saying goes, when you work hard in this game, you tend to create your own luck.

“It was a pretty lucky goal,” said Iginla, who added an empty-netter in the third for his 555th NHL goal. “The goalie didn’t pick it up at all. It was a very fluky, fortunate bounce goal. But I’ll definitely take them.”

Loui Eriksson doubled the Bruins’ lead after burying a sweet feed from Carl Soderberg later in the period, and after Smith scored on the rebound of a Patrice Bergeron shot 7:50 into the third period, the nail was in the coffin. Another opponent dispatched, and another victory for Boston.

Of course, the NHL doesn’t hand out trophies for being The Best Team In March, so when the playoffs do roll around in mid-April, a nine-game winning streak won’t earn the Bruins any byes. Certainly, no first-round opponent will bow down to Boston out of respect for such a streak.

Nevertheless, the Bruins are showing their full potential, proving that on any night, they can beat any team in the league. They won’t get the opportunity to truly prove they’re the best until the playoffs begin, but there’s not much else they could be doing right now to let the rest of the league know that they’re ready.

Read more from Michael Hurley by clicking here, or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.


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