By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — This is getting a bit ridiculous.
The Boston Bruins lost Patrice Bergeron to a broken foot, Charlie McAvoy to a sprained MCL, Tuukka Rask to an undisclosed minor injury, and David Backes to a three-game suspension. Yet they haven’t so much as hit a speed bump.
The most recent offering came Thursday night, on home ice for the fifth straight game, against a Flyers team that is holding tight to the final playoff spot in the Metro. There was chippiness, there were timely saves, and for the third consecutive game, there was Brad Marchand.
Marchand’s effort level is always at the maximum, but it appeared evident he was managing to find a way togive a little something extra with his team shorthanded. Sporting the “A” on his chest for this contest, his tenacity and creativity in the offensive zone led to the Bruins’ first goal of the night in the first period. And when he was in perfect position to put home a loose puck in the crease with 22 seconds left in regulation, it was no coincidence. Fortune seems to favor the hard-working.
“He seems like he’s on a bit of a mission with Bergy out, that he wants to pick the team up in the offensive part of it,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said. “He got frustrated tonight with a couple calls, that one went against him and one didn’t. He thought he was held on [Philadelphia’s] shorty. But at the end of the day, he just kept plugging away, refocused, and he does a good job for us.”
With the win, the Bruins are now 5-0-0 since losing Bergeron, who by most measures is their best and most important player. They’ve managed to keep pace with the first-place Lightning, who have a six-point lead in the Atlantic. The Bruins still have three games in hand, and they’re now seven points ahead of third-place Toronto. Nobody saw that coming after the Leafs beat the Bruins in Toronto two weekends ago, but the Bruins have since gone 5-1-0.
Put it all together and it’s quite the run. It’s one that has Boston buzzing, and it’s one that has risen expectations considerably.
It’s taken a team effort, but seemingly nobody’s stepped up more than Marchand, who has seven goals and five assists in his last seven games. He scored overtime game-winners against Montreal and Detroit, and he buried the game-winner late in regulation against Philly.
“He’s got the nose to the net,” Rask said. “That overtime goal last game was pretty much just all him. Individual effort. When you’re hot, you’re hot, that’s what we say. We seem to find those loose pucks. But definitely he’s a battler, he never quits on a play so it’s good that he gets rewarded for sure.”
Heading into the year, those expectations were moderate. Coming off a first-round playoff exit, which came on the heels of two straight years of missing the playoffs, the plan for the youth-infused Bruins would figure to focus on getting to the postseason and maybe winning a round. Not so much anymore. The team’s best players — Bergeron, Marchand, Rask, Zdeno Chara — have played their best. McAvoy has been a revelation. David Pastrnak, Jake DeBrusk, Riley Nash, Danton Heinen, Tim Schaller, Noel Acciari and Sean Kuraly have all contributed the right amount. Veterans David Krejci and David Backes have maybe not been All-Stars, but they haven’t been bad by any means. Defensively, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Brandon Carlo and Matt Grzelcyk have largely held their own. Acquisitions like Rick Nash, Nick Holden, Tommy Wingels, and Brian Gionta have fit in quickly. Anton Khudobin has given the Bruins more than they could have expected out of a backup goalie.
Not much has gone wrong for the Bruins all year long.
They’ve also shown a knack for coming through late in games. They’ve won four straight overtime games, they’re 9-1-0 in their last 10 one-goal games, and with three game-winners in a week, Marchand has become The Closer. He’s now at 29 goals, which ranks tied for 15th in the NHL, and has him on the cusp of 30 goals for the third consecutive season. (He scored 37 two years ago and 39 last year.)
No, the level of completion on the whole since losing Bergeron has not been elite. But the first-place Penguins did visit Boston, and they were beaten as well as beaten up in an 8-4 barn burner. The Flyers are a playoff team, but lost. The Hurricanes are scratching to stay alive as a wild-card contender, but lost. The Canadiens always bring a little something extra when they play the Bruins, but they lost too. Opponents’ records aside, it’s been an impressive showing for the Bruins, who are now 42-15-8. Only two teams have more points in the standings than the Bruins, but no team has played fewer games.
The regular season being what it is, everybody understand that the postseason is a different animal. It is a relentless grind, and it’s something that can’t be replicated. If you haven’t been in it, then you haven’t been in it. So it’s still possible that the postseason run in Boston doesn’t extend through late May or beyond. Perhaps.
But the more often they win like they did on Thursday, and Tuesday, and Saturday, and the Thursday before that … the more believers they recruit.
That future remains unknown at this point in time. For now, coming off yet another captivating victory on home ice, it’s fair to say this Bruins season has been more fun than anyone could have expected.