For most of the season, the belief has been that the Boston Bruins were a solid, but flawed, hockey team that probably wasn’t going to push very far in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
With familiar faces like Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask no longer in the fold, it was difficult to imagine this group of Boston Bruins going on a two-month Stanley Cup drive even still counting Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy among others on the current Black and Gold group.
But at times this Boston Bruins team, even with some very clear weak spots, has given even the most ardent naysayers reasons for pause, and their just-concluded road trip might have been the biggest clapback of them all. The Boston Bruins took 10-of-12 points on their longest road trip of the season punctuated by a 4-3 shootout win over the Columbus Blue Jackets and moved to within two points of the Maple Leafs in the Atlantic Division.
The win over the Blue Jackets wasn’t easy and included the B’s giving up a tying goal in the final seconds of regulation, but it was also an impressive character check for a team that could have easily shrugged it off after spending two weeks on the road.
“We were super happy with the trip obviously,” said Boston Bruins rookie netminder Jeremy Swayman, who is now 15-7-3 and ranks second (2.03) and fourth (.927) in the NHL in the two biggest goaltending statistical categories. “I think there was a lot of growth with each game coming from behind at times and also maintaining leads. It was super fun to be a part of. A great bonding trip, feel like we got to hang out a lot away from the ice. All around, a really fun trip to be a part of.”
The Boston Bruins continue to enjoy varied scoring up and down their lineup, Jeremy Swayman has been brilliant since Rask announced his retirement and they are racking up quality wins against good teams like Colorado, the LA Kings and the Golden Knights. The latest was Craig Smith dropping a hat trick on the Golden Knights after struggling most of the year and Erik Haula stepping up the offensive production (three goals and nine points in 13 games since the NHL All-Star break) while centering the second line.
Even Jake DeBrusk has become a key contributing member of the Black and Gold all the while hoping for a fresh NHL start somewhere else. To say the Boston Bruins are perhaps changing some minds about their short-term potential for this season, that would be wholly accurate.
“At the end of the day, I think with a lot of newness in our team, not a lot of road trips, this is one we needed as a group. And then when you’re winning, everyone’s feeling good about themselves when you’re together,” said Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “All those things put together, I think yes, it can really bring a team together. I guess we’ll see down the stretch whether it’s something we look back on as something where we say, ‘Hey, that was the point of the year where we really came together as a team and built our identity and ability to win and play winning hockey at the right time.'”
As Cassidy reference, the Boston Bruins are clearly hitting their stride in early March and that puts them in an interesting spot with the NHL trade deadline a couple of weeks away.
Do the Boston Bruins simply reconcile that they’ll likely walk away from DeBrusk and his $4 million qualifying offer in the offseason for nothing, and hold onto to the speedy, skilled winger down the stretch as he’s once again living up to his potential in the B’s lineup?
Have the Boston Bruins decided that they can pause their search for a David Krejci replacement in the short term given the underrated, very effective way that Haula has played center between Taylor Hall and David Pastrnak?
Do the Bruins recognize that the left side of their defense is in major need of an upgrade and counts as the single biggest roster need entering the stretch run for the NHL trade deadline?
These are all legitimate questions as the Bruins confidence rises in some of their new faces, and their ability to get the job done for a hockey club that’s gone an impressive 20-8-2 in 30 games since coming back from the holiday/COVID break back in December.
“I’d like to think our guys would get some confidence, different guys stepped up on this trip,” said Cassidy. “We had a great game from the Coyle line in Vegas. [Against Columbus], Craig Smith gets another one, [Nick] Foligno makes a play, moves up a line. The power play had struggled and gets us a late goal.
“There’s different things I think contributed. [Connor Clifton] makes a nice play to Smitty. A lot of guys can feel good about themselves and that’s what you want from your group is to feel they can win every night.”
Clearly the Boston Bruins have put themselves in a spot where the B’s front office should feel compelled to augment the NHL roster at the NHL trade deadline whether it’s Jakob Chychrun, Ben Chiarot or somebody else on the back and. But the current group of Boston Bruins are letting everybody know with their play that their story hasn’t been fully written as of yet for this season, and maybe there are a few surprises in store based on what we’ve seen from the Black and Gold at their very best this year.