It’s amazing what a couple of months can do for a team like the Boston Bruins during the marathon NHL regular season.
The Boston Bruins now has a legitimate shot at earning home ice for at least part of the Stanley Cup playoffs with little more than a month to go in the NHL regular season. The streaking B’s can actually hop into a tie for second place with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Atlantic Division with a win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night at TD Garden.
“To where we are now from where we started, we’ve come a long way,” admitted Boston Bruins winger Brad Marchand.
That would have been unthinkable at the Christmas/COVID break for the Black and Gold when they looked inconsistent and out-of-sync while trying to figure out how a number of new parts would fit together. But the Boston Bruins changed the formula coming out of the break by busting up the Perfection Line and placing Taylor Hall and David Pastrnak together on the second line, and things have been humming ever since.
The Boston Bruins are 12-2-1 in their last 15 games and all of a sudden, they are settling into a position like they haven’t been all year long and doing it after adding a stud top pair defenseman in Hampus Lindholm from the Anaheim Ducks.
“It’s a big game. There are a lot of big games this time of year. Obviously, we’re trying to catch Tampa, but there’s still a long way to go in the season and there’s still a lot of time left in the season where things can happen,” said Marchand, who has goals in three straight games for the Black and Gold. “I think we both understand what this game means and how important the points are.
“They’re just a competitive team. They always bring their best. They’re always hard to play against. And we’ve been on top of our game. Every game seems to ramp up a little bit more this time of year. Guys are more focused or they’re more dialed in their system. So, it’ll be a good game. It’ll be a hard game to play, but they’re always the most fun to be part of.”
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) March 24, 2022
All that being said now is no time for the Boston Bruins to take their foot off the gas pedal just as some achievable goals are coming into view. The Eastern Conference is wide open this season after nearly every playoff team added pieces to their roster, and something as simple as home ice advantage in a first round series could make all the difference in the world. Of course, Toronto added defenseman Mark Giordano and Tampa cleared the decks to rebuild their third line with Brandon Hagel and Nick Paul, so assuming that both teams will start spinning their wheels wouldn’t be very wise.
As the top wild card at the start of the day, the Boston Bruins would face the Florida Panthers in the first round after not matching up well against them this season. Hopping over the Lightning would put them in a first-round matchup, yet again, with the Toronto Maple Leafs as exactly the kind of Stanley Cup playoff series that Boston would hold a great deal of confidence headed into.
“It’s a strong division no matter you finish whether you’re first or fourth. We’ve got a tough matchup once you’re in [to the playoffs] and I’d say the same thing about the Metro Division to be honest,” said Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “There aren’t going to be any easy matchups. Our focus is getting in first. If we can leapfrog a few teams along the way, then that’s great.
“We’ve said always our first two goals are making the playoffs and winning the division. Once you get into the playoffs you want to climb up, maybe win the division and get home ice. At the end of the day, how much does it matter in the first round? For me it’s getting your game in order and be playing the best you and [knocks on wood] stay as healthy as you can.”
It won’t be easy on Thursday night as the Boston Bruins will be going without Patrice Bergeron (elbow infection) while inserting another new piece in Lindholm, which necessitated the healthy scratch of Mike Reilly from Boston’s lineup. But the Bruins are rolling offensively on their top three lines, getting stellar goaltending from Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark and they just upgraded their back end in a massive way with arguably the biggest trade of this season’s NHL trade deadline.
Things are clicking for the B’s right now to the point that the hot take is soon going to be whether or not they’re peaking too early with the Stanley Cup playoffs still a solid month away hitting Boston’s doorstep.