The Boston Bruins are on a roll. They have started their west coast road trip with two wins against the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings.
Though these two teams weren’t Boston’s most formidable opponents of the season, they were hard fought and overall impressive victories nonetheless. The B’s will face the San Jose Sharks on Monday and the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday before grabbing a connecting flight in St. Louis on Saturday to take on the Blues.
It’s difficult to emphasize just how important this road trip is for the Bruins. It’s defining, it breeds confidence and it provides an overall assessment of where this team is at – and that’s before taking a glimpse at the standings. They leapfrogged the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night. While the boys in blue have a game in hand, the Bruins are now second in the Atlantic Division. Better yet, they have distanced themselves from the Montreal Canadiens who are now holding on to a wild card position.
Red Hot Bruins
Extending our range of analysis to their three-game homestand last week, the Bruins are on a five-game winning streak. As a team with eight overtime losses this season, they overcame the odds and nabbed overtime wins against the Kings and Colorado Avalanche at TD Garden. They then defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 6-3 in their Winter Classic rematch before heading out west.
Broadening the scope even wider, the Bruins are 7-0-1 in the month of February. The shootout loss to the New York Rangers was ugly – the B’s had a 3-1 lead heading into the third and simply collapsed. However, they have responded well. They’ve outscored opponents 27-15 this month with two shutouts, one by each goaltender.
Speaking of the netminders, they’ve been superb as of late. Tuukka Rask is 5-0-1 since returning from the concussion he suffered prior to the All-Star break. Since the Winter Classic, he is 10-0-2 with a .933 save percentage (SV%) in that span. Meanwhile, Jaroslav Halak is returning to his early-season form. After a rough start to 2019, the backup netminder has gone 2-0-1 in his last three games with a .963 SV% and a shutout.
Despite losing their leading scorer in David Pastrnak, Boston hasn’t missed a beat. Many players have stepped up, including Brad Marchand, who has five points in Pastrnak’s absence, and Jake DeBrusk, who has six during that span. Danton Heinen, who has taken over duties on the first line alongside Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, has also raised the bar (though it’s hard not to when playing alongside two elite forwards).
The defense has also been good. Boston’s blue line has been spotty with the sudden late-game collapses as of late, but they’ve come into their own during the recent win streak. Brandon Carlo has once again displayed his shutdown capabilities on this road trip and is looking as though he will be able to fill Zdeno Chara’s skates in that capacity when he takes off his jersey for good.
Charlie McAvoy has also stepped up on the back end and is remastering his offensive play with two goals and two assists in his last five games. This is in addition to Torey Krug, who has five assists in five games, and Kevan Miller, who is playing the role of the physical crease-clearer, something he has been all season. Matt Grzelcyk and John Moore have also pitched in when needed, giving the Bruins a very versatile depth chart on defense.
The bottom-six has also been coming up big. The Chris Wagner, Noel Acciari and Sean Kuraly line has stepped up big time. The chemistry is most certainly there, and shift after shift they seem to out-skate and out-hit their opponent – so much so that Bruce Cassidy has bumped them up to the third line. There’s also the revolving door of youngsters on the fourth line, often skating with either Joakim Nordstrom or David Backes – all of whom have contributed when called upon.
It’s been a team effort – far from the one-line team we saw earlier in the season.
Bruins Must Finish Strong
While they can feel good about their success thus far, the Bruins need to keep winning. Closing out this road trip on a high note is a must, and there’s no better way than winning out. This will be a tough task, however: a more realistic outcome might be three or four points in these next three games.
The Sharks will be a tough customer: they’re tied for first in the Western Conference with 77 points and have gone 7-1-0 in their last eight games. Meanwhile, the Golden Knights are 3-7-0 in their last 10 games. It should be noted that two of Vegas’ recent wins came against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning, making them a team you can’t easily skate by.
But it’s the Blues who will likely be Boston’s toughest foe. They currently find themselves on a nine-game winning streak and have gone 15-4-1 since the New Year. They have a lethal top line, and though they’ve propelled themselves into a playoff spot, they are hungry for more. The Blues are still more than a handful of points behind the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets and have the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild breathing down their necks.
All of this adds up to one thing: the Bruins need to find that extra gear, that extra drive to push through. Their next three opponents are either at the top of their games or fighting desperately for playoff spots, if not both. Boston has had a successful road trip thus far, but failing to have that same success on the back end won’t bode well for the rest of their season.