The Boston Bruins currently sit at the top of the NHL standings at 37-11-12 and currently lead the Atlantic Division by three points over the resurgent Tampa Bay Lightning. They have seemingly hit their stride, going 8-1-0 since the All-Star break. While both the Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs had rough starts to the season, they have climbed their way back into second and third place in the Atlantic Division, respectively. This fact alone suggests the Bruins are hitting their stride at the perfect time.
Winning the division has become a very important task for teams due to the current playoff format; especially so in the Atlantic Division where the Maple Leafs, Lightning and Bruins have all been good for multiple years. The importance is due to the fact the second and third-place teams of each division play each other in the first round of the playoffs. To clarify, if the playoffs began today, the Bruins would play the eighth seed in the playoffs, the Philadelphia Flyers. The Lightning and Maple Leafs would play each other in a tough first-round matchup.
Much-Needed All-Star Break
Heading into the All-Star break, the Bruins had won just 5 of their last 10 games and seemed to be tired and faltering. During that stretch, the B’s lost two games to the Columbus Blue Jackets and also had losses to the Edmonton Oilers, Flyers, and Pittsburgh Penguins.
Coming back after the break, the Bruins seemed re-energized and refocused which led many to believe it was the break that turned them around. Before the break, Charlie McAvoy was still without a goal and struggling offensively. The club also lost to inferior teams like the Blue Jackets, Flyers, and New Jersey Devils, and, while this happens often in hockey, it is still important to beat these teams in a playoff race.
The Bruins also struggled in games played by Jaroslav Halak, who did not play all that well before the All-Star break. In the final 10 games before the break, Halak appeared in seven, winning just three while losing three. He allowed 22 goals leading to a 3.15 goals-against-average (GAA) and an .886 save percentage (SV%). Those are not normal numbers for Halak who has been a huge strength for the B’s the past two seasons as Tuukka Rask’s backup.
Current Win Streak
Since then, the Bruins have been red-hot after winning seven games in a row coming out of the break and 9 of their last 10. Halak has also improved, going 3-0 since the break with a 1.00 GAA and a .959 SV%.
Another key element for the Bruins has been McAvoy, who, since the break, has really started to get involved offensively. He’s added three goals and four assists for and seems to be regaining his confidence out on the ice. This has been and will continue to be a huge boost for Boston going forward; if this continues they will not be as reliant on other veterans to produce so frequently and can even play a different game getting the puck to the point for shots more often.
The Home Stretch
What this means for the Bruins is that they’re getting hot at the perfect time. This is the heart of the division race and the race for the playoffs, and, with a team like the Lightning right on their tails, they need to play their best hockey.
It’s clear what the Atlantic Division and the top seed in the Eastern Conference mean to this team following a loss in the Stanley Cup Final last season. That, on top of having an aging core that may not have many more chances at bringing home the Cup.
The Bruins will look to continue their success against five straight Western Conference opponents including the Oilers, Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks and Dallas Stars. Other notable matchups include the division rival Lightning on March 3 and 7. They also have two remaining games against last season’s Eastern Conference Final opponent, the Carolina Hurricanes on March 31 and April 4 and one more matchup against the Maple Leafs on March 14.