Following an exciting 3-2 overtime win over the New York Rangers, the Boston Bruins continue to play incredible hockey and seem to be in just about every game. They continue to win important ones despite losing their top center Patrice Bergeron and have put themselves in the conversation for the best team in the NHL.
For years, American Thanksgiving has been a good time to reflect on whether NHL teams have a shot at the playoffs and their potential moving forward. Now that we have passed this clear marking point in the season it is time to assess the Bruins’ season so far and the possibilities they face.
Bruins’ Season Lookback
The Bruins came out of the gate red hot, winning five of their first seven games, and continued their winning ways in beating tough teams such as the Vegas Golden Knights, Rangers, and St. Louis Blues early in the season.
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Despite injuries to David Krejci, Jake Debrusk, and Bergeron holding them out multiple games on different occasions, the Bruins found ways to salvage points even in losses. Their one real hiccup, a four-game losing streak from Nov. 5-12 showed truly how tough it is to beat the Bruins as they lost by just one goal in each game, two of which were in the shootout.
Following the losing streak, the Bruins have gone 6-0-1, with their only loss coming at the hands of the Washington Capitals, again in a shootout. They currently sit at 18-3-5 overall, and lead the entire NHL with 41 points.
The Bruins’ success this season is due to multiple factors – their deep roster and role players along with solid goaltending come to mind. But without the emergence of the duo of David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, it seems that this season would be quite different.
While both players have played solid hockey in the past, it seems that they have taken it to another level this season. Pastrnak is the current NHL leader in goals with 24 and Marchand is not far behind with 18. The duo is in the top five in the entire league in both goals and points and has dominated opponents so far this season, even without their normal center in Bergeron at various times. Their success has led them to a league-leading 32% success rate on the power play, making it almost impossible to beat the Bruins without staying out of the penalty box.
Eastern Conference Competition
Heading into the season, the Bruins path back to the Stanley Cup Final seemed somewhat clear. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning would be their main competition and most likely matchups in the first and second rounds. However, that does not seem like it will be the case at this point, as both teams have struggled. The Maple Leafs have just 28 points and have recently fired their head coach, Mike Babcock, while the Lightning sit even further below at 26 points.
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In their division, it is anyone’s guess who the Bruins will have to play in order to get to the Eastern Conference Final. Teams like the Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers sit beneath them in the standings but do not have a lot of experience down the stretch.
It seems like the Bruins’ real competition will come out of the Metropolitan Division in the Capitals. Currently leading the division with 39 points and a 17-4-5 record, the Capitals are once again a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference and a thorn in the Bruins’ side. The lack of success against the Capitals for the Bruins is something that has plagued them over multiple seasons and did not end when the two teams met earlier in the year. After a competitive back and forth game the Capitals were able to steal one on the road in the shootout, continuing their torment over the Bruins.
With the gravity of the situation for both the Maple Leafs and Lightning escalating, the Bruins and Capitals could be on a collision course to meet in the Conference Final. Their next matchup in Washington on Dec. 11 will be another key test, and one that could be a preview of things to come.
The Bruins’ Road Ahead
Post-Thanksgiving and into the stretch-run the Bruins will have to continue to play consistent hockey against tough teams. While their first line has exploded offensively, secondary scoring has been something the team has struggled with and will need to continue to improve on. Reliance on their first line and power play is something that got the Bruins in trouble last postseason and it would be best to buck this trend.
Matchups for the Bruins moving forward include two dates with the Capitals on Dec. 11 and 23 – these games will be crucial in the Bruins quest for the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. Other top opponents include one more matchup with the Maple Leafs and three with the talented Lightning, as they look to turn their seasons around.
The Bruins also face multiple tough Western Conference opponents in the latter part of the season including the conference-leading Blues, the Vegas Golden Knights, and the Colorado Avalanche. These will all be key meetings on the Bruins’ path that they hope leads them to their first Stanley Cup championship since 2011.