When the Boston Bruins left for their annual California swing last weekend, their spirits were as high as the Golden State sun.
Coming off a 3-1 victory against the New York Islanders, the Black and Gold were on a seven-game unbeaten run in regulation (5-0-2). They had their sights set on not just the playoffs but also an Atlantic Division crown. Boston looked to be catching fire at the right time.
They knew the “California swing” wouldn’t be easy. The top-three in the Pacific Division in San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles combined to outscore the B’s 20-8 during their three earlier meetings at TD Garden this season. The Bruins had won just one of their last six games in the Golden State dating back to January of 2014.
Sigh. They fought hard. Was hoping for at least a point. Tough road trip. Bruins gotta go all in from here on out
— 🏒CharaChick33🏒 (@CindyLemoine) March 20, 2016
Well, make it one in their last nine in CA. Boston’s 2-1 loss at Staples Center Saturday night concluded a winless tour of California for the second consecutive season. The Bruins, who have scored the third most goals in the League, were restricted to just three in 180 minutes of action while allowing nine. Not exactly a recipe for success.
Where’s The Goals?
Brad Marchand has been the talk of the NHL all season. Everyone’s favorite pest had taken the next step in his career, scoring 34 goals and making a serious challenge at being the first 40-goal scorer in the Claude Julien era and the first in Boston for over a decade.
For he and linemate Patrice Bergeron, this California swing was filled with donuts…and not the good kind. They combined for zero points in three games and were collectively a minus-2. Add in Lee Stempniak’s goose egg and it was an abnormally quiet trip for a line that gelled so well in their previous seven games.
As for the players who did score, Loui Eriksson and David Krejci did their part to carry the Bruins offense in San Jose but went silent the rest of the way. The only other goal scorer on the entire trip?
Tyler Randell, who only saw seven minutes of ice time on Saturday night, made the most of it with a second-period goal. However, he was the worst Bruin on the ice that night in terms of Corsi-For percentage. If you understand coach Julien’s methodology, it’s not a shock that he only saw seven minutes of ice time.
With nine games left in the season, the Bruins should be in playoff mode already. A tough back-to-back in New York followed by a home game against Florida may be their last chance to stake a claim in the Atlantic Division race. Three points back of the Panthers with both they and Tampa Bay having a game in hand on the Black and Gold is a slippery slope to climb this late in the season.
Boston’s gap between them and the playoff bubble is six points. Philadelphia has three games in hand on the Bruins to, theoretically, make that gap up. Detroit is three points back of the Bs but with a game in hand of their own. Nothing is assured with matchups still remaining against St. Louis, Chicago and Detroit in April.
Furthermore, this California trip has displayed the growing gulf between Boston and the Western Conference. The Bruins may have ” a snowball’s chance” (thanks Jack Edwards) to emerge from the East but can’t hold a candle to their Western counterparts. It’s a pretty frightening gap that came to light over the course of the last few games.
Starting on Wednesday night, it’s a sprint to the finish line. The Bruins have nine games to scratch and claw their way into a party they weren’t a part of last season.
How will Julien’s squad respond in the face of growing adversity?
Joe is a writer covering the Boston Bruins. He is a lifelong native of Massachusetts and is currently a content writer/manager for a newsletter at a Human Services Agency. Joe can be found on Twitter: @JoeCherryTHW