By Mike Miccoli, Boston Bruins correspondent
The Boston Bruins have been playing good hockey.
Winners of six straight on the road, the B’s added a seventh to their streak after a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night at TD Garden. After a shift of pure hustle, Milan Lucic sailed a rebound past Tampa goalie Mike Smith from the corner. The B’s winning streak, their longest since ten straight victories in December 2008, has earned them sole possession of the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference, three points away from the top spot, currently occupied by the Philadelphia Flyers. While some have criticized the Bruins past wins coming against weaker teams (New York Islanders, Edmonton Oilers and two against Ottawa Senators), Thursday’s hard-fought win over the Lightning proved that this is a Bruins team built with a large enough depth chart to outlast some of the best teams in the NHL. Come playoffs, that’s what will matter the most.
It had to be done. Although Charlie Sheen may be stealing headlines across every channel in America, the Bruins are doing just what Sheen is praising: winning. Fans of the black and gold haven’t seen a streak like this in some time now and the string of victories are getting the attention of other teams around the rinks too.
Boston has crept into the ‘Stanley Cup contender’ conversation once again. During their seven-game winning streak, the Bruins have outscored their opponents, 22-10, with both Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas sharing the workload and picking up four and three wins, respectively. The B’s last winning streak of this length came on December 12, 2008 and lasted for 10 straight games until January 1, 2009.
“We want to get together and focus on a game plan every night,” said Brad Marchand after Thursday’s game. Marchand, who had four shots and spent 14:16 on ice Thursday is another Bruin garnering attention during his rookie year.
“That is what we have been able to do. I think that is why we are winning. We set a game plan in place, we try to keep it simple in our own end. So far it has worked. We just have to keep it going”
“You don’t want to get overconfident with your comments, but I like the attitude right now,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien during his post-game press conference. “We have a group of guys that seem to be very business-like people who want to accomplish things. They don’t want to jump to the conclusions, but they want to go through the grind of wanting to do it and they’re willing to do it on a nightly basis right now.”
More tests are still approaching on the horizon for the Bruins–their next two games come against the Pittsburgh Penguins and division rivals, the Canadiens, in Montreal.
Perhaps, it was Tim Thomas, Thursday’s winning goaltender who stopped 27 shots, who said it best:
“If I had to play against our team, I’d be intimidated,” Thomas said. “We don’t go out there looking for anything. We go out there just to play our game. But sometimes, the game goes that way and we can be real physical. We did a good job.”
B’s top line regaining elite form
Towards the beginning of the season, it was the line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton that seemed to be getting all of the attention. After hitting a speed bump in the season, it seems as though the B’s pivotal line for creating offensive chances has regained their form.
In the last seven games, the line has combined for 26 points (Lucic with 5 goals, 4 assists equaling 9 points; Krejci with 1 goal,8 assists equaling 9 points; Horton with 4 goals, 3 assists equaling 7 points) and has consistently been a decided factor in each of them. During the B’s winning streak, the line was responsible for three of the game winning goals–Horton on Monday night against the Senators and Lucic on Thursday night and last Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks.
Both Lucic and Krejci now sit in the top ten in goals and assists in the NHL. Lucic is tied for 9th in goals scored with 28, while Krejci is 10th best in the league with 39 assists. Coming down the stretch, these are the big two playmakers the B’s will call on during tougher scenarios.
Welcome to Boston
It seems hard to believe that Tomas Kaberle, Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley all made their debuts on home ice after being with the Bruins for more than two weeks. With the six game road trip in the rear view, Thursday’s game against the Lightning marked the first time for Boston fans to see the newly acquired B’s at the TD Garden. Both Kelly and Peverley registered an assist on Steve Kampfer goal, while Kaberle made his presence felt during a scoring chance midway in the third period when he fired a shot that dinged the post.
“First couple of games, you don’t know where exactly you will be fitting in,” said Peverley after Thursday’s game. “I am really liking my role right now. Playing with some good players. This whole team, there is a lot of depth so it has been fun to play on.”
Since joining the B’s, Kelly has two assists, while Peverley has a goal and an assist. Kaberle has been held to only one point but has been the difference maker when out on the ice. The three have yet to lose a game while wearing a B’s uniform.
“Obviously it is pretty great,” said Peverley when asked how it felt to skate at the Garden for the first time. “Great atmosphere. It is one of the best in the league. Just to be here and be a part of it is a lot of fun.”
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