By any measure, 54 regular season games is more than enough of a sample size to get a fair read on an NHL team. Therefore thus far in the 2017-18 campaign, you have to conclude that the Bruins (34-12-8) are one of the top teams in the NHL. Boston has the second best record in the NHL, tied with Vegas (36-15-4) and three points behind Tampa Bay (38-14-3), but keep in mind that they still have a game in hand on both of those clubs. The Bruins also possess the second best goal-differential in the league (plus-49), trailing only Tampa Bay (plus-53). They have been great at TD Garden (18-7-4) and they have the best road record (16-5-4), so what else do you need to know?
Not just around New England, but most of the hockey world has been caught by surprise with how well the Bruins have performed this season. Many are starting to take notice though as they have been ranked No. 1 in some power rankings and whenever the top clubs are debated about, they are always one of the first teams to be mentioned and for good reason. Head coach Bruce Cassidy’s team (who is an amazing 52-20-9 in his first 81 games in charge of the Black and Gold) has demonstrated its quality when you look at their resiliency. After Anaheim (27-19-11) snapped their 18-game point streak with a 3-1 defeat on January 30, they responded with four straight wins in which they allowed a combined five goals. Saturday’s 4-2 no-show loss to the dreadful Sabres (16-30-10) was stunning but wouldn’t you know it by the way that the Bruins bounced right back the following night with a satisfying 5-3 win in New Jersey (27-20-8).
“We’re getting production up and down the lineup,” noted Cassidy after Sunday night’s victory. “If they shut down our top guys, then someone else contributes and that’s been a hallmark of our group. They like to pick each other up.”
Along with what many regard as the best forward line in hockey: left wing Brad Marchand (21 goals, 32 assists), center Patrice Bergeron (25 goals, 24 assists) and right wing David Pastrnak (21 goals, 30 assists), Boston’s other real notable feature is what could be the best goaltender tandem in the NHL. Starter Tuukka Rask (22-9-4, 2.11 goals against average, .924 save percentage and 2 shutouts) and backup Anton Khudobin’s (12-3-4, 2.32 goals against average, .925 save percentage and 1 shutout) numbers speak for themselves. Unlike most other teams, there is not much of a drop-off between those two players and this allows Cassidy to have the utmost confidence that Khudobin can beat quality teams. He allowed three goals against the Devils but Khudobin was still great as he made 35 saves including Travis Zajac’s penalty shot.
Unlike in past years where the B’s have stressed until the final day of the regular season just about making the playoffs, they should have the luxury this spring of clinching their spot way ahead of time. Rask will be more rested than he normally is by that point in the season which can only be a good thing for a team that legitimately has dreams of another Stanley Cup Final run. Boston hosts former BC star Johnny Gaudreau (18 goals, 48 assists), former Bruin Dougie Hamilton (9 goals, 20 assists) and Calgary (29-19-8) on Tuesday (7, NESN) before heading out on a five-game road trip that will have them out of town until Feb. 25.