One game away from the official midpoint of the 2017-18 regular season (41 games), the Bruins (23-10-7) are currently in second-place in the Atlantic Division with four games in hand over the Maple Leafs (25-16-3) who also own 53 points. Boston is 12 points ahead of Detroit (17-7-7) who is the fourth-place team for now in the Atlantic Division and six points ahead of Pittsburgh (22-19-3) who owns the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. The B’s are riding an 11-game point streak (8-0-3) which is their longest such streak since they went 15-0-1 from March 2-30, 2014. The coaches and players get to catch their breath this week after an insane 6-5 overtime loss to the Penguins on Sunday night in Pittsburgh since their next contest isn’t until Saturday night (7, NESN) in Montreal (18-20-4). In a wacky bit of scheduling, they meet the Canadiens and former B’s head coach Claude Julien three times over the span of just eight days.
After battling through a litany of injuries and issues earlier on during this campaign, the Bruins have come out on the other side and played some wonderful hockey for a long period of time. They are 11-1-3 in their last 15 games and 17-3-3 in their last 23. The numbers prove it (not to mention the all-important eye test) but this is a club that can legitimately make a run in the playoffs when the snow and ice is mercifully gone from New England. They are tied with Columbus (25-16-3) who also has 53 points for third-place in the East but they similarly have played four fewer games than the Blue Jackets. Tampa Bay (30-9-3) is clearly the class of not only the Eastern Conference but the NHL as a whole. However other than the Lightning and the Capitals (26-13-3)-who keep in mind have some serious playoff demons to exorcise-who else is demonstrably better than the Bruins in the East?
So how has Boston turned in this surprisingly great first half? It starts with the right combination of veterans still on top of their games like center Patrice Bergeron (16 goals, 16 assists) who on Monday was named the No. 1 star in the NHL for this past week and goaltender Tuukka Rask (14-8-0, 2.23 goals against average, 2 shutouts) who was the No. 1 star in the league for the entire month of December. Couple that with super talented rookies like forwards Danton Heinen (10 goals, 20 assists) and Jake DeBrusk (9 goals, 12 assists) along with defenseman Charlie McAvoy (5 goals, 16 assists, plus-14) who have stepped into big-time roles almost seamlessly.
Summing up the overtime loss to the Penguins where Boston had trailed by two goals and then rallied to lead by two goals early in the third, head coach Bruce Cassidy remarked that “at the end of the day, we got a point out of it so you look at the positives against a good hockey club, but it looked like we were going to do better than that.” After playing out of their minds for so long, the Bruins were probably due for a loss like that one but don’t let it overshadow the fact that this team should bring plenty of excitement for the rest of the winter and spring.