By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
Following their drubbing of a punchless Panthers team in Sunrise Florida on Saturday night, the Bruins punched their ticket to the NHL playoffs with their second consecutive 100-plus point season under head coach Bruce Cassidy.
The road win featured the 200th goal from the newly resigned B’s captain Zdeno Chara, who is now guaranteed to celebrate his 43rd birthday in black and gold, and all but wrapped up home-ice advantage in the first round of hockey’s second season for the second straight year against the much-hyped Maple Leafs, who trail Cassidy’s club by seven points with seven games left to play in the regular season for the Atlantic Division rivals.
And while just a year ago, the team that general manager Don Sweeney had seemingly rebuilt on the fly was more of an unexpected bonus for Bruins fans who were expecting very little from the franchise that was a fugly 6-7-4 on November 15th in 2017, and looked like an organizational emema might just be the best route to righting the heavily listing ship that Sweeney inherited from his predecessor Peter Chiarelli.
Given the circumstances surrounding that squad – much like this past campaign, the injury bug had its nefarious fangs sunk deep into the Bruins collective flesh – it was easy to look at them as lovable underdogs who rose from an afterthought to a top team in the league, if only to be exposed as the one hit wonder – aka, the best line in hockey with Patrice Bergeron centering Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak – they were, in their second-round beatdown at the exceptionally skilled Tampa Bay Lightning last spring.
A little over 12 months removed from being a team whose scoring depth – or lack thereof – kept them from true contention to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals last June, Cassidy’s kids find themselves in a similar – albeit, much less unexpected – position as the leaves return to the barren trees across New England this April.
The bottom line is, the Bruins are no longer a team building towards the future – as they have been for the last handful of years – they are a franchise who should be focusing on the here and now, and that means higher expectations as the best championship tournament in professional sports begins in just a few weeks.
Other than the Lightning – who the B’s can only possibly face in the second round of the playoffs due to the NHL’s backward-ass approach to the postseason seedings – there is no team in the league that should be considered a considerable favorite against the team that Sweeney has cobbled together and Cassidy has coxed the most out of.
Despite those who have a pathological hatred of Tuukka Rask – truth be told, I’m a bit lukewarm myself – the B’s 30-year-old netminder has been nuggets since once again starting the season looking soft, and I’m not sure he has had a better defensive group in front of him since the Black and Gold lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 6 of the SCF at TD Garden in 2014.
A renewed David Krejci has been a bit of a revelation this season, and coupled with a surging Jake DeBrusk – who has found his scoring touch at just the right time in his sophomore season – could be the compliment that keeps teams from just keying on the Bergeron line on a nightly basis.
Whether or not the deadline moves – Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson – will mean that Cassidy can roll out three lines who represent an offensive threat on any given shift, will likely revolve around Johansson’s ability to rebound from a bruised lung (I’m still not convinced that he didn’t suffer a concussion, as well), when Carolina’s Michael Ferland sent him into next week on a shoulder to shoulder hit on March 5th at a game in his 4th game as a Bruin.
Marcus Johansson gets lit up by Micheal Ferland & is injured pic.twitter.com/FhmVh6sgXK
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) March 6, 2019
Nevertheless, it is time to look at this Bruins team for who they are – tied for the second-best record in the NHL entering the last week of March. They are – and have earned the right to be looked upon as – a top contender for the Stanley Cup this spring.
And for as likable this team has been for the past two years – and that starts with their head coach, in my opinion – they should be held to the standard they have set for themselves over the past 24 months. Nothing less than representing the East in the Stanley Cup Finals should be the way this team’s success is measured this season, even if that means having to beat the best team on paper – the Bolts – in order to do so.
After all, nothing worth achieving is ever easy. Cassidy’s team over the last two years has rarely had anything come easy for them. Which is why a run to the Stanley Cup Finals should be the only acceptable result of another outstanding season.