By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
Good teams win games they should, and that is just what the Bruins did on Tuesday night in Buffalo against the Sabres, 3-0. Backup goaltender Anton Khudobin reverted to his late November ways and carried his tired looking club for much of the night, on his way to his first shutout in a B’s uniform.
Coupled with an absolute thrashing of the sneaky good Columbus Blue Jackets at the TD Garden by the score of 7-2 on Monday night, the Bruins rebounded from their mini two-game losing streak to show that the momentum that they have built over the last month was not slowed by the speed bump in their schedule.
In both of those losses – 5-3 to the Capitals last Thursday and 3-2 in overtime to the Rangers on Saturday – the Bruins had a chance to take the two points, but didn’t capitalize on the scoring chances that were presented to them. And both goalies – Brandon Holtby (.942 save percentage and 1.90 goals-against average in 15 games vs Boston) for the Caps and Henrik Lundqvist (.936 SP, 1.93 GAA in 41 games) for the Rangers – have a lengthy history of keeping B’s teams at bay over the course of their careers.
And while the Bruins are yet to be among the true contenders to win the Stanley Cup this season, this four-plus week stretch of play has shown that they may just be on their way to becoming one, sooner than anyone outside the organization may have thought.
The roster that general manager Don Sweeney envisioned prior to the start of the season, never really had a chance to play together until recently. The return to health – except for David Krecji, who appears to be day to day, everyday – has greatly added to the B’s depth, and given a chance for the kids to shine in their presence.
A rejuvenated David Backes along with the indispensable Brad Marchand – and to a lesser extent, Ryan Spooner – has allowed youngsters like Danton Heinen, Jake DeBrusk and Charlie McAvoy to thrive in their roles, unlike earlier in the season when they didn’t always have enough veteran leadership on the ice to lean on.
Heinen – who is tied for third on the team in points at 22 with Patrice Bergeron – has been hot as Hades of late, registering two goals and five assists over the last five games. DeBrusk hasn’t been far behind, posting a line of 2-3-5 over the previous five tilts.
And McAvoy – who has had the poise of a veteran since playing for the first-time last April in the NHL during the first-round series six-game loss to the Ottawa Senators last April – registered his first Gordie Howe hat-trick (a goal, a fight, and an assist) in the win on Monday night against Columbus, and continues to look like one of the favorites for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year.
Not so bad for a bunch of kids, eh?
Even those with the highest of hopes would be lying if they said they expected this kind of impact from this many inexperienced players. And while he might not be posting gaudy offensive numbers quite yet, defenseman Matt Grzelcyk’s play on the blue line is going to make it difficult for head coach Bruce Cassidy to decide who sits and who plays once Adam McQuaid returns to the lineup.
However, given the way the team limped through the first couple months of the season health-wise, I’m sure that is a problem that the B’s bench boss is happy to have.
Over the last month, the Bruins have quietly gone from a confusing curiosity, to a potentially budding contender. They have shown the heart to fight through adversity all season, now they are showing that a return to health of key veterans, could turn into considerable growth by the young players who are looked at as the future of the franchise.
With two games remaining before the Christmas break against a good Winnipeg Jets team on Thursday, and a mediocre, at best, Detroit Red Wings on Saturday – both at the Garden – the B’s have an opportunity to add to the momentum they have built up since the middle of November, and make the three days they have off for the holiday, all the more sweeter.
Nevertheless, for Bruins fans who have suffered through the last three seasons adrift, this team has given hockey fans in Boston the best holiday gift they could ask for – hope for the future.