By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
After playing some of their best hockey of the season beginning with the 4-2 Winter Classic win over the Chicago Blackhawks on New Year’s Day at historic Notre Dame Stadium, the Bruins looked as if they were sleepwalking towards the NHL’s bogus bye week with consecutive losses against the Canadiens at home and a horribly flawed Flyers squad in Philadelphia on Monday and Wednesday.
Their 5-2 win against a bad – but, I guess you could say, surging – St. Louis Blues club – who by all accounts will be sellers at the fast-approaching trade deadline at the end of February – on Thursday night may have helped masked the fact that for the first time in memory, head coach Bruce Cassidy’s boys looked like they had tuned out their coach as they were seemingly cruising towards just another of the NHL’s scheduling blunders.
And while visions of warm weather beaches may have been at the forefront of some of those who wear the black and gold spoked-B sweaters somewhat prematurely, the fact remains that as Boston braces for Mother Nature’s first double-barrel middle finger salute this weekend, the team that calls Causeway Street home is far from being in a secure position to still be playing meaningful hockey games when the warm weather finally meanders its way up north (hopefully) this spring.
A quick look at the standings in the Eastern Conference should give even the most ardent Bruins fan a bit of indigestion. Heading into Saturday night’s tilt against the ghost of the New York Rangers at TD Garden – the last time the Bruins will take the ice before many of them head to some tropical paradise – the B’s sit just three points ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second wild-card playoff spot, with the Pens holding two games in hand.
Meanwhile, Cassidy’s crew blew a hard-fought comeback against Claude Julien’s Bleu, Blanc and Rouge by falling asleep in the first 15 seconds of overtime on Monday night, and then proceeded to piss away a 2-0 lead against the team with the worst record in the league at the time – the farcical Philadelphia Flyers – thereby patting three of four possible points on the ass as they slipped right through their seemingly preoccupied fingers.
That is the total opposite of the personality the Bruins have adopted since the man they call Butch took over as the B’s bench boss nearly two years ago.
The fact of the matter is that wins over bottom feeders like the Blues – and even more so, the Flyers – shouldn’t be celebrated, they should be expected. In fact, it would be easy to argue that the Bruins growth spurt last year said as much the competition they played – the Eastern Conference had two elite teams in the Capitals and the Lightning, with a bunch of JAGS and trash mixed in – as it did about the emergence of young talent that gave much of the fan base a false sense of bravado entering this season.
Now given the unexpected growth of the Canadiens – Claude’s crew sometimes even scores three goals a game, like they did when they stole two points from Cassidy’s kids in overtime on Monday night – and the Sabres beginning to seemingly emerge after what feels like two decades of having high draft picks every July, the Bruins are not the slam dunk everyone was sure they would be when it came to reserving a spot in the NHL’s second season this spring.
While the talk amongst Bruins fans who will be freezing their fannies off over the next week and a half while most of the members of their favorite team will be dipping their toes in the warm sand will center around potential trades involving the likes of Carolina’s Michael Ferland or Philly’s Wayne Simmons – I’m a hearty “YES” on either one – what they really should be concerned with is the lack of urgency that seems to have seeped in to Cassidy’s club.
Does this mean I think that the Bruins will totally tank and not make the playoffs? No, it would take a Julien-esque tune out in order for that to happen. However, for those who think that the club that general manager Don Sweeney built is just a shrewd trade away – a feat he has never accomplished, by the way – from giving the Bolts a fright should they meet again this spring, are simply fooling themselves.
Teams who check out early mentally – no matter what part of the season it may be – are teams that earn frequent flier miles in the spring, heading toward hastily scheduled golfing vacations while teams with mental toughness continue to fight for the Stanley Cup.
When the Bruins return from their badly timed break against a tough Winnipeg Jets team at the Garden on Tuesday the 29th, the sprint to the playoffs will begin in earnest. Given the way they have seemingly been easily distracted recently, it isn’t hard to wonder whether they will have the focus to show the kick they will need to be considered a true Cup contender come the second week of April.