By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
For the second straight season, the Bruins enter the last two weeks of the month of March assured of a spot in the NHL’s second season. With 10 games left in the 2018-19 campaign – and coming off a franchise high consecutive 19-game points streak – the B’s put an end to what seemed like an inevitable bump in the 82-game regular season road – a three-game losing streak that started last Sunday in Pittsburgh against the Penguins – and seemingly righted their slightly listing ship with a 2-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at the TD Garden in overtime on Saturday.
As they did a calendar year ago, the Black and Gold owned hockey’s dog days of winter this season, going 17-3-5 in the months of January and February – they posted a similar line of 17-5-2 the first two months of last year – and they once again find themselves as close to any team can come to being in the mix to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals this June as any team not named the Tampa Bay Lightning.
And for as high as expectations were just a few weeks ago when the team that calls Causeway Street home was crushing the competition – or at least taking them to overtime – this three-game hiccup has caused some anxiety among some who saw them as likely the only team that might give the Lightning a run for their money as the real games begin in just about a month from now.
Entering the last four-week stretch of the regular season as the Bruins full-time bench boss, Bruce Cassidy’s team have some things that cannot be questioned. They are as well-coached, well-prepared, and they are a close-knit group, perhaps as close as they come in professional sports these days.
And they have balls. Big balls. Coupled with the cohesiveness of the unit – which starts from the coaching staff on down – they have shown they have the combination of both in spades the last two seasons, which not many teams in the NHL can claim to have as all the chips get pushed to the middle of the table just a few weeks from now.
What they haven’t had – and still continue to struggle with – is full health. Just as sure as winter will turn to spring this coming Wednesday, so has it been that once a key member of the Bruins recovers from injury, another is stricken by the nasty bug that has bit the B’s in the butt for the last three seasons entering the absolute best championship tournament in professional sports.
Look, other than the Bolts, the biggest thing that stands in the way of the Bruins playing in big games while the wife-beaters and jorts are being liberated from mothballs all around New England – and beyond – is something we all hope for.
Let’s face it, even if the team that general manager Don Sweeney rebuilt on the fly is completely healthy for the upcoming postseason, they are a decided underdog to get past the Lightning (assuming that they make it past a once again disappointing Toronto Maple Leafs team in the first round).
Sweeney’s somewhat underwhelming additions of Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson at the trade deadline – who I still wonder isn’t feeling the effects of a concussion to go along with the lung contusion that he suffered after getting blown up by the Hurricanes’ Michael Ferland on March 5th – have yet to make a real impact on the roster due to the injuries to top-scorer David Pastrnak, and the recently returned Jake DeBrusk.
Yet, for as much as their inability down the stretch is a hindrance to Cassidy and his staff as far as establishing what his top two lines – if not, three – will look like when the money’s on the table in a month, their availability gives the guy who should be up for his second consecutive coach of the year honors in as many years, options he has never had behind the Bruins bench entering his third playoff run with the Original Six club.
First and foremost on the minds of fans of the Black and Gold shouldn’t be line combinations, secondary scoring, or pretty much anything else – it should be seeing their team put getting to full health before the fur flies for real in mid-April.
This Bruins team is a very good hockey club – when healthy. And like the rest of us, if they aren’t at full strength, their chances of reaching the heights they just might be capable of climbing to will be greatly reduced.
Given the way Cassidy’s club has fought through adversity for a second straight season, to be held back by injuries when the fun is just about to begin yet again, would be an injustice that they just don’t deserve.