By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Senior Staff Writer
With 16 games remaining entering the final full month of regular-season, it would have been hard to have predicted that the Bruins would have been able to position themselves any better than they have with the playoffs just over a month away when training camp began last September.
Holding a six-point advantage over the defending Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues – who hoisted the most prestigious trophy in North American professional sports on their home ice at TD Garden following Game 7 of the Final last June – head coach Bruce Cassidy’s club is currently the favorite to take home the dreaded Presidents’ Trophy next month for the best record in the NHL before the real games begin in the spring.
That, and the false feeling of accomplishment that silly silver keepsake might give some, will get you an early tee time more times than not. Just ask the 2019 Tampa Bay Lighting.
The last team to win it all while garnering the most points in the grind that is the 82-game schedule that takes place between the first weeks of October and April is the 2013 Chicago Blackhawks. And as fate would have it, they also skated Lord Stanley’s coveted challis in the Bruins’ home barn after they coughed up a one-goal lead in the final 1:16 of the 3rd period of Game 6 on Causeway Street.
Since then, only the 2015 New York Rangers have made it to the Conference Final while the other five teams to claim the tainted trophy – including your ’14 Bruins squad – were sent packing in either the first or second round of the playoffs.
Nevertheless, this current group that sports Black and Gold sweaters that last year’s General Manager of the Year Don Sweeney has assembled is as poised as any of the not-so-original 31 teams in the NHL to seek the redemption that they have sought since the sorrowful sight that was the Boston dressing room postgame last June 12th.
While the addition of former Anaheim Ducks forwards Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie might not have knocked any B’s fans over at the trade deadline last week, Sweeney once again added depth to a core group that – even though they were beaten down by the Blues in the Final – likely would be looking at defending a title when the tournament begins in just over a month.
Barring another battle with “black ice” in 40-degree temperatures before the second week of April, David Pastrnak will enter the playoffs as the most lethal sniper in the league playing on the best line in hockey.
Should Kase find even the slightest scoring touch playing alongside countryman David Krejci and across from previous linemate Ritchie – who has the potential to morph into a Milan Lucic type before the league started skating circles around him – Sweeney’s tweaks could result in a true second line before the playoffs begin.
When you factor in Charlie Coyle centering Jake DeBrusk and either Karson Kuhlman or Anders Bjork, the Bruins have the potential to be as deep as any team in the East, especially since the Lightning will be without Steven Stamkos perhaps through the first round due to a “core surgery” that is expected to sideline the superstar for six to eight weeks.
That being said, Cassidy and his staff might be faced with their toughest job all season. They must find a way to keep their team focused, rested and – most importantly – healthy while closing out the schedule that will likely conclude with a handful of games that are just a formality before having to ramp up the intensity again in a hurry.
Given where this club was when he took over from Claude Julien some scant three years ago, I guess there are worse problems the B’s bench boss could have come the spring, eh?