By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Senior Staff Writer
By whatever metric you would like to measure this Bruins team by, it is clear to see that they are among the best – if not the best – of the handful of Stanley Cup contenders as the NHL playoffs are set to begin in a little over a month.
Boasting a league-best 98 points through 68 regular-season games – which accounts for a virtual insurmountable lead over the defending Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues and the Steven Stamkos-less Tampa Bay Lighting, who both have 90 points with one less game played – head coach Bruce Cassidy’s club could call up the entire AHL roster and still secure home-ice advantage for as long as their second season run lasts this spring.
With the best line in hockey at his disposal, the best defensive club in the game, and the best goaltending duo for the second year straight, what possibly could the reigning NHL Coach of the Year have to fear?
All that and more.
The current sexiest pick to hoist Lord Stanley’s coveted challis this June may be in what most would assume to be a most enviable position. However, anyone who has watched the greatest game on the on the planet for any length of time knows that the regular season means about as much as what most college graduates chose as their major when it comes to their actual career path.
Close to nothing.
The sobering truth is that despite leading the league in plus/minus (+53), least goals allowed (169), ranking in the top three in both powerplay and penalty kill percentage and having a Vezina Trophy favorite in between the pipes and a Rocket Richard Trophy candidate goes out the door once the regular season records are tossed out the window.
Just ask last year’s Presidents’ Trophy winning Lightning who will visit TD Garden on Saturday night.
Regardless of the outcome between the top teams that the Atlantic Division has to offer tomorrow night, the fact remains that the challenges facing the team that calls Causeway Street home in the final month leading up to the NHL’s second season are few and far between.
Just last Sunday – before his club pretty much secured the division with as dominant as a 2-1 win can possibly be in Tampa on Tuesday – the B’s bench boss indicated that he may lean towards resting some of his core veterans before the grind begins for real in the second week of April.
“The Bergys [Patrice Bergeron], the Zs [Zdeno Chara], and [Charlie] McAvoy’s played a lot of minutes, so maybe he needs a day off down the road,” said the man the players call Butch last Sunday.
And while however well-intended that period of rest might be, it’s just the same type of foot off the gas that likely cost the Lightning an extended run last spring.
No matter how you look at it, it is obvious that the Bruins are among the best teams in the NHL entering the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Whether or not their focus will be an issue given the likely extended period of games they will play with little or no meaning between now and then, only time will tell.