By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
We’ve all heard or used the old axiom “I’d rather be lucky than good” at some point in our lives. However, when it comes to the injury-riddled Boston Bruins early on this season, their luck has been nothing but bad and how good – and deep – they are as an organization is going to be tested over the next month or so, whether they like it or not.
When their 41-year old captain – and still by far their best defenseman – Zdeno Chara suffered a knee injury last Wednesday against the Avalanche in Colorado, many were fearful of what the B’s blue line would become without the massive presence that the dominant D-man brings whenever he takes to the ice.
With fellow defensemen Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Kevan Miller, newcomer John Moore, and rookie Urho Vaakanainen in various states of disrepair, the last thing that head coach Bruce Cassidy needed was another injury to yet another key player.
So you knew what was coming next, right?
On the second stop of what now seems to be an ill-fated four-game road trip in Dallas against the Stars on Friday night, Patrice Bergeron – who is hands down the best overall center the NHL currently has to offer – suffered what is being called “a rib and sternoclavicular injury,” which will put the team’s top point-getter and the pivot for the best line in hockey on the shelf for at least four weeks.
Following the loss of Chara against the Av’s, Cassidy was almost philosophical with his response.
“It’s the National Hockey League, you can either play in it or you can’t. We’ll find out with some of these guys,” said the B’s bench boss. “Sometimes this is the best way to find out, that’s the positive in it.
“The negative is we’ve got a lot of good players out of the lineup back there. If they want to play here it’s a great opportunity to show what they can do right now. That’s the way I look at it. This is kind of their dream to get here. Well, here you are, have at it.”
When it came to what his team will be without with Bergeron sitting over the next several weeks, the man they call Butch was a little more blunt with his response following the Bruins practice on Tuesday in Detriot before facing the Red Wings on Wednesday.
Asked what the biggest area he was worried about with his team’s best player being banished to watching the games from the press level until perhaps the New Year and beyond, Cassidy offered a wry chuckle before saying, “You can’t replace a guy like that.”
The obviously concerned head coach continued, “We’re putting him on the power play because he can win faceoffs with the right stick. Five on five shutdown…probably the five on five play. How much he is able to kill plays and allow Marshy [Brad Marchand] and Pasta [David Pastrnak] to play their game, get going on the attack.”
He talked about Bergeron’s contribution to the penalty kill and the fact that he is the team leader in powerplay points. “I mean, everywhere,” said Cassidy, followed by a nervous laugh.
Does this latest dose of injuries mean that the team that calls TD Garden home are now doomed for the season? Not likely.
Even if both Bergeron and Chara are lost until late January, general manager Don Sweeney should be able to supply Cassidy with enough able bodies to keep the Bruins in the playoff hunt heading into February.
Nevertheless, the high-paced rebuild that Bruins fans had pretty much taken for granted was closer to completion after last year’s breakout season is still very much at a crucial stage as the Black and Gold limp past the quarter pole of their current campaign.
Both of last season’s playoff opponents – the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs – remain the top contenders in the Atlantic Division, and the Buffalo Sabres and Montreal Canadiens are no longer the afterthoughts they were just 12 months ago. In fact, as things stand on Wednesday afternoon prior to the B’s/Wings tilt this evening, Boston currently sits fifth in the division and is slotted as the second wildcard in the playoffs standings in the East.
Unlike this time last year – when the team began to get back many of its key players from injury and went on an incredible roll after US Thanksgiving – Cassidy’s kids are going to have to find a way to fight through what has become a mountain of adversity.
If they can’t, the road to Stanley Cup contention that Don Sweeney’s club had seemingly laid last season will quickly become full of potholes. And no Bruins fan wants to find the blueprints to another rebuild under their Christmas tree this season.