By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
Less than a week removed from the NHL’s trade deadline – after which the Bruins general manager Don Sweeney was pretty much roundly criticized for his inability to add a big name like Mark Stone and Wayne Simmonds to help his team’s previously pathetic secondary scoring – Thursday night’s win by the B’s at the TD Garden against a tired Tampa Bay Lightning team that was ending a stretch of three games in four nights on the road, has suddenly vaulted the Black and Gold into true Stanley Cup contenders as the regular season begins to wind to an end.
Perhaps the biggest about-face that has taken place in the handful of days that have passed since Sweeney held most of his assets close to his vest and explored the secondary market for his much-needed solutions to the team that calls Causeway Street home second and third lines, is that of NBC Sports Boston’s self-proclaimed “Bruins Insider” Joe Haggerty.
Just hours after the NHL’s silly season prior to spring, Haggerty was not exactly bully on the B’s moves prior to 3 pm on February 25th. He not so subtly stated that “ The Bruins had big hopes for this trade deadline, but fell short of those aspirations with the trade deadline come and gone.”
He later added, “The bottom line with the acquisition of Coyle and Johansson is that it makes the Bruins a better, deeper hockey team, but it doesn’t really move the needle enough with Toronto and Tampa Bay in their playoff bracket. Coyle was a fine addition as a third-line center, but both players register as a Plan C kind of move to bring in a top-6 goal-scoring wing for Boston’s second line.
It certainly doesn’t feel like the Bruins are going to last any more than the five games they managed against the Lightning last season, should history repeat itself in the later rounds of the playoffs.”
And you know what? I agreed entirely.
Yet, after just two games of Marcus Johansson and three games of Charlie Coyle – who have combined for one assist (Johansson) and an aggregate minus one (Coyle) – Haggs has suddenly vaulted the Bruins into the status of a team that can knock off the otherworldly Bolts when the NHL’s second season begins in a little over a month.
That is if they can get by the defensively deficient – yet offensively dangerous – Toronto Maple Leafs in what is almost their assured first-round playoff opponent.
Look, the stats don’t lie. The Bruins are third in the NHL in points for a reason. They are good, really good. And not only that, they are resilient. Much the way they were when they finished pretty much in the same position last season before they were rag-dolled by the Bolts in five games last spring.
So, how much has changed in just under a year? The scary truth for Bruins fans is, not that much.
Head coach Bruce Cassidy’s club caught lightning (pun intended) in a bottle before Christmas last season – much the same way they have this year, going 22-7-3 since a December 6th loss against Tampa – and seemed to be as strong a team as any in the East heading into Lord Stanley’s Tourney last April. However, after a tough and entertaining seven-game series win over the Leafs, their lack of depth up front was exposed in the second round against Steve Stamkos and company.
Is there reason to be excited for Bruins fans? Absolutely. However, let’s just not let a late February win against a tired team who basically has nothing to play for until the playoffs start in just over a month change the fact that Sweeney’s team has an awfully high summit to climb if they are going to reach the heights that some seem to think they can now get to now after a win that meant more to the home team than it did to the prohibitive favorite to win a championship this spring.
There is no doubt that Sweeney’s stingy moves at the deadline made the Bruins a deeper hockey team heading into the spring. Nevertheless, they have the NHL’s best team this season in their way if they even hope to make it to the Conference Finals come May. And the addition of “Plan C” players – copyright Joe Haggs – doesn’t make it a cinch that they will do any better this spring against the consensus cream of the crop in the best league in hockey come the playoffs.