By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
As Bruins fans will openly admit, last year’s surprising growth from a fringe playoff team to one to be reckoned with in the East was something not many who follow hockey thought was possible. This time last year general manager Don Sweeney’s club that was attempting to rebuild on the fly was looked upon as a bubble team at best to play in the postseason, and their slow start out of the gate was only confirmation of that assumption.
Head coach Bruce Cassidy’s club – which struggled early with injuries to veteran leaders Patrice Bergeron and David Backes – finished the first month of the season under .500 (4-3-3), and it looked as if the hopes of becoming a playoff team were quickly dimming before the campaign had even begun.
During the first two weeks of November, things became very bleak for the Black and Gold. After a 4-2 loss to the Ducks in Anaheim – during a West Coast trip that many thought could be the death knell of the Bruins season – the B’s fell to 6-7-4 and were mired in an ugly four-game losing streak.
And then a funny thing happened. Backup goaltender Anton Khudobin got hot, and Cassidy rode him over a struggling Tuukka Rask to right the ship. But more importantly, the team started to get healthy, and the kids that were called upon to fill the roles of the veterans had gone through a baptism of fire and were finally put in a position to succeed.
Sweeney’s surprising bunch would go on to win 45 of their remaining 65 games – which is a pace that will be almost impossible to match, no matter how hard they try – before being outclassed by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of hockey’s second season.
Just as it was last year, health is going play a key role in how the Bruins will compete in what should be an improved top half of the Atlantic Division.
On Wednesday, Patrice Bergeron revealed he is dealing with back issues that are likely related to the groin injury that required surgery this summer. Regarding this setback, the heart and soul of the Black and Gold said, “Sometimes it does happen, I’ve been told. People who’ve dealt with groin and hip injuries, they’ve dealt with some back injuries as well. So, you know, a little bit of a setback, but otherwise kind of looking forward to being done and feeling good next week.”
He also reaffirmed that his scheduled return to the ice is unchanged in his eyes, adding, “Shooting for the same schedule at the end of camp and the start of the season. So nothing’s changed that way.”
While it is a good sign that Bergeron is optimistic, this is where both Sweeney and Cassidy need to intervene to make sure the engine that drives their team is operating on all cylinders before any, and all restrictions are lifted from the 15-year veteran.
Ask anyone that watches the game closely, and they will tell you that Bergeron is among the best – if not the best – all-around center in the NHL. Last season – with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak manning his wings – the five-time Selke Award winner centered the best line in hockey. All three highly talented forwards scored at least 30 goals (30, 34 and 35, respectively), while shutting down the other team’s top lines on a nightly basis.
And while it would be nice to start the season with #37 taking the opening faceoff against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Capitals in Washington on October 3rd, it is much more important that the Bruins have the best Bergeron they can have next April when the real season begins.
No one has shown more toughness – or the willingness to play through injuries – than Patrice Bergeron. To begin the season, it is up to the Bruins brass to protect him from himself.