The Boston Bruins rallied from a one-goal deficit in the third period to beat the Phoenix Coyotes, 4-2, on Saturday night. It was their league-leading 12th victory in a row, with many of those wins never being in doubt. The dominant effort the Bruins have shown this season has led many to consider them a favorite to win the Stanley Cup, but others have raised the question of whether Boston can sustain such a level of play. Obviously, a 16-0 run for the playoffs is an almost impossible task, but can the run the Boston Bruins find themselves on carry into the playoffs or are they peaking too early?
The Bruins are one of the deepest teams in the NHL’s Eastern Conference and that depth has served them well in the past. They won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and made it to the Stanley Cup Finals last season, both times using the same core group of players they have this season. Monster defenseman Zdeno Chara leads the team in icetime, earning almost 25 minutes a game. And though the 6’9” Bruins captain is not having the Norris-worthy season he has had in the past, he is still one of the more intimidating defensemen to face off against as players cross the blueline. Patrice Bergeron and playoff hero David Krejci are having excellent seasons themselves, with Bergeron being a favorite to win his second career Selke trophy. The Bruins also have one of the league’s best young goaltenders in net. Tuuka Rask was a major factor in Finland’s bronze medal in the Sochi Olympics, and that play has continued in the weeks that follow. His 2.07 Goals Against Average and .929 Save Percentage are among the top of the league in both categories.
Boston has shown very little effects of a long playoff run last season. The “Stanley Cup hangover” that typically affects teams that make deep playoff runs the following season has not made an appearance for the Bruins this year. In fact, they have not lost more than two games in a row all season, an outstanding show of consistency. But that level of play is almost unsustainable in today’s NHL, even for the best teams in the league. It is quite possible that they are peaking too early to make a deep playoff run. The Boston Bruins have already clinched a playoff spot with 11 games remaining in the regular season. Most of the games remaining are against teams that should provide little challenge to the Bruins, but the next two Boston faces should be the most interesting. They face their divisional rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, on Monday night and have a rematch of last year’s Stanley Cup Finals on Thursday night when they face the Chicago Blackhawks. If the Bruins can get through both of these games unscathed, their winning streak could reach almost unheard of proportions.
It is almost unheard of, because the Chicago Blackhawks performed a similar feat last season. After the lockout, the Blackhawks did not lose a game in regulation for 24 consecutive games, an NHL record. It was said that they too were peaking too early, that the expectations were set too high, too early, and the team would struggle when the playoffs rolled around. In a way, that was correct. The Blackhawks did have more trouble than expected during the first two rounds of the playoffs, where they beat the 8th seed Minnesota Wild in six games and the Detroit Red Wings in seven, the latter of which required an overtime goal during Game 7. However, Chicago did silence the doubters when they handled the remaining series rather easily, beating the Los Angeles Kings in five games and the Boston Bruins in six.
The same thing could happen to the Bruins this year. They have shown a resilience and a consistency that will make them a very tough opponent when the playoffs roll around, regardless of whether they are coming in hot or cold. Between Anaheim, St. Louis, San Jose and Chicago, most of the strong teams in the league are in the Western Conference, leaving what should be an easy path to the Finals for the Bruins in the East. They have a roster full of players who have won the Cup before and know what it takes to win another. The question should not be whether the Boston Bruins are peaking too early, but whether it will matter in the long run.
This article is one in a daily series, proving coverage, analysis and predictions to NHL fans.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner
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