One of the most incredible parts of the Boston Bruins’ return to the top of the Eastern Conference standings this season is the fact they have been able to do it while dealing with so many significant injuries.
The list of man-games lost is an impressive one.
• Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci have both missed 18 games.
• Brad Marchand — sometimes due to injury and sometimes due to suspension — has missed 14. Charlie McAvoy has missed 19.
• Zdeno Chara has missed nine.
• David Backes has missed 25.
• Torey Krug has missed six.
• Trade deadline acquisition Rick Nash has missed the past eight games.
Brandon Carlo is now sidelined indefinitely after a nasty looking leg injury over the weekend. At times several of those players have been sidelined at the same time.
Through it all the Bruins enter Monday’s huge game in Tampa Bay (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) with a two-point lead over the Lightning (as well as still having a game in hand) for the top spot in the Eastern Conference and still have a small chance at potentially winning the Presidents’ Trophy.
Now they are starting to get healthy just in time for the playoffs.
The Bruins spent the past couple of weeks playing without Bergeron, Chara and McAvoy, their top-two defenseman and one of the league’s best two-way centers. With Bergeron returning a little more than a week ago, and after Chara returned to the lineup on Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers, coach Bruce Cassidy announced on Tuesday morning that McAvoy will be returning on Tuesday night against the Lightning.
[Related: Bruins, Lightning battle for top spot in Atlantic Division on NBCSN]
Let’s start with the return of the top-two defensemen: How big is it to have those two back in the lineup together? Not only are they the Bruins’ top-two leaders in ice-time this season, they have spent a significant amount of that time (nearly 800 minutes of 5-on-5 play) on the ice together.
During those 800 minutes the Bruins have controlled more than 55 percent of the total shot attempts and outscored their opponents by a 38-21 margin.
And it’s not necessarily the veteran (Chara) that has been driving that success.
When McAvoy is on the ice without Chara, the Bruins are still controlling 56 percent of the shot attempts and still outscoring their opponents by a 15-7 margin. In other words, McAvoy, in his first full season as an NHL blue-liner, has not only been a top-pairing player on one of two or three best teams in the league, he has been a difference-maker for that team.
But it’s more than just the two of them.
When the Bruins have all five of Bergeron, Marchand, Krejci, Chara, and McAvoy in the lineup (something they have only had in 25 games this season) they own a 17-5-3 record, which would be good enough for a 121-point pace over an 82-game season.
Three of those losses, including two of the regulation losses, came without Tuukka Rask in net.
It is a scary team when their top players are all in the lineup. And right now, all of them are healthy at just the right time. That has to be a terrifying thought for the rest of the Eastern Conference.
They may soon be getting even more help. Along with the return of McAvoy on Tuesday, Cassidy also announced that Nash started skating again back in Boston as he continues his recovery from what the team has called an upper-body injury. If he is able to return at any point in the playoffs that is another top-six winger being added to the mix.
Before Tuesday Nash had not skated since March 19.
[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]
The returns of Chara and McAvoy, as well as the word that Nash is back on the ice is all great news for a Bruins team that has not only overtaken a slumping Lightning team for the top spot in the Division and Conference, but has a chance to continue to build on that lead.
Even with all of that there are still some minor injuries to deal with at the moment.
Carlo remains sidelined indefinitely and it does not sound like his return is imminent. They will also be without Tommy Wingels on Thursday night while Sean Kuraly and Riley Nash are also sidelined. But as long as the Bruins have their big guys all in the lineup (which they now do) they are going to be absolute force to deal with.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.