It might be time to start taking the Boston Bruins seriously as a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference.
A few months ago — heck, even a few weeks ago — that sentence would have been laughable given where the team was in the standings and where it seemed to be headed after consecutive non-playoff seasons. And to be fair, the criticism they were facing at the time was not entirely unwarranted.
Management had made its share of questionable moves in recent years, including the short-sighted Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton trades, to their inability to address their holes on defense, to not giving Tuukka Rask a reliable backup goaltender.
But a funny thing has been happening with the Bruins this season: They have quietly been a sneaky good team all year, and they are now starting to get the results to show it.
In some ways they are starting to resemble the Penguins team that went on its run in the second half of last season to win the Stanley Cup.
You have the in-season coaching change. You have a defense that has been a season-long point of concern that doesn’t look overly impressive on paper, but has found a way to get the job done on the ice. While the Bruins may not have a Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin at the top of their lineup, they still have their share of elite players that can change a game. Patrice Bergeron is still one of the NHL’s best two-way centers. Brad Marchand has become one of the NHL’s best offensive players over the past two years and along with David Pastrnak gives the Bruins two of the league’s top-20 goal scorers this season.
And it’s not just the anecdotal evidence that draws the comparison. It’s in the performance in a lot of ways, too.
All season the Bruins have been the best possession and shot generation team in the league. Earlier in the season when they were struggling to score goals it became sort of a punchline about how shots don’t matter unless they go in the net. As true as that might be, it was still a sign that the Bruins were doing something right, and that there was evidence to suggest that their luck might change.
It has. Since the start of the new calendar year the Bruins have averaged more than 3.3 goals per game over the past 30 games, a number that is fifth best in the league during that stretch.
Right now the Bruins are a better than 55 percent Corsi team for the season and averaging 33.8 shots on goal per game.
Since the start of the 2007-08 season there have only been four teams that finished a season with Corsi percentage higher than 55 and averaged more than 33 shots per game.
- 2013-14 Chicago Blackhawks
- 2009-10 Chicago Blackhawks
- 2008-09 Detroit Red Wings
- 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings
Three of those teams (the ’09-10 Blackhawks, and the two Red Wings teams) all reached the Stanley Cup Final. The fourth lost an overtime Game 7 in the Conference Finals. Of the three teams that reached the Final, two of them won while the third lost a one-goal Game 7 at home on a buzzer-beating save.
On top of that, the Bruins have one of the NHL’s best penalty kills (an essential ingredient for success in the playoffs), both in terms of success rate (second best) and their ability to limit shot attempts (fifth best).
Even though the defense isn’t what it used to be on paper, they are in the top-10 in goals against. Great penalty kill. Great possession. Good defense. An offense with high-end players that is starting to click.
All of the ingredients are there.
But perhaps most important of all is their potential path in the playoffs.
If they can stay in the top-three of the Atlantic Division (where they are right now) they would avoid the second Wild Card spot and thus avoid having to face any of the Metropolitan Division until the Conference Finals. While there are no guarantees in a best-of-seven series, there wouldn’t be a potential matchup in the first two rounds where they wouldn’t at least have a great chance to come out of it, especially given the way they are playing at the moment.
Are they on the same level as a Pittsburgh or Washington right now? That remains to be seen. But the Bruins are starting to come on strong at the right time of year as everything is beginning to come together. They might not win it all, but they’re also probably not a team anybody wants to play at the moment.