BOSTON — Just like the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team they dominated in a 4-1 win before a rocking crowd at TD Garden Thursday, the Boston Bruins have become a measuring stick for other teams around the NHL.
“You look at the way Boston plays, where they come at you every shift and they dump it in and then come down hard on you with pressure, that’s how every team is trying to play,” Sportsnet analyst Nick Kypreos said on the Hockey Central radio show prior to the B’s win over the Lightning Thursday.
One NHL executive in the Garden press box Thursday shared the same sentiment as Kypreos but took it a bit further after the Bruins broke a 1-0 game open with three goals in the third period.
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“I’ll tell you this if I’m Tampa Bay, I’m feeling lucky I don’t have to face this team in the first round,” he said. “If I’m Toronto I’m bleeping my pants.”
Since their 3-2 loss to the Lightning back on December 6, the Bruins are 22-7-3. With their win Thursday, they went 11-0-2 in February and have registered a point in 15-straight games. The B’s may still trail the Bolts by 17 points in the standings, and clearly Tampa Bay is the favorite to win the Stanley Cup again, but other teams and media pundits were already viewing the Bruins as one of the teams that could truly have a chance at beating the Lightning. Some even went as far as saying NHL teams are now trying to emulate the Bruins.
Heading into their win over the Lightning Thursday, the Bruins were constantly asked if they were viewing the game as a measuring stick for themselves? When appraised that others felt the same way about his team, head coach Bruce Cassidy was flattered.
“Well, if teams are doing that it’s definitely a compliment because for us we feel Tampa – listen, they were better than us last year,” Cassidy said. “They’re the top team in the league, so we feel if they’re not – listen, internally, we feel real good about ourselves, but the big picture they can make a very valid argument they’re the best team in the National Hockey League, so usually you want to measure yourself against the best.
So, if teams are starting to use us, it’s a compliment to our group that we’re playing the right way and teams are trying to emulate the way you play then that’s a positive. I was asked this morning about the measuring stick. Like I said, I think it’s hard when they travel in here, we have a little to play for, but you still want to use some of the game to see where you’re at, at least, so I thought our guys responded real well.”
Let’s not forget that the Bruins are doing this without their top goal scorer, superstar winger David Pastrnak (31 goals; 61 points) who has been out since February 12 after having surgery to repair a tendon in his thumb. Since then, the B’s are 7-0-1 and have scored 30 goals. Their other star players and leaders like Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Zdeno Chara have stepped up again, and even their bottom six have played a major role in not just Pastrnak’s absence but this 15-game point streak they’re riding. Fourth-liner Noel Acciari – wearing a face shield after losing half his upper teeth in a 4-1 win over the Sharks Tuesday, had a goal and an assist Thursday and his toughness and passion were greatly appreciated by his teammates.
“You know, especially in this group here, it takes a lot more than a puck to the mouth, to keep a guy out of the game,” Marchand told the media after the big win. “You know, you see what guys consistently play through here with broken bones and hole in their lungs and kidney stones and stuff like that, so you know, hockey players don’t sit out because they have a sore thumb.”
Not that this team wasn’t tough last season when they were ousted by the Lightning in five games in the second round, but they’re definitely tougher now and as Cassidy explained after the game Thursday, it’s because of humbling experiences like that playoff loss to the Lightning.
“Well, I think ‘Grizz’ [Matt Grzelcyk], Charlie [McAvoy] have a little more experience under their belt, so does Jake [DeBrusk], [Danton] Heinen,” Cassidy pointed out. “You know after that our top guys are our top guys. I guess to judge [Charlie] Coyle versus Riley Nash, it’s a bit little early for that, and I don’t want to disrespect Riley. He did a real good job for us. And then Marcus [Johansson] – geez, I’d have to think – versus Rick Nash, a little early for that as well, so there are some similarities to the group.
A lot of returning guys. Some of our guys are a little more battle tested. That’s probably the biggest difference. They’ve seen now what it’s like to play…I don’t know how to describe it – maybe “man’s hockey” in April and May? Where it just gets elevated and you have to be heavier, stronger on pucks, whatever description you want to use. They probably have a much better feel for that now.”
As mentioned before, other teams are hoping they can, like the NHL exec above said of the Bruins, be a laxative for their opponents too, but the Bruins, while honored by teams looking at them as a measuring stick, aren’t about to get cocky or ahead of themselves.
“It’s a compliment obviously, but there’s a lot of good teams this year,” Marchand pointed out. “You saw what they did at the deadline; everybody feels like they have a chance, and they do. Obviously, everyone else has the same chance as any other team because health can become an issue and lucky bounces, and calls by the ref; that all matters and it’s going to go one team’s way and it’s going to go against another team. Whoever gets the most breaks, normally ends up winning the series. So it’s a compliment but at the same time we’re not over-thinking how other teams feel about us, we’re just taking t day-by-day. Obviously, we know we have a good team, but our goal is just to compete and see where we land.”
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