Before the Olympic break the Pittsburgh Penguins were the dominant team in the Eastern Conference but now a month after the Olympic break the Boston Bruins have surged with a vengeance going 15-2-2; not only to taking control of the Eastern Conference but the NHL as a whole, presently leading St. Louis by three points in the President’s Trophy stakes (and home-ice advantage in all four rounds of the playoffs—a significant advantage for a team with Stanley Cup winning capability like Boston).
Boston (even with the loss of Tyler Seguin) has not experienced any diminishment in their tactical array. They possess the second best offense and the best defence in the NHL. Although not prolific on the power-play (ranking 16th in power-play offense) they certainly make their power-play opportunities count (ranking 3rd in power-play percentage). In penalty-killing situations they not only blunt their opponents but transition brilliantly on the attack ranking fourth in short-handed offense. In short this Bruins team is a total package: a young, vibrant, and deep squad fully capable of reaching the Eastern Conference finals and winning the Stanley Cup itself.
No one Bruin orchestrates the victories. Boston’s strength derives from the players’ collective commitment to excellence both offensively and defensively. Amazingly (but not surprisingly) the Bruins have seven players ranking among the top 20 in the Plus/Minus stakes (David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Jarome Iginla, Brad Marchand, Johnny Boychuk, Milan Lucic, and Zdeno Chara).
The venerable Jarome Iginla, denied a Stanley Cup win last year when traded to Pittsburgh, now stands a better chance of ending his sterling career with a championship ring—leading all Bruins in goals-scored and ranking fifth in the NHL in game-winning goals. Like a great wine Iginla is a rare vintage NHL player—long denied the Stanley Cup ring he richly deserves).
Goalie Tuukka Rask continue to make Boston fans forget about Tim Thomas, ranking among the top five in GAA, save percentage, and shutouts and is well in contention for the Vezina trophy.
Bruins head coach Claude Julien continues to burnish his image as one of the game’s greatest head coaches. If Boston wins the President’s Trophy then it will be a major first in Julien’s NHL coaching career.
He continues to elevate himself in the NHL coaching pantheon. Based on my rating system he has already added ten points to his career value (thus placing himself among the top twenty coaches of all time) and if he wins the Stanley Cup he will advance even further and rank among the top 15.
When the 2013/14 season began he was second only to Joel Quenneville in terms coaching value for the 2010s but Chicago’s failure to retain the Central division title has allowed to Claude Julien to close in on Quenneville in terms of best head coach of this present decade. As it stands right now, Quenneville is a mere two points ahead of Julien (a +57 to Julien’s +55). If Boston can reach the Stanley Cup finals combined with a Blackhawks failure to return to the big dance then Claude Julien will definitely surpass Quenneville as the best NHL head coach of the 2010s.
Even more interesting to note, Claude Julien is on a pace which will allow him next season to become the winningest head coach in Boston Bruins history, surpassing the late Art Ross as the Bruins greatest head coach.
In nature, bears spend half the year gorging themselves in the hopes of storing enough winter fat to help them hibernate comfortably through the fall and winter. The Boston Bruins humbled in the 2013 Stanley Cup finals had an unhappy hibernation and have emerged this season hungrier than ever to win the Stanley Cup. This is a team that rebounded from adversity in 2011 to win the Stanley Cup. They can do it again. The hunger and desire are there and it is the right kind of hunger and desire to have when it comes to winning Stanley Cups.