Boston Bruins: 10 Signs the Stanley Cup Hangover Is Officially over
The defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins woke up about a month later than planned and needed only to glance at the NHL standings to survey the wreckage resulting from their post-title hangover.
Since then, they have remedied that hangover and all of its secondary effects as hurriedly, swiftly and effectively as possible. Again, one need only consider their present position on the NHL leaderboard.
There is still a chance that cumulative exertion will ultimately bar the Bruins from returning to the Cup final or even the conference championship this spring. But for now, there is no reason to think that the long-annihilated hangover will somehow relapse and hinder Boston’s odds of finishing in the upper echelon of the playoff bracket.
On the contrary, there are 10 ice chips of evidence that normalcy is here to stay for the balance of the regular season.
Tank Still Rolling
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Conn Smythe-winning goaltender Tim Thomas still has not allowed any residual wear-and-tear to slow him down. The 37-year-old has started more than two-thirds of Boston’s first 25 games, going 13-4-0 and still never having allowed more than three goals in a single outing.
Among all NHL stoppers who have consumed at least half of his team’s workload, Thomas ranks third with a 1.87 goals-against average and second with a .940 save percentage.
And with a 45-save performance in Pittsburgh Monday night, he extended his personal winning streak to 10 games.
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The Bruins played 25 games over the course of the 2011 playoffs. As of Tuesday morning, they have logged an identical 25 extramural engagements off of their 2011-12 season schedule.
In that time, each of the following returnees has already equated or eclipsed his goal and/or point total from the last postseason run: Johnny Boychuk, Zdeno Chara, Andrew Ference, Gregory Campbell, Chris Kelly, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, Rich Peverley, Tyler Seguin and Shawn Thornton.
You could argue that the comparison is invalid on the grounds that, whereas the regular season always bears a mixed bag of opponents, every postseason game features a certifiably formidable opponent.
Then again, every team the Bruins have faced so this year had at least two more weeks, if not one or two more months, to rest and refuel in the offseason.
In October, Boston’s comically inept power play reemerged with no real changes besides the loss of Mark Recchi and Michael Ryder. Over their first 10 games, the Bruins converted five out of 39 chances for a 12.7 success rate.
But on Nov. 1, the Bruins broke the ice against Ottawa when Lucic struck on the man-advantage to draw a 1-1 knot.
That helped to start a wholesome stretch of 15 games, during which the Bruins have posted a 14-0-1 record and an 11-for-53 showing on the power play for 20.8 percent conversion.
Pacing After New Heights
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Assuming everyone stays healthy and suits up for all but one or two the remaining regular-season games, the following players are on pace to post career point totals: Boychuk, Chara, Kelly, Lucic, Marchand, Peverley. Ference is on pace to set himself a new bar in the goal-scoring department.
Will all seven of these players ultimately meet that pace? Probably not, but still a possibility.
Could all seven of these players have come close to setting such revolutionary paces at the quarter mark of the season if they were under the constant influence of Stanley Cup hangover?
Absolutely not, no debate.
Rigid Nightly Lineup
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Things have been so stable from top to bottom of late that head coach Claude Julien has seen no need to rotate anybody out of the game night lineup.
It reached a point last weekend when sophomore forward Jordan Caron and Steven Kampfer had each gone more than two weeks without any extramural action.
Because of this “good problem,” as it were, both of the unripe youngsters were sent to Providence to take part in a pair of AHL contests. In the meantime, Julien enacted the same lineup yet again and the Bruins extended their unbeaten streak to 14 games.
He did the same two nights later and watched his pupils handle the top dog Penguins, 3-1.
The Bruins hit the nadir of their season with a home-and-home sweep at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens. Since then, they have reaped seven of their last 13 victories at the expense of a divisional rival, facing each Northeast cohabitant at least once along the way.
Overall, Boston is now 8-2-0 on the year in divisional matchups, including all four meetings with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who were residing at the top until coming up empty in last week’s home-and-home.
Since their last regulation loss Oct. 29 in Montreal, the Bruins are a pristine 6-0-0 on the road, outscoring their opponents 26-7 in that span.
Thomas has been in the crease for all six of those road wins and collected each of his three shutouts in uncharted venues, including Montreal's Bell Centre and Toronto's Air Canada Centre.
Throughout the first half of November, there was at least one occurrence every night where the Bruins followed a scoring play with another strike before the next whistle.
While that trend has since tapered off, Boston still tends to maintain its aggression after a productive shift. That at least partially explains why, in their last nine games, the Bruins have allowed only two opposing equalizers and never trailed after grabbing their first lead.
A group featuring even a handful of hungover skaters could not express that level of determination and energy.
Return of the Resilience
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While Boston has adamantly refused to spill any leads since the start of November, some of its opponents have had a tougher time throwing the decisive punch.
During their 15-game unbeaten streak, the Bruins have authorized the first goal eight times. They have thrice fallen behind by two goals.
In all, Boston has trailed in 10 different stretches, yet managed to pull even or ahead before the end of regulation.
That characteristic resilience was missing in October, when the Bruins either failed to spark a rally altogether or rallied in vain.