BOSTON — The Boston Bruins got off to a horrid start to their Stanley Cup championship defense, winning just three of their first 10 games and landing in last place in the Eastern Conference.
After an incredible two-month surge, they’re back on top.
“They deserve a lot of credit for that and they worked hard to accomplish that and I think it’s important that they enjoy the three days of the Christmas holiday they have,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said after Brad Marchand’s hat trick helped Boston beat Florida 8-0 on Friday night for its 20th win in 23 games.
It’s easy to see why the Bruins have been nearly unbeatable since losing two in a row to Montreal at the end of October.
They enter the NHL’s three-day Christmas break with the most goals scored (119) and the fewest allowed (63) in the NHL. A recipe for success for any team.
During the Bruins’ rough stretch, the players heard complaints and some boos from the fans. They sensed the disappointment and feel as if they’ve responded with a similar effort that saw them win the organization’s first title in 39 years.
“We were sitting at the 15th spot in October with a lot of criticism on us so we realize that this is a game that things change quickly and oftentimes things change through hard work and that’s what I think we did the last two months,” forward Gregory Campbell said.
“We worked hard, we played our game and we played consistent. It’s a tough league,” he said. “Every night is a battle and every night you have to compete. Wins aren’t always going to flow as easily, or not as easily, but I think as pure as they have, but as long as we’re competing and playing our game, I think that’s our goal right now.”
The big offensive night against Florida was hardly unusual for the Bruins this season.
They’ve scored six or more goals nine times – eight coming in their past 22 games. Quite a run for a team known for its defense.
“I think it goes to show that we have probably more talent than sometimes people give us credit for,” Julien said of the team’s offensive outburst. “We play a good team game, we create our scoring chances and right now our guys are scoring some pretty nice goals.”
Behind Boston’s offense is the top goalie tandem in the league. Both Tim Thomas – last season’s winner of the Vezina and Conn Smythe trophies – and Tuukka Rask have goals against averages under 1.85, making the Bruins the NHL’s only team with two goalies allowing under two goals a game.
The pair have combined for three shutouts in Boston’s past five games and held opponents to two goals or less 22 times this season.
“It’s a big-time luxury. I’m not going to hide that fact,” Julien said.
“It doesn’t matter who you put in net right now, you know you’re going to get good goaltending,” he said.