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Time to Believe?

Posted By Matt Preston On Mar 2 2011 @ 6:19 am In Boston Bruins | No Comments

It is the God-given right of anyone who covers or follows the Boston Bruins to be cynical and doubtful when it comes to all things Black-and-Gold. With the number of perplexing deals made by management, heartbreaking performance on the ice over the years and lack of Stanley Cup since 1972, the Bruins have not given too many reasons to unconditionally trust and believe in the team. With their lackluster play at times this season, there is certainly cause for that cynical tradition to continue.

None of those times have come lately, however, as the Bruins have been ablaze as of late, ripping through the Canadian provinces with six straight wins on a six game road trip that concluded on Tuesday night in Ottawa with a 1-0 win over the Senators.

Despite sitting in last place in the Eastern Conference, the Senators put up a good fight, outshooting and out chancing the Bruins, including a flurry of shots in the waning seconds of the third. The goaltenders stole the show, however, with Boston’s Tuukka Rask and Ottawa’s Craig Anderson carrying their teams. Though he may have out played Rask, Anderson was the goalie to blink first, leaving a long rebound and a good portion of the net open for an unchecked Nathan Horton, who was able to put home the game’s only goal at 1:43 of the third period.

It is the first six consecutive win road trip for the Bruins since that Cup winning season of ‘72 and the trip left the Bruins playing some of their best hockey of the year. With their recent play and the playoffs now on the horizon, it begs the question: Is it time to believe in the Bruins?

Yes, it is just six games. Yes, playoff hockey is a whole different animal and, though seemingly close, still more than a month away. A lot can change between now and then. This was just two weeks of hockey in a season that is more than six months long.

It was still a very good two weeks.

Over these past 13 days, Bruins management made the last of their moves for the year, rounding out their roster and bring in their last, key piece in Tomas Kaberle to make their stretch run, while the boys on the ice have responded and risen to the occasion. The first line of Horton, David Krejci and Milan Lucic is finally starting to heat up and play well together; the trio combined for nine goals, 13 assists and a +18 rating on the trip, while recording three of the six game-winning goals. Rask is starting to play like he was last year when he carried the Bruins, going 4-0 on the road trip, which included Tuesday night’s 33 save shutout, his second clean sheet of the season. The four wins on the trip nearly match Rask’s total number of wins on the season prior to the team setting out from Boston. As a whole, the Bruins are playing with more patience and have consistently played better later in games. It is hard to think the Bruins could be playing much better as a whole than the way they have played over the course of the past six games.

With the talent now on their roster, playing the way it is, if Boston can continue to play as they did on this road trip for the duration of the regular season and into the playoffs, where they will have to face the elite of the NHL rather than the likes of the Senators and Edmonton Oilers, the two worst teams in the NHL, then it is not all too outrageous to think of the Bruins as a team with a legitimate chance to make a serious run at a title.

Working against the Bruins, however, is the fact they are not the only team in the Eastern Conference that has spent the past few weeks tweaking and improving their rosters. With the NHL’s Trade Deadline passing on Monday afternoon, the top teams in the East, a conference that already ran very deep, found themselves getting much better over the course of the month. All eight teams currently in the playoffs somehow attempted to improve their team, though it was the top five teams in the conference – Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Boston, Pittsburgh and Washington – that made the biggest strides at the Deadline.

While Boston made one of the noisiest splashes with their acquisition of Kaberle, the top-ranked Philadelphia Flyers were quite mum on Deadline Day. They did their damage well before with their most significant move coming on Valentine’s Day when they acquired Kris Versteeg from the Toronto Maple Leafs, adding yet another gritty forward to an already deep and potent offense. The Flyers also added some depth to their D-corps when they claimed former Bruin Nick Boynton off waivers over the weekend.

The Tampa Bay Lightning, who the Bruins moved into a tie with for second place in the East with their win over the Senators, also made their key moves well before Monday’s deadline when they added their upgraded their most glaring weakness by acquired goalie Dwayne Roloson from the New York Islanders on New Year’s Day. Tampa also added defensemen Marc-Andre Bergeron and Eric Brewer in recent weeks to bolster their defense.

The Pittsburgh Penguins did not make a lot of noise with the moves they made, but the return of Sydney Crosby in the coming weeks will amount to a late season transaction to bring in a player better any that could have been acquired at the Deadline. In a highly underrated about move, if he can briefly reclaim his scoring touch of old playing alongside the Pen’s captain when Crosby returns, shipping a seventh round pick to Ottawa for Alex Kovalev could end up being the best deal made at the Deadline.

The Washington Capitals, who have fallen well short of expectations this season, made the most moves around the Deadline and probably the most strides of the top five teams to improve themselves. Washington acquired both Jason Arnott from the Devils and Denny Wideman from the Panthers in trades on Monday, and signed Marco Sturm off waivers two days prior. The additions of Arnott and Sturm give the top-heavy Capitals more depth to their scoring offense on their second and third lines, while Wideman gives them another point man for their power play in case Mike Green is out of the line-up for an extended amount of time with a head injury.

Even with the Bruins playing at such a high level, with the top five teams in the conference all improving themselves, a tough conference just got a whole lot tougher. With the caliber of teams that were already at the top of the Eastern Conference and the improvements they all made, not to mention the other key moves made by teams still in playoff contention, it can still be wondered whether or not Boston’s best is really good enough. After this most recent road trip, however, it is time to take the 2010-2011 Boston Bruins seriously.

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