Friday, March 21, 2014

No major deals? B's still excel

<On Salesp>By Nick Mallard,

Updated: 03/21/2014 06:50:18 AM EDT

Circle March 5 on your calendar.

That date just two weeks ago was the day critics sounded the death knell for the Boston Bruins and their hopes this season.

The experts said the Bruins needed to make a big transaction by that day, the NHL trade deadline. The defense was too inexperienced. The team needed depth. The amount of holes in the roster was akin to Swiss cheese.

Without some kind of big deal, the Bruins would fade down the stretch. If they made the playoffs, a quick and painful exit was imminent.

It can't be argued that the Bruins lacked a splashy move at the deadline. Acquiring Andrej Meszaros and Corey Potter, a pair of unspectacular defensemen, was essentially all General Manager Peter Chiarelli did.

Sure, the Bruins had won their last two games as the deadline approached, but prior to that, they had dropped a pair coming out of the Olympic break. Certainly, something had to be done to make sure Boston did more than tread water down the stretch.

The lack of movement at the deadline would surely be Boston's undoing.

What's that old saying? Hindsight is 20-20?

Looking back, it certainly seems that doing very little at the trade deadline was the right thing to do. Since then, the Bruins (47-17-5) have rattled off eight more victories, running their winning streak to 10 games.

And yes, inexperience on the blue line -- the problem many critics felt could be solved at the deadline -- could still come back to haunt Boston. Who knows how defensemen like Matt Bartkowksi and Dougie Hamilton -- crucial to the team's success this season -- will react in extended playoff minutes without Dennis Seidenberg manning a defensive spot.

But that's the future. In the present tense, Boston is firing on all cylinders. The 10-game winning streak matches the Anaheim Ducks' own stretch for the longest in the NHL this season.

Defensively, there have been hiccups, but the Black and Gold find ways to overcome the flaws. Whether it's 36-year-old Jarome Iginla finding the fountain of youth and leading the team in goals with 26 or netminder Tuukka Rask -- and backup Chad Johnson, for that matter -- stealing games, every night there's a new hero.

Depth isn't an issue, at least offensively. Iginla's play resembles his all-world years in Calgary a decade ago, while linemates David Krejci (team-leading 60-points) and Milan Lucic look as motivated and effective as ever.

And Brad Marchand, the team's pesky sparkplug, has forgotten his scoring slump that started the season, having now potted 22 goals, and is clicking seamlessly with Patrice Bergeron (20 goals) and Reilly Smith (19 goals).

And it's not just the top two lines potting markers. Defenseman Torey Krug is the two-way, puck-moving point man fans have clamored over for years, scoring 14 goals this season and providing key minutes on the power play. Captain Zdeno Chara has even gotten in on the offensive end, scoring 16 times.

Behind a solid team-defense philosophy, Rask and Johnson have combined to put up the second-best goals-against average in the league (2.10). Rask is third in both GAA and save percentage and has won 31 games, while Johnson has been sensational in relief, going 15-3-1 with a 2.14 GAA.

Combine a red-hot offense and spectacular netminding and you get a league-leading plus-74 goal differential.

The key to Boston continuing the success lies with Claude Julien. The head coach shrugged off recent comments about the team peaking too early, pointing to several things he thinks his players can do better. That drive will certainly keep the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins from falling into complacency down the stretch.

While there's still a lot of hockey left to be played this spring, it's nice to see the world didn't end following the trade deadline. They're not a perfect team, but the Bruins have embraced the idea of being a team perfectly.

Why change now?

Follow Nick Mallard on Twitter and Tout @n_mallard

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