Bruins deserve attention

Posted Nov. 25, 2008, at 9:42 p.m.

They have quietly ascended to the top of the Eastern Conference in the National Hockey League.

But in the Boston media scene, the Boston Bruins are the odd team out.

The Bruins have certainly been overshadowed by the New England Patriots’ three Super Bowl victories, the Boston Red Sox’s two World Series championships and last year’s remarkable Boston Celtics revival that annexed a 17th world championship.

Rightfully so.

But keep an eye on this Bruins team. They may just bring yet another championship for the region.

If they do win the Stanley Cup, it would be their first since the 1971-72 season.

I realize the season is young. The Bruins have played just 21 games (14-3-4).

But there are a lot of components in place for a legitimate Stanley Cup run.

There is a nice blend of experience and youth.

They have two of the league’s best playmakers in Marc Savard and Patrice Bergeron. And 22-year-old David Krejci is a star in the making in the mold of Savard and Bergeron.

Losing Bergeron to a concussion last season probably prevented the Bruins from making a deeper run in the playoffs.

They were eliminated in seven games by Montreal in the first round. Montreal had won all eight regular-season meetings.

The Bruins, 41-29-12 in the regular season a year ago, have already beaten Montreal twice in three meetings this season.

They have scoring balance as seven players have scored at least five goals already.

Phil Kessel, ex-Boston College star Chuck Kobasew and Marco Sturm supply a ton of speed up front and each can also bury the puck. Former University of Minnesota star Kessel, who put on a show against the University of Maine while playing for the United States Under-18 team at the Cumberland County Civic Center in 2005, leads the team with 10 goals.

The defense corps is mobile and seasoned with a blend of point-producers (Dennis Wideman, Zdeno Chara and the injured Andrew Ference) to go with efficient stay-at-home types (Aaron Ward, Mark Stuart).

They have forwards like P.J. Axelsson and Stephane Yelle who can effectively shut down opposing snipers and they have plenty of grit in the likes of Milan Lucic and Shawn Thornton.

The 20-year-old Lucic is a special player, a throwback who reminds you of Terry O’Reilly in that he’ll drop the gloves with anyone and he usually comes out on top.

The feistiness of Lucic creates more space for themselves and his linemates.

But Lucic is also a skillful player with a scoring touch.

Of course, you can’t go anywhere in hockey without goaltending and a healthy Manny Fernandez has enabled Bruins coach Claude Julien to spell starter Tim Thomas, the former University of Vermont star.

Thomas was an NHL All-Star a year ago and he leads the league with a .944 save percentage. His 1.80 goals-against average is second best.

An injury limited Fernandez to just four games a year ago.

You need a reliable back-up to keep the starting goalie fresh for the playoffs. It’s a long regular season (82 games).

The special teams are good.

Their power play percentage is ninth best (21.3 percent) and their penalty-killing percentage is 12th (82.8).

The Bruins are putting people in the seats at the TD Banknorth Garden which will create more of a home ice advantage.

Massachusetts is a rabid hockey state and they finally have something to cheer about.

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