The Boston bruins have torn through their March schedule, going 12-0 as of March 22. The streak has put them atop the Atlantic Division and, barring some horrific meltdown, has guaranteed them the top seed in the East for the playoffs as well as a shot at the President’s Trophy (given to the NHL team with the most points in the Regular season).
The mood in Boston has been ecstatic. Since the end of the Olympic break, the Bruins have been the team to beat in the NHL based on their strong teamwork and solid goaltending from Tukka Rask. While this is very impressive, don’t plan the parade just yet. Last year the Pittsburgh Penguins finished March a perfect 15-0 before an unceremonious playoff exit courtesy of the Bruins. Likewise, unless you’re the Chicago Blackhawks, winning the President’s trophy tends to be a bit of a curse. Since the trophy was introduced in the 1985-1986 season, only eight teams who have won it have gone on to win the cup. This isn’t to say that it’s bad that the Bruins keep winning; it just doesn’t indicate playoff success.
If you deconstruct the stats, the Bruins have been doing a lot to indicate playoff success. Seventeen players have scored for the team during their 12-game streak. Of those 17, 11 have scored multiple goals. In the playoffs, secondary goal scoring is vital. A good defensive team can easily shut down the top two lines, but a team where all four lines have a scoring potential is a lot harder to stop.
In the eight games he has started during this streak, Tukka Rask has posted a shutout and hasn’t let in more that three goals in any of those games. During the shootout win against Tampa bay, he only posted a .850 save percentage, which is fairly low on only 20 shots. However, a goaltender having one bad game out of eight is nothing to worry about – especially when your goaltender is a candidate for the Vezina trophy awarded to the best goaltender in the league.
Jerome Iginla has been on fire during the streak, scoring 12 out of his 28 goals this season in the past 12 games. He’s been doing this against the opposing teams’ strongest lines. Advanced stats (courtesy of Extra Skater) indicate that 29.5% of his ice time is spent matched up against the opposing teams’ top units. The bad news is that the Bruins just cannot expect the same level of production from him during the playoffs. Iginla is a great player, but any player is going to have trouble averaging 12 goals in 12 games. Iginla is in the twilight of his career; the 36-year-old is likely going to slow down as the grind of the season and playoffs go on.
At this point, winning doesn’t matter as much as making the playoffs in healthy form does. The Bruins are lucky to have not been plagued by injuries. In fact, they’re in a great and healthy position as of now. With the return of defenseman Johnny Boychuk, the team is in a position where they have to sit a good defenceman every night. Recently, the team has scratched Calder (rookie of the year) candidate Torrey Krug. The ability to keep players fresh and ready for the grind of the playoffs is vital; it’s what will give the team an edge over other teams. The streak has been fun for Bruins fans to watch, but it certainly doesn’t mean that they’re a surefire cup winner. The Bruins will have to prove they are a championship contender by playing with the same level of intensity throughout the playoffs.