Bruins' historic turnaround in less than a year has been extraordinary


It's hard to believe right now, but less than a year ago the Boston Bruins were in a pretty bad place.

They had just lost a frustrating first-round playoff series to the Carolina Hurricanes in a Game 7 at PNC Arena. The 'Canes won every game played on their home ice. 

A couple weeks later, the Bruins fired head coach Bruce Cassidy after he led the franchise to the playoffs in all six of his seasons behind the bench. Team captain Patrice Bergeron was a free agent and hadn't decided whether he'd return or retire. David Krejci was still in the Czech Republic. Jake DeBrusk's trade request remained active. Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk would soon have offseason surgeries.

The future didn't look bright for the Bruins.

Fast forward to Sunday night in Philadelphia, and the Bruins set a new NHL record with their 63rd win of the 2022-23 campaign. It's been arguably the best regular season of any team in the 101-year history of the league.

"For me, gratitude and just a peaceful feeling because this group -- everything's felt right," Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery told reporters after Sunday's record-breaking victory. "We expect good things to happen because we play the right way, and I think we have the leaders who always talk about those things that really matter to team success."

How on Earth did we get here?

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney deserves a massive amount of credit for building this powerhouse roster. 

The first and most impactful decision was hiring Montgomery as the new head coach. Montgomery had been a winner in his previous college and NHL coaching jobs, and his player-first approach has been a breath of fresh air for the team. He's also encouraged the players to play faster, more aggressive and to get the best quality shots possible. 

“He loves driving wide and stopping up. I think we have a little more latitude to make plays East-West in the offensive zone," Taylor Hall said of Montgomery's style in late November. "Not as much of a shot quantity team, more of a shot quality team.

"It took a few games for me personally to get out of the habits of pucks to the net, shoot from anywhere, never a bad play to get it on net. Where I think Monty, he's made a few adjustments in our game where some shots are bad shots. We want to control pucks. I’ve gotten a lot better at it. I feel more comfortable with that. As we get going, you’re seeing a lot of guy’s skill sets coming out in different ways. I think I’m one of them.”

Montgomery's coaching style on and off the ice helped many players reach impressive milestones.

Hampus Lindholm became an elite No. 1 defenseman again worthy of Norris Trophy consideration. He also set a new career high with 52 points. Connor Clifton's defense improved and he also set a new career high in scoring with 21 points. Trent Frederic underwhelmed offensively for the first four seasons of his B's tenure before posting personal bests in goals (16), assists (14) and points (30) under Montgomery. Nick Foligno, whom Sweeney didn't buy out or trade in the offseason, enjoyed a bounce-back year with 26 points in 60 games and provided valuable veteran leadership. DeBrusk also had his best two-way season in Boston with 25 goals in 62 games. 

Sweeney also got superstar right wing David Pastrnak signed to an eight-year extension worth $ 11.25 million per season. Pastrnak has rewarded the franchise with the first 60-goal season by a Bruins player since 1975-76

The trade deadline also was a masterclass from Sweeney. The additions of defenseman Dmitry Orlov, as well as forwards Garnet Hathaway and Tyler Bertuzzi, have given the B's a huge boost of talent and depth at key positions. These three players have made a seamless transition to the lineup and showed off their versatility by playing multiple positions and roles. 

One of Sweeney's best moves was a trade before the season that sent Erik Haula to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for Pavel Zacha, who had mostly underachieved his first seven seasons after being drafted No. 6 overall in 2015. Zacha set a new career high with 56 points -- 19 more than his previous best of 37. Sweeney also signed Zacha to a team-friendly four-year extension worth $ 4.75 million per season in January. 

The goaltending has been incredible. Linus Ullmark is the favorite for the Vezina Trophy, while his backup, Jeremy Swayman, posted stellar stats as well. The Bruins' 111 goals allowed are 21 fewer than the next-best team. Boston's .929 save percentage as a team is far ahead of the second-place Minnesota Wild at .916 through Sunday's games.

The veteran leadership on this team has played an immense role in the group's success, too. Bergeron and Krejci returned on low-cost contracts. These two veteran centers, along with Marchand, McAvoy, Pastrnak, Foligno and others have created a great locker room with their leadership. Luck is also a factor. The Bruins have had their share of injuries, but none of their most impactful players have missed significant time. Marchand, Grzelcyk and McAvoy all returned ahead of schedule from their post-surgery rehabs. 

This Bruins team is special, and as fans get ready for what will be a nerve-wracking playoff run, it's important to take a moment and appreciate what this group has accomplished in the regular season. They set the league record for most wins. Their 14-game home win streak to begin the season is a new record. The Bruins also set team records for the most winsthe most road wins and the most points in one season.  

We might never see a Bruins team this dominant in the regular season ever again. They currently rank No. 2 in goals scored, No. 1 in goals allowed, No. 12 on the power play, No. 1 on the penalty kill and No. 1 in save percentage. They have five 20-goal scorers, a 60-goal scorer, the likely Selke Trophy winner, two No. 1 defensemen and two of the best goalies in the league. Taylor Hall and Tyler Bertuzzi are on the THIRD line.

This team ultimately will be judged in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Anything less than a championship will be an enormous disappointment after what we've watched since October.

But it is crazy to think about how far this franchise has come in the last 10 months. It went from "the window has closed, it's over" to "wow, this might be the best team in the history of the sport."

"We believe it's going to be hard," Montgomery said Sunday when asked about the challenge of winning the Stanley Cup. "We don't talk about winning the Stanley Cup now. We talk about winning Game 1, that's going to be our focus. We think not looking too far ahead, (doing so) creates anxiety. We believe in staying in the present and our process allows us to have success. We have a lot of details within our process, and that's a simple way of saying we like to live in the moment. We're not looking at June, we're looking at April 17."

This could be a once in a lifetime experience for Bruins fans. Enjoy what's left of it.

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