The mark of a great hockey team is the ability to withstand the absence of key players without any interruption of concentration, effort or quality play on the ice.
Some teams are good largely when things are rolling and adversity is properly being held at bay. Some hockey clubs answer strongly when trouble is at the door while continuing to stand bedeviled by the consistency thing, and some hockey teams simply stink no matter whats floating around them.
The Bruins are none of those things.
They are instead a team thats put up a gaudy 19-2-1 record since Nov. 1 and weathered absences from their captain, their fourth line heart and soul and their intimidating leading scorer in the last two weeks to still reel off win after win.
Zdeno Charas tweaked left knee, Gregory Campbells fractured left foot and Milan Lucics one-game suspension were no match for the unbearable brightness of being the Bruins, and those brilliants Bs smacked the Habs by a 3-2 score at TD Garden for their fifth straight victory.
We can talk about depth all we want, but if we cant prove it or show it then its not really depth, right? asked Claude Julien following the victory. So this is whats been going on here the last little while. Weve been challenged with some injuries -- and obviously tonight a suspension -- and our guys keep stepping up.
Whoevers replacing ... the rest of the team just keeps going. We dont change our game and we dont change our game plan. We just try and play the same every night, no matter who youve got in the lineup. Thats just the simplicity of our hockey club.
Its sweetly simple and its finally yielded the results theyve been waiting for since making themselves a gigantic crap sandwich over the first month of the season.
The Monday night win over Montreal combined with the Flyers 3-2 shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche means that the Bruins finally have sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference, and theyve built up a dominant 10-2 record in their own Northeast Division.
There was talk about the individual games accomplishments, and both Brad Marchand and Tim Thomas could take bows knowing they contributed mightily to the nightly chores. Benoit Pouliot had some revenge against his old Montreal mates with a goal in the first period courtesy of an insanely dominant offensive zone face-off by Rich Peverley, and David Krejci was the beneficiary of an uncharacteristically sloppy night from P.K. Subban.
But the bigger picture wasnt about one 60 minute show of HabsBruins supremacy. It was about putting on display a reigning Stanley Cup thats learned how to banish trouble into the corner when it inevitably comes calling.
The Bruins are adept at finding players willing and able to step forward when their stars stumble and fall, and that allows them to succeed when others will fail.
The defensemen corps and the Bs goaltenders filled the gap when Chara missed time against the Kings and Senators, and it was a collective effort that filled in for the hulking presence normally provided by Lucic in these games against the Habs.
When youre missing a big part of the puzzle like that, we all need to step up. I know I say that a lot when we are missing a guy but thats exactly what we need to do, said Patrice Bergeron, who created the play that led to the game-winning goal with a sneaky piece of fore-checking trickery. Everyone needs to chip in and the guys that are coming in are always doing a good job.
Guys that are coming in are filling the void, they arent trying to replace them, and they are just playing their game. I think the guys did that tonight. They played a good game, it was a tough game for us to win but we found a way.
Certainly missing Chara for two-plus games and suiting up without Lucic for one HabsBruins game isnt going to tear the team apart at the seams, but it didnt even slow them down aside from perhaps a few extra shots fired at their goaltenders. The Bruins collected Ws in each of those games and simply moved on with their freight train of momentum thats ripping through the Eastern Conference.
That ability to focus and concentrate on getting results amid all manner of sound, fury and bad breaks is something they learned on the way to the Cup victory last seasonand never did the lesson resonate more than when the Bruins carried on with the business of winning after Nathan Horton went down with a concussion.
It shows the depth we have in this room and I think its something we learned a lot during the playoffs last year, said Marchand, who ranked second among all Bs forwards with 18:18 of ice time and scored the winning goal in the third period. When Horton was out different guys stepped it up, and this year youre seeing guys stepping forward at all the right times. Not only that, but you can also expect all four lines to go out there and battle hard to do the job.
The Habs are an absolute mess reeling in the Eastern Conference dumpster far away from a playoff spot. The Bruins cant lose even when their best players are pulled out of the fold for games at a time. It might seem like a bizarro world to longtime followers of both teams, but its the new reality for the Bruins as they continue to find new and interesting ways to win despite the unavoidable regular season bumps start to crop up.
No Chara, no Campbell and now no Lucic essentially means no problem for the Bruins.