The Bruins were in a similar position in 2010 to where they are now. (Elsa/Getty Images)
It’s been a while since the Bruins approached the Christmas break as a fringe playoff team. The last time it happened, however, they won the Stanley Cup.
Dec. 23, 2010 was a critical day in that ultimately successful season. The Bruins, coming off a postseason collapse against the Flyers the previous spring, were struggling.
Offseason acquisition Nathan Horton, who was in the midst of what would be a nine-game slump with no goals and one assist, was looking like a very talented non-factor who appeared to be bringing Milan Lucic down with him.
The team was going through the motions and it was taking them nowhere. It led to the Bruins losing four of five games, punctuated by a troubling no-show in a 3-0 shutout loss to the Ducks on Garden ice. Claude Julien, who historically is a set-it-and-forget-it guy with his lines, pulled Horton off the top line and replaced him with Blake Wheeler in that game.
After that 3-0 loss, the eighth-place Bruins had two days off before they would host the Thrashers in their final game before the holiday break. Those two days were the height of “Fire Claude Mania.”
In his weekly interview with CBS radio, President Cam Neely was asked if they were going to fire the coach. Neely said the Bruins weren’t, but did say, “I can understand why the fans are frustrated and may be calling for a coaching change.”
Dennis Seidenberg doesn’t remember too many specifics about the mood of the team at that point, only saying Tuesday that “it was really dead.”
Then, on Dec. 23, the Bruins came out and absolutely ran over the Thrashers. Shawn Thornton fought Eric Boulton off the faceoff and spent the next five minutes in the penalty box devising a plan to score two goals in the game. Patrice Bergeron had a shorty. Michael Ryder had a power play goal. Lucic sucker-punched Freddy Meyer and somehow didn’t get suspended.
Ference fought. Horton fought. Marc freaking Savard fought. The game was an explosion of emotions and every bit the coming out party that the team had forgotten to have earlier in the season.
“I think that was definitely a defining game for us,” Brad Marchand said Tuesday. “We turned it on and really didn’t look back.”
The point of all this nostalgic crap is that teams have been here before and they’ve gotten out of it. Rarely do they in the fashion that they B’s did in 2010-11, but the similarities – even down to leaving the goaltender out to dry — are there between this season and that one.
‘When I look back to that year, that was my first year [in Boston] and there were a lot of new faces as well, so I guess you could see the parallels between that team and this team,” Gregory Campbell said. “It just seemed like it took a while for us to jell, to mesh as a team.
“I think what we’re trying to get to here is – we’ve done a lot in the last four seasons and they’ve all produced different outcomes,” Campbell said. “Winning the Presidents’ Trophy, we lost in the second round. We had some uncertainty in 2010-11 where it wasn’t the best regular season and we ended up winning the Stanley Cup. I think we’re just trying to get to a level of consistency here where, hopefully we find that. Maybe it does take a game like that Atlanta game.”
The Bruins can only hope that amidst all their turmoil this season, they can find a way to turn it around, but they’d be kidding themselves if they were to think they could do it the same way as they did back then.
Thornton is in Florida and Adam McQuaid is hurt. It’s less likely the Bruins will run over a team simply by beating them up the way they did with Atlanta, but they could – and just spitballing here — have more than two lines show up. Campbell’s line, which owned that Atlanta game, could do something for the third or fourth time all season.
The point is they can be better, and doing so now could pay big dividends.
“I mean, it doesn’t happen in one game, but one game, when it’s a full team effort, the shift in energy is incredible, what it can do for a team,” Campbell said. “Especially with a three-day break following, you sit on that game. It certainly gets you excited to come back. Not to say that three days is a long time, but if you end on a good note, you can go and regroup and really be excited for the second half of the season.”