Another game, another two points. That's the way the Bruins' six-game road trip went, and it ended Tuesday with a 1-0 victory over the Senators at Scotiabank Place (recap).
Six wins in six games, four of which came with Tuukka Rask in net, and the last of which came in shutout fashion. It's been known since the second game of the season that this Bruins team can win on the road, but this trip taught people a lot more.
The road swing started on Feb. 17 in Long Island, where then-newly acquired forward Chris Kelly was unable to join the team due to visa issues. The next day he made his Bruins debut, as did Tomas Kaberle, who was one of three players traded for on a busy day for GM Peter Chiarelli.
Over the course of the journey, the Bruins won, while the newcomers — a group that also included forward Rich Peverley — got acclimated. Everyone says there's no better way for a team with new pieces to jell than to hit the road, and now Kaberle, Peverley and Kelly will return to Boston both comfortable in their surroundings and on a team that, along with the Sharks, is the hottest in the NHL.
Not only did the Bruins establish team chemistry for their new guys, but they provided that they are both willing and capable of splitting the goaltending duties more evenly for the rest of the regular season. Prior to the recently concluded road trip, Rask started 17 of the Bruins’ first 57 games, which averaged out to about three starts per every 10 contests. Tim Thomas started eight of the team’s last 10 games before the trip, but at times he didn’t look his Vezina-ish self, allowing 15 goals in a 10-period span.
As the Bruins prepared for the playoffs (which they figure to enter as a top 3 seed), it was important to give Thomas the rest he needed and boost Rask’s confidence. The 23-year-old had either struggled or seen his teammates struggle in front of him as he strung together a 5-11-1 record prior to the trip, and though he wasn’t lights-out at all times, four wins without a loss is just what the Bruins needed from their young netminder.
Then there’s the progress of the top line. While the Bruins’ big acquisitions consisted of a puck-moving defenseman and a pair of bottom-six forwards, they did not answer the question of whether their first line can be a back-breaker for opponents in the post season. The trio of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton is producing the way many had hoped they would all season. Lucic and Krejci had eight points apiece over the road trip, while Horton had six and has now scored in three straight games for the first time since joining the team. It was an area in which the Bruins needed progress, and they are getting it at the right time.
Now for the B's, it's about what lies ahead of them on the schedule and who's above them in the standings. That would take them to Thursday night, when they'll face the second-seeded Lightning at TD Garden.
A win over the Lightning, who are on a modest three-game win-streak of their own, would put Boston behind only the Flyers in the Eastern Conference. Both the Bruins and Lightning have 81 points on the season, though Tampa Bay holds the edge given that they've played 62 games to the Bruins' 63.
So in order to move up in the standings, they'll need to follow their impressive trip by winning at home, something they haven't done as easily. The Bruins' 48 points in away games gives them the best road record of any team in the NHL. Their 33 points in home games (including the season-opener in Prague) puts them in a tie for 22nd in the league.
They've won half of their last eight games at the Garden, so with three games against playoff teams on Causeway Street on tap, there will be little room for them to merely celebrate their recent feat. A pedal-to-the-metal approach is the only way to continue their streak. With the big wins and long streaks come trap games and other potential speed bumps. They avoided a couple by following their win over the NHL-leading Canucks with victories over the Oilers and Senators, and they’ll have to remain careful as more come.
The last time the Bruins had a perfect six-game road-trip was in 1972. Everyone knows what else happened in 1972, and from here on out — home or road — getting a chance at the Cup should be less of a hope and more of an expectation.