The Bruins’ final game before the All-Star break didn’t go their way, a 6-2 loss to Anaheim that dropped the B’s home record to a lousy 11-13-2.
However, the Boston dressing room seemed content with their lot in life as they packed up for a week’s furlough, a 26-18-5 season mark in tow that was holding them third place in the Atlantic Division with 33-games remaining on the season.
“We’ve surprised a lot of people,” said defenseman Torey Krug. “We’re not surprised in here where we [are]. We had a goal to be in the top three [of our division] before the All Star break and we’re sitting right there.”
“At the beginning of the year there were a lot of people that probably thought that we wouldn’t be in the playoffs,” echoed forward Ryan Spooner. “You kind of heard that stuff, and that we would be a younger team. But we’ve shown that we can play with the top teams. We’ve proved a lot of people wrong and we just have to keep that up.”
The Bruins have indeed exceeded many preseason prognostications to this point. The team’s 21-10-2 record against the Eastern Conference shines bright, as does their 12-6-1 mark within the division. The latter includes a 4-0 performance against the two teams ahead of Boston in the Atlantic (Florida and Detroit).
That said, despite winning five of their last seven games, players are also willing to admit that their current playoff perch is a tenuous one.
“Some up and downs,” captain Zdeno Chara said when asked to reflect on the season to this point. “Obviously we want to be building on some positive things that we’ve done but I think that we also realize that we’ve still got a lot to work on and for sure room to improve.”
Chara continued: “It’s very close. Every team is in the hunt. Everybody can get ahead of teams that are on top when they get on a little bit of a roll. You have to be ready to grind until the end because if not you can easily be falling four, five, six places in no time.”
“There’s still a lot of room for improvement for us,” admitted goalie Tuukka Rask. “We’ve played some good hockey, got some wins, but we kind of still have been on a bit of a roller coaster ride at times. That’s something you want to fix and find that consistency. Your average game shouldn’t be too bad, you try to bring that level up as a whole group.”
The group’s leader, head coach Claude Julien, also sounds pleased with the team’s standing as they approach the stretch run. And yet, he’s unable or unwilling to commit to the ‘I’ word.
“We seem to really want an identity for this team, don’t we?” Julien said, smiling. “We’re a young team that’s just kind of growing. You know, I don’t know that we have this specific identity, but when I say young – we have some veterans, but we’ve got a lot of young guys we’re just trying to blend in here. And I’d say more than an identity, I’d look more for consistency from this team.”
Julien continued: “There’s areas where we’re good one game and the next game, not so good, and that’s what I mean by consistency. We’ve got to learn how to play a certain way and try to be as consistent as possible in those areas. But having said that, with this group that we have and what we’ve had to put together this year, I’m not going to complain about where we are in the standings and how hard we’ve had to work to get there.”
Consistency might not sound thrilling. Oscar Wilde once called it the last refuge of the unimaginative. But for the 2015-2016 Bruins, they are searching for that refuge.
“Tonight we would’ve liked to have gotten the win,” Spooner said, back to discussing the Anaheim loss. “I don’t think we played a bad game I just thought the full 60 just wasn’t there tonight. Consistency. We go on some stretches where we win five or six in a row, and then we lose three or four in a row. We definitely need to change that. And our games at home they haven’t been great. The last little bit they’ve been a little bit better but on a whole that needs to improve.”
“We’re in a good spot, it’s a tight division, tight conference,” said Rask. “At least good training for playoffs because there’s no easy games. Just re-load and re-charge the battery. It’s always a tough schedule, you play a lot of games, a lot of hockey. It’s good to be able to break for a couple days and try to get your mind off hockey for a few games. Get back here and be ready to battle again.’