Put Mayor Menino on notice, he better start planning the parade route for June. Lord Stanley's Cup is coming. Now even the most optimistic of Bruins fans will laugh at this, but here are ten reasons why this team could have the goods in no particular order:
#1 Tim Thomas. Not since Dominik Hasek's days in Buffalo has the Vezina race been over by the all-star break. He has been absolutely dominant. Hopefully Tuukka gets more reps down the stretch to keep Timmy fresh for the postseason. Timmy was outplayed by Cam Ward two years ago in the 2nd round after his first Vezina season, but I have a different feeling about him this time around. He is so focused and so sharp that he seems to have reached another level.
#2 The Bruins are behind only Vancouver and Philadelphia in goal differential on the season. And they are 6th in the league in goals per game! It was much discussed that they were 30th on offense last season of course. They also have the fewest goals against and are on their way to another Jennings trophy this year. So, they have the balanced O and the solid D - a formula for playoff success. As we know, when David Krejci went down in Game 3 last year against the Flyers, we lost that balanced O and then lost the series. Losing Savard really hurts - though his numbers don't show it, it was him getting it going that spurred this team into playing incredibly well since xmas. He was just about to break out before Hunwick sent him back to Peterborough. I'm hoping he takes the rest of the season off for his own good.
#3 The Bruins are the best 3rd period team in the league this season. Only Vancouver has scored more goals in the 3rd so far this season (62 to 61), but our B's have only allowed 31 goals against for a +30 differential. The Canucks are 2nd best with a +23. What does this mean? That when the game is on the line, the Bruins are at their best. They show that playoff "gear" in the third period.
#4 Playoff experience. Most of the guys have been through the four playoff rounds the past two seasons (five over the past three). Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are the only two teams with more recent experience in the East. This could be worth a key win or two.
#5 Shootouts suck. If not for the shootout and overtime, the Bruins would be even safer in the standings. For example - let's say every game that goes to OT counts as a tie - no extra points. Here's the Bruins and Habs:
Boston - 26-15-9: 61 points
Montreal - 22-18-10: 52 points
The Bruins are 2-7 in games going to the extra session. Only Phoenix and Ottawa have a lower winning % in the entire league. But guess what, 4-on-4 OT and shootouts don't apply in the postseason so the Bruins are clearly among the elite even though they don't bring a consistent effort on a nightly basis which leads to...
#6 We'll get a consistent effort from the boys in the postseason. The majority of the frustration with watching this team this year is the occasional night off they take (unfortunately usually on home ice). OK fine, it's frustrating when we pay money to watch them as season ticket holders and they drop stinkers at home like against the Wild and the Sabres this past month, but count me among the many that would rather see a few stinkbombs at home during the regular season if it means the boys are ready to go come April. Two years ago after that fantastic regular season, the team may have shot their wad. As we all know, no wads have been shot yet this season.
#7 Big Z is healthy. I love this guy. To all of those Bruins fans who boo him when he doesn't keep a puck in at the blueline: go fuck yourselves! He's in the conversation for the Norris yet again. To those idiots who berate him: Watch players bounce off him in the defensive zone or how many times he calmly shields a guy off and gets the puck to the open man or breaks up a play with his reach. Also, watch opposing forwards have second thoughts when they go into his corner. He's tasked with matching up against the top offensive players every night and he leads the team in +/- at a +22 (tied for 4th best in the entire league).
#8 Patrice Bergeron. This may be his Stevie Y season in the playoffs. The kid is ready to carry a team to a critical win or two. His concussion is finally a distant memory and he is playing great hockey.
#9 Contributions from the young kids. Brad Marchand is the perfect kind of player for the playoffs - you could make a Claude Lemieux comparison. He's going to draw some big penalties and chip in offensively. I can see Tyler pulling a Kessel circa 2008: Claude benching him for not bringing it and him coming back to score a big goal or two. He has the skills that all he needs is a moment to change a game in the Bruins favor.
#10 Forward depth. The depth up front is far better than the past two years. I think Soupy can step up to the 3rd line center role that was filled by Vladdy last year. That's what carried the Bruins over Buffalo was three lines that were going then Vladdy tweaked his shoulder late in that series and then we lost Krejci and then it was over. Bergy/Krejci/Soupy up the middle is a lot better than what we had last year. There is also more firepower on their flanks than what was sent out there last year: gone will be Satan, 60% Lucic, Paille (no way he makes the playoff roster), Begin, 30% Savvy. In steps Nathan Horton, 100% Lucic, Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand, and Gregory Campbell. That is an enormous step up.
I also want Peter to go out and get a blueliner for the playoff run if Savvy's cap number is indeed freed up due to LTIR as it probably will be. Hopefully Providence can take care of forward depth - maybe they'll look to add one depth guy up front, but it certainly won't be a high-priced guy one would think (replace Paille's salary). Spend the money on the blueline!
Reserve the duck boats, paint those traffic barriers so they're nice and shiny, and start producing the ticker-tape.
I'll be the first to admit I'm foolishly optimistic, but why not.