Streaking Bruins Not Focusing on Streak
BOSTON, MA - The Bruins are on a 12-game winning streak. Everyone outside of their dressing room has to keep bringing it up.
"What streak?" Chris Kelly said, stone-faced, on Monday morning, as he met with media following the team's pregame skate at TD Garden, with Bruins vs. Habs on tap for that evening.
The alternate captain, of course, soon added a smile and proceeded to think about the streak, because he was being asked about the streak.
"You know, obviously we do know things are going well," he said. "But I've been on streaks before, where you're so happy to be a on a streak that it's kind of your mindset, like 'oh, let's win the next one.'"
"It's not really the case this time. You know, we're just going out and playing. If we play well, we have a chance to win. If we don't play well, we don't have a chance to win. Every line has been contributing, and all six D and both goalies have been playing really well. It's been a collective effort from everyone."
Boston hosts Montreal on Monday night at TD Garden, coming off of their three-game, week-long road trip through New Jersey, Colorado and Arizona.
This group hasn't dropped a game since March 2, a 4-2 loss to Washington at home. For the last two weeks, they've been asked about their streak that keeps growing.
"I haven’t talked about it, they haven’t really talked about it, the streak is basically your guys’ job to talk about," Head Coach Claude Julien told reporters gathered at TD Garden following pregame skate. "But inside that dressing room, there hasn’t been much talk about that at all."
"We’re just enjoying ourselves right now, it’s fun the way we’re playing, it’s fun to get the results we’re getting, and all we do is go out the next game and try and keep that tradition going."
The tradition that they've developed has them nearing the franchise record win streak of 14 games, reached by the 1929-1930 version of themselves in the Spoked-B. It still marks the third longest winning streak in league history, when Bruins like Eddie Shore and Dit Clapper were the ones in Black & Gold.
That streak had to be looked up, though, by flipping through the record book pages.
"Those are things that next year, nobody will remember," Julien said. "We take care of other things than the streak. Right now, it’s about our game, it’s about day to day."
"It's not something we've been talking about at all, honestly," said alternate captain Patrice Bergeron.
"We're reminded every day, basically, by you guys," he smirked. "But it's not something that we're putting too much emphasis on."
"I mean, it's nice to have. We've talked a lot about having some consistency to our game, and we've done that for 12 games now, so we've got to keep that going. We know it's the last stretch and the most important stretch of the year to get ready for playoffs."
The Bruins are 20-2-3 in their past 25 games, spanning back to January 16 in Dallas, when the team starting building their game prior to the Olympic Break. The change in play came after a tough road trip through California, when Bruins around the room like Reilly Smith labeled it "gut-check" time for the team. They responded.
Their consistency has really stretched greater than just these 12 games.
But during these games, different story lines have emerged. Are the Bruins peaking too soon? Will there be a letdown? Shouldn't they save this for the playoffs? Don't they need to face more adversity?
Let's review, as Boston shoots for the win over Montreal.
Peaking Too Soon?
Throughout the entire season, Julien has referred back to a team hitting its stride and peaking at the right time. If a team peaks in November, can they sustain it? What about in January?
Back on Thanksgiving, Julien spoke strongly about wanting his team in a playoff spot (which they were), but wasn't discouraged about their consistency not being at the level it should be. There was still a ways to go.
"I mean, how many times do you see teams take off in the beginning of the year and just be on fire, and as the season progresses, they start sliding and slide themselves out of a playoff spot?" Julien had said on November 28, just about four months ago.
"To me, I look more for consistency."
"I see it all the time - a team reaches its peak once a year, and you always try to make sure you gauge it so it's at the right time of year."
Is three weeks before the postseason too soon? This team would beg to differ. If they had it their way, they'd be 82-0-0 every season.
"Yeah, of course," smiled Bergeron. "I mean, we know it's not realistic, but that being said, we're heading into every game where the goal in mind is to win the game obviously. That's why we play and we've got to have that confidence that we can do that."
"So it's just about: keep playing our game. But we know we're facing some tough games, some tough opponents, and [Monday's] going to be a tough game against Montreal, we always know that they play [us] really well and they're battling also for that first spot in the Division and we know it's important to both of us."
While the Bruins don't necessarily place emphasis on the streak, other teams certainly realize what they're facing.
"We all know that they're on a 12-game winning streak. And the thing that I'm impressed with - it's at this time of the year," said Canadiens Head Coach Michel Therrien.
"It's something to put up a streak like that in November, December, but this time of the year? All teams are battling really hard to make the playoffs, and I'm really impressed about the way they're playing."
"I think we're still trying to work on some things and try and get better," said Bergeron.
Will There Be a Letdown?
When will the streak come to an end? Every night is a new chance for an opponent to come in and upset the Bruins. Riding high, with 12 wins and another strong road trip, is there any concern for a letdown?
"Not really," said defenseman Matt Bartkowski. "At least personally, I'm not even thinking about that win anymore. I'm kind of just focused on [Montreal]."
"And, I don't know, getting a read on the other guys," he paused to give another quick look around the locker room for emphasis. "I think that they pretty much feel the same way. Nobody's even mentioned anything like that, so we've just got to play our game, and it's worked so far, so we've just got to keep it going."
"I think I have to give them - the players - a lot of credit because I haven’t had to do much," said Julien. "They’ve kind of - I guess they’ve gotten used to it. They know how it works around here, they know what’s served us best in the past and we’re a team that goes game by game."
When the Bruins earned a 4-2 comeback win over the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday in Arizona, they did so thanks to a game-winner from Shawn Thornton with less than five minutes left in regulation.
"We've been around here long enough. We don't really look at that too often," Thornton had said following the win, when asked - yet again - about the streak. "I think if you guys didn't bring it up, we probably wouldn't talk about it, to be completely honest. We'll enjoy this win - like we always say, we'll enjoy this win until midnight, and then forget about it and worry about Montreal, and on and on and on."
"We don't really look at what we've done in the past. Just keep focusing on the next game. I think that's been one of our keys to success over the last five, six years."
And whether a game against an opponent like Montreal holds more meaning for them or not, you'll never get an indication from that dressing room, other than the acknowledgement that yes, it's always a great matchup against the historic rivals.
"Phoenix is a pretty good team, Colorado is a pretty good team, so it is not about this team here that is going to give us an idea about how well or how poor we are, it’s more about us continuing to play our game," said Julien, of facing the Habs. "It’s a different sweater that’s up against us and that is how it should be looked upon."
Save This for the Playoffs?
With the Bruins going all out every night, battling, competing, and ramping up the intensity, you'd think they want to save this type of play for the postseason, no?
Exhibit A: Jarome Iginla, who had 11 goals (including three game-winners) and three assists during the Bruins' 12-game winning streak, with a plus-11 rating.
When Iginla racked up two more goals in the win over Phoenix, Julien was asked if he might want the vet to bottle that up for the playoffs.
"You guys are always worried about guys peaking too early and all of that kind of stuff. Those guys, they want to do well every night," Julien said. "I think with Iggy, it's - I don't care what anybody says, you can't bottle things up and say, 'oh I'm going to save it up for the playoffs.' It doesn't work that way."
"Consistency is what we're looking for."
What helps the Bruins sustain this pace is, no doubt, their four line roll-out. With four trios sustaining the attack and compete level from shift to shift, it not only wears down opponents, but it also means more manageable minutes and rest for every player on the bench. That applies to the defensemen as well, and both goaltenders.
When the team is going, it makes it easier for every individual.
"If I don’t have four good lines, I can’t use four lines. So the reason I use four lines is because I feel we’ve got it and the proof is right there in the last game when [Shawn] Thornton scored that winning goal for us," said Julien.
Another key? The Bruins have only trailed for 52:53 out of 725 minutes during the streak, allowing for that four-line consistency to remain in tact.
"There is no reason for me to cut down my bench. Because we’ve been able to do that, we’ve had more energy throughout the games and from start to finish our pace has been better," said Julien. "That to me has been a big reason why we’re at where we are right now, is that there’s not too many guys in our lineup you're disappointed in at the end of the night."
When a team faces adversity, it makes them stronger. Have the Bruins faced enough of it? One could argue that December and early January served that purpose, but during this 12-game streak?
"I think there's been different situations where we've been pushed," said Chris Kelly. "I thought last game was a great job by everyone - you know, Phoenix is a great team and they're battling for a playoff spot. We got their best game and I thought we handled ourselves accordingly. We were down by one going into the third and then we get big goals by Iggy and Thorty, and then we managed to score an empty-net goal."
Was that the most adversity they've had during this stretch?
"To to be honest, no, I don't know," said Kelly. He was trying to think back on the games, and couldn't really remember.
"Yeah, you know, we've played so many games that it becomes a blur after a while that you just, you know, 'okay, we played well last game, well, let's focus on the next one' and that's kind of what we're doing."
The fact is, the Bruins have faced adversity from the opposition all season. They always have a target on their back; they're always a measuring stick. That target is just a little bit bigger right now.
"I think you see it at the start of games, teams come out there pretty hard and there are times where we have had to weather the storms, especially on the road," said Julien, of what they've faced recently. "Right now you are battling with teams that are really desperate and they’re doing everything they can to get themselves in the playoffs or keep themselves in the playoff position."
"So I think that is something that we recognize but weathering the storm to me is just as important as winning a game sometimes. The pace of our game has been pretty good from start to finish and the third period stats indicate that."
Their third period goal differential is plus-44. The Bruins play their best when the desperation is highest, whether it's coming from them (like the come-from-behind win in Phoenix) or from their opponent.
"We know they are all going to be hard games so we really have to focus on how we need to be ready to continue to play well," said Julien.
For the Bruins, it's a simple formula, and one that has proven to give them success.
"If you can look at the good games you play and what you did those games, and then the bad games and change it, then if we can get that all clicking like that, we're a pretty tough team to beat," said Bartkowski.
Will the Bruins win every game moving forward?
The odds are unlikely. But, they'll likely give themselves a chance to win every game.