BostonBruins.com - As the calendar turned to December, the Bruins sat in first place atop the Eastern Conference.
They finished November at 10-3-2, with an 8-0-2 record at home.
It hasn't been perfect Black & Gold style hockey. But it's been enough.
The month began on a sour note, with a 3-1 loss on Long Island that forced a bounce-back stretch of games, including a 3-0 shutout of the Tampa Bay Lightning amidst a four-game winning streak.
The B's would only suffer three more losses in November, none worse than the 6-1 rout by the Red Wings in Detroit just prior to Thanksgiving, that came during a span of three games in four days.
Those in the Spoked-B referred to the loss as a wakeup call, and their ensuing two straight wins, 3-2 over the New York Rangers and a 3-1 over the Columbus Blue Jackets, featured their best hockey of the season.
It was emotional, physical and passionate play. It was a full team effort.
"I think that’s a pretty good week, even though we didn’t get the effort that we wanted in Detroit," said Patrice Bergeron. "So I think we really bounced back in the last two games and it was a perfect way to end the week."
The Bruins have a four-day break in between games, before facing the Habs in Montreal on December 5. There's a chance that Pittsburgh, sitting just one point behind them (with 37 points, to Boston's 38), could jump them in the standings, though they'll have played two more games.
But that's out of the B's control.
What's in their control, now, is continuing the level of energy, compete level and work ethic they showed in putting together back-to-back consistent performances. They feel good right now, and the key is to not let that change.
"That’s kind of our M.O. When we play with emotion and passion, we’re a better team and we know that," said Shawn Thornton. "It’s not easy 82 games a year, but we’re going to have to find a way on most nights."
"You’re not going to have it every night but you can bring the effort anyways. I think the effort and emotion can always be there, whether your body feels like it’s up to it or not, you definitely can mentally be into it."
The goal, each year, is to be in a playoff spot by Thanksgiving. The goal is not necessarily to be playing playoff hockey.
The focus is on work ethic, and to keep finding ways to win.
"Teams are too good to not show up one night; we have to show up every night and I think we’ve done that the last two games," said Patrice Bergeron, following the wins over the Rangers and Blue Jackets. "We competed well, but we also stuck to the system and we created a lot of chances just by moving our feet."
You hear it often around the locker room, how it's important to not get too high, or too low, throughout the season. "It's a game of mistakes," they say, "and it's how you react."
It's cliche, but it's that way for a reason. It's always true within a game, and it's true from game to game. It's why you won't hear too much criticism from the B's bench boss of his team right now, as they find themselves atop the East.
"We always talk about where we want to be at Thanksgiving, and we're sitting here in first place," said Julien. "We haven't been perfect, by all means, and we know that, so we're certainly not standing here, saying how this is great - but we are where we want to be right now."
A third of the way into the season, the Bruins are 18-7-2. They've established themselves as a tough team to play against in the confines of TD Garden, with a 12-3-2 record.
Having been a predominantly strong road team in the past, the B's are just 6-4-0 on the road this season, though they did string together two straight wins in New York and Carolina.
They'll look to further re-establish that identity when they face five of their next six games on the road in Canada.
And with 45 games still remaining, there are bound to be more tough losses, and not-so-perfect nights. For Julien and the Bruins, it's about maintaining their compete level.
"Through the ebs and flows of a regular season, you want to try and remain at the top, as high as you can be," said Julien. "And at the same time, we have to make ourselves better, and that's the opportunity we have in the regular season to kind of get yourself better as you more forward."
The expectations are always high, but this is a team built for the postseason, for a drive towards the Ultimate Goal. The peak in their play needs to come in the spring, not in December -- as long as the wins are still coming.
"You see that a lot of times. 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?" remarked Julien.
"To me, I look more for consistency, versus getting real hot."
The comments from the B's bench boss came on Thanksgiving, just before they strung together two strong, all-around efforts. Now, it's about tightening the gap between the good and bad games, getting rid of any Detroit-like games, and pulling together more than just a pair of wins in a row.
"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," said Julien.
"That doesn't mean you can't play good hockey; it just means that, teams that win the Stanley Cup, are always playing their best hockey at that time of year. So that's why I don't worry as much about the regular season of the ebs and flows, than at least trying to get consistent with your games."
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