The Bruins return to the Bell Centre Monday, which is where they last lost a game on Oct. 29. Since then, they’ve reeled off eight straight victories — their longest streak in two years. They won 10 straight in the 2008-09 season. They have climbed to seventh in the East, one point ahead of the Canadiens. Boston has played two fewer games.
Six of the B’s eight wins came in Boston, but not their dominant 6-0 victory over the Islanders on Saturday — the same Islanders who beat the Habs a few days earlier. That was only the Bruins fifth road game of the season (they’re 3-2). They played 13 of their first 17 at home and now their schedule gets a bit road-heavy. The win on Long Island was the first game in a stretch in which Boston plays 12 of 19 on the road.
Like the Rangers, whose seven-game streak was snapped by the Canadiens on Saturday, Boston’s opposition during their streak has not come from the strongest clubs in the NHL. The Bruins defeated the Islanders (twice), Columbus, Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton, New Jersey and Buffalo.
But unlike the Rangers, who did not overwhelm their foes during their streak, Boston has frequently played dominant hockey. They outscored these eight teams by a combined 44-13 and only two of the games were close, a one goal win over the Devils (on a late goal by Benoit Pouliot) and a shootout win over the Blue Jackets.
And as the 6-2 victory over the Sabres demonstrated (as if the world needed a demonstration), they are back to being the physically punishing team they were last spring.
After losing the home-and-home to the Habs which dropped them to the bottom of the East, Claude Julien and his staff went to work on the mental side of the game, doing lots of video work to rebuild the team’s psyche, shaking off the short offseason and the Cup hangover, telling they all was not lost and reminding them how to be a team that was hard to play against.
“The mental part of our game just wasn’t there,” Julien said after last Saturday’s win. “The players in practice, the execution wasn’t there and it wasn’t out of laziness, it was just mentally, we hadn’t cut the cord yet. Somehow we had to find a way to get these guys to understand the urgency.”
It seems to have worked, at least for these eight games. It translated into better skating and execution, and the Bruins forecheck — which was not effective prior to the streak — has been revived. That could pose a challenge to the young Montreal defence corps, although they did quite well not allowing the Rangers to get a forecheck going at all on Saturday.
Some of the Bruins who were sleepwalking at the season’s start have awakened. Nathan Horton has eight points in his last six games. Brad Marchand has eight points in his last five. On the blue line, Zdeno Chara has 10 points during the streak and Joe Corvo has six points in the last six game.
Corvo is also a plus-12 during the streak, while Chris Kelly is a plus-9 and Gregory Campbell is a plus-7. All were minus players before it.
Milan Lucic got hot when the streak started with seven points in the first four games, but he’s got only one point in the last four.
The best Bruins skaters the last time they faced the Habs — Tyler Seguin and Patrice Bergeron — have been consistently good all season. Bergeron has 12 points in his last 12 games.
Seguin has only one point in his last three games, but he’s still their top scorer with 11 goals and 21 points, which is 12th in the NHL. His plus-17 is second in the NHL and Kelly (plus-13), Marchand (plus-12), Chara (plus-12) and Bergeron (plus-11) are all in the top 10.
The Bruins are the best faceoff team in the league, winning 54.9 percent of their draws. Bergeron is at a remarkable 58.7 percent, David Krejci is at 55.3 percent.
The B’s goaltenders, Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask, have been strong during this streak, of course, but with the dominance by Boston on the scoreboard, they haven’t had to steal too many of these games. Thomas was stellar against the Devils, especially in the first two periods; Rask was very good against Columbus, especially in overtime. Thomas will likely get the start on Monday.
Here’s how the Bruins should line up for the teams’ third meeting of the season.
Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Nathan Horton
Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Tyler Seguin
Benoit Pouliot, Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley,
Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell, Shawn Thornton
Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk
Dennis Seidenberg, Joe Corvo
Andrew Ference, Adam McQuaid