By. Jim Crooks
The Boston Bruins have been a distant #4 in the hearts and minds of New England sports fans for the better part of the last two decades, and rightfully so. While the Red Sox, Patriots, and Celtics have been winning titles, the Bruins have largely been mired in mediocrity. Where have you gone Ray Bourque and Cam Neely? That said, there was much reason for optimism heading into the 2009-2010 campaign. The team was returning most of its key starters (with the notable exception of Phil Kessel) from a year ago when they surprised the entire NHL with one of the best records in the league and knocked out the hated Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs. Sure, last season ended badly with a tough loss to the Hurricanes in the 2nd round, but the young and gritty Bruins seemed poised for another strong season. And many pundits (including Sports Illustrated) picked them to make the Stanley Cup…or even win it this year.
So here we are at the mid-point of the 2009-2010 season, and how are the B’s faring thus far? Well, the answer is not that simple as it has been a roller coaster of ups and downs for our heroes. They got off to slow start at the beginning of the season, and then every time they seemed poised to go on a run they were beset with another key injury to slow them down. Milan Lucic, the heart and soul of the team who balances toughness with a deft touch around the net, and makes defensemen look over their shoulder whenever they have to skate into the corner for a puck, has already had two lengthy stints on the Injury Report. Further, leading playmaker Marc Savard has also spent over a month on the DL. Yet as the Bruins prepared for the Winter Classic, the NHL’s showcase event at Fenway Park on New Year’s Day things were looking up. The B’s had won 6 of 7 games, were sitting in 2nd place in the Northeast Division, and were firmly entrenched in playoff position. Furthermore, the team was getting healthier and all of the eyes of the hockey world were going to be fixated on them and the spectacle of hockey at Fenway for one perfect day.
And what a perfect day the Winter Classic was. For the first 58 minutes of the game the Bruins seemed to be a step slow and were lucky to only be down 1-0 thanks to some tremendous goaltending from reigning Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas. But his heroics were about to be wasted when the offense finally broke through on a power-play goal from 41 year old veteran Mark Recchi with just 2:18 left that sent the game into overtime. Just a few short minutes later, Fenway Park was sent into a frenzied celebration when Marco Sturm won it on a redirection goal in OT. All was well in Bruins Nation, and the good ship Claude Julien was ready to rocket back up to the upper echelon of the NHL, right? Wrong! Over the next two games the Bruins not only suffered backbreaking defeats (rallying from a 2 goal 3rd period deficit Monday vs. the Rangers only to lose on a bad goal with barely over 1 minute left in the game and then blowing an early 2 goal lead last night vs. the Blackhawks), they also lost two players to injury. They weren’t just any two players either. They lost arguably the two players they could least afford to lose…Patrice Bergeron and Marc Savard. Bergeron has been my MVP for the Bruins over the first half of the season. He plays great two-way hockey and has shown many flashes of playmaking brilliance…regaining the form he displayed prior to his traumatic head injury a couple seasons ago. The old Bergie was finally back…but now he’s out 3-6 weeks. Marc Savard is the best playmaker and the power-play QB on a team that has had difficulty putting the puck in the net at times this season. He just went down with a leg injury last night, so the verdict is still out on the severity. Here’s hoping it isn’t a major injury. The B’s can ill afford to lose one of their biggest scoring threats right now.
The prognosis for the Bruins 2nd half is a very hard one to make at this point. They finally got Lucic back last night, but it will be difficult to win games if Bergeron and Savard are out for any extended length of time. I’m still predicting a playoff berth, but if the latest injuries are severe, then they are going to have to play great defensive hockey, get great goaltending from Thomas and promising rookie Tukka Rask, and get some increased production out of the Wheeler-Krejci-Ryder line that burst onto the scene last year. Without those 3 things (and maybe some more scoring punch from the Defense Corps as well), it might end up being another long, cold, frustrating winter for B’s fans. However, if Bergeron and Savard can come back quickly, the team can stay healthy down the stretch, and they can make a big trade deadline move for a goal scorer, then the notion of a Stanley Cup run in 2010 may not be so far-fetched afterall. Go B’s!