BOSTON — It’s beginning to feel a lot like December around the TD Banknorth Garden.
No, no one’s hung mistletoe in the halls or decorated a tree or employed anthem-singer Rene Rancourt to belt out some carols from the bench. It’s just that the Boston Bruins are back to playing the brand of hockey that made them the toast of the NHL by the time the holiday season ended.
The Bruins are rocking bodies, bashing heads,defending their home turf and, more importantly, scoring goals in bushels. The way the club is playing right now harkens back to a simpler time, a period of old time hockey … a time that was just two months ago. With their 6-0 rout of the Anaheim Ducks tonight at the Garden, the Bruins have now won their first two games on their current homestand by a combined score of 12-1.
December 2008 was a grand old time in Bruins Land. The club enjoyed a 14-game home-ice winning streak, lit up the scoreboard for five or more goals five times and no one dared cross the line physically with them leading up to Santa’s arrival. But things began to slip in January and February. The goal-scoring seemed to be suffering from a never-ending New Year’s hangover and before leaving on a five-game road trip the Bruins dropped three of four games at home. As quickly as they’d built themselves into a pre-Christmas powerhouse the Bruins seemed to be turning into a Valentine’s Day massacre.
But a little homecooking and a back-to-basics approach seems to have brought December back better than Justin Timberlake could bring back sexy. Chuck Kobasew threw down with Keith Ballard in the 6-1 win Tuesday against Florida, and then kept his gloves on for two goals tonight. Shawn Thornton made sure George Parros paid for taking liberties with star center Marc Savard, and Michael Ryder and Matt Hunwick made sure they gave Tim Thomas’ shutout goaltending the support it needed.
Now it’s just a matter of the Bruins sustaining the efforts they’ve just put forth over the next stretch of games against tougher opponents Washington and Philadelphia. While a neophyte observer like myself thinks they just need to keep playing the way they have in the two games they’ve won, most of those in the dressing room would like to see some improvements made to their world-beater style.
“I think we’re doing some things better, for sure. We’ve got to continue to build on that. It’s good to be back at home and we’ve got a big stretch of games here,” said Kobasew, echoing the thoughts of many of his teammates.
The message was the same from head coach Claude Julien.
“We’re not quite there yet where we want to be. But we’re certainly moving in the right direction. We’ve scored 12 goals in the last couple of games, and I think overall, our game has started to come back. But we need to be hard on ourselves in order to have our game where we want it to be and not get satisfied.”
That’s the key. Maybe the January/early-February swoon saw the Bruins get a little satisfied, a little full of themselves. It definitely saw them deal with some serious injuries to key players, including Ryder, Phil Kessel and Milan Lucic. Now they might have to go without Lucic and Savard, who will both be re-evaluated Friday. But that’s the thing: if the Bruins play the game the way they have this week, it shouldn’t matter if they’re down a man or two. Their depth should be able to make up for most absences, and the physical element should always be present — regardless of who’s wearing the sweaters.
The way the Bruins are playing now, the way they played in December, that’s championship hockey. If they can keep it up, they could wind up enjoying a Christmas-like atmosphere in June.