June 22, 2024

Matheson: Powerhouse Boston Bruins in Edmonton to take on streaky Oilers

“We have to stay out of the box,” said Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery. “If we take a penalty, we’re going to pray”]

It poured on the Boston Bruins’ parade when they crashed in the playoffs last spring in round one, losing to Florida after being a regular-season machine and racking up the most points in NHL history.

Among Eastern Conference teams, only the Panthers had more points (78-77), going into the Bruins’ game Wednesday against the Edmonton Oilers.


The Bruins are soldiering on without their longtime captain Patrice Bergeron, who retired and will be a first ballot Hall of Famer in three years when he becomes eligible for entry. Even without No. 2 centre David Krejci, who also retired, and winger Taylor Hall, who was traded because they couldn’t afford him, and a host of others.


This season’s Bruins are showing cracks. They need a PP QB (how about trading for Nashville’s Tyson Barrie?), their PK without Bergeron winning every face-off has been weak for weeks. Their defence could use a touch of nastiness, they also just lost one of their core blueliners Hampus Lindholm for weeks (but no surgery) with a suspected knee injury, and they have to grind out goals.

Players such as Jake DeBrusk, who has been a Bruin for seven years now and can go to market July 1 as an unrestricted free-agent, aren’t putting up points.


But, after 135 points last season, they remain a tough out because of the best tag-team in net — Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark — even if the wins don’t always look pretty. They went into the Oilers matchup with 12 regulation losses in 53 games.


Are they the prohibitive favourite going into this spring’s playoffs like in 2023? Not by a long shot, in a faith, hope and parity NHL, but does anybody really know who’s going to win the Stanley Cup today, in a wide-open field? Nope.


“I think we’d maybe clinched a playoff spot after 50 games last season,” said DeBrusk, currently on the wing with David Pastrnak and Pavel Zacha, but unbelievably without a point in nine straight games.

The fans always feel their team is the best, and they don’t give nearly enough credit to the opposition but in the current NHL, where every team has some hole, there might be 12 legit contenders for the Cup.


“After we lost in the playoffs (last spring), they (fans) think the world is ending,” said DeBrusk, also cognizant of the fans’ rationale with a leadership void after Bergergon and Krejci retired.


But they won their first six games, were 9-1 after 10 and 12-3 after 15.


They have won only 11 of their last 21 games but have points in 16 of them. In their last five they have four losses but they just beat Dallas.


“There’s going to be ups and downs in a season but you have to believe you have the horses to run,” said DeBrusk. “Sometimes this game is cruel and it can humble you, but what we have here is a standard (of play). We try to bring the same intensity.”

The Bruins lost only 12 of 82 games in regulation last year, but it’s a tight league.

Bruins Oilers

So far, they’ve weathered the storm, although losing Lindholm stings. He plays the most minutes at even-strength, averages 2:40 on the PK a night and is on their second PP unit. If he’s out for too long, they may have to trade for another left defenceman. Certainly, they’re in the running for Calgary’s Noah Hanifin.


“Hampus isn’t on this (four-game) trip. He’s out week-to-week,” said coach Jim Montgomery, who lost him in the win over Dallas after he fell awkwardly in the third period, an innocuous play.


“Sometimes a part of your skate gets caught in a rut,” said Montgomery.


But no medical procedure?


“No, not an option,” said Montgomery.

What’s the biggest thing they miss not having Bergeron on the ice?


“His defensive game. He covered a lot of ground in our D zone. He’s maybe the best two-way player to ever play in my eyes (six-time Selke winner). If we got one layer that broke down, he would usually be in the second layer. It was hard to get through him,” said DeBrusk.

Jake DeBrusk Boston Bruins

“And the face-offs, he won pretty much all of them.”

They miss Bergeron, who retired at 38 years old after 19 seasons, in the bumper position on the power play, working with Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, now wearing the C. And on the PK, he was the smartest, best player on the ice.


“If there’s any player you want to show your little ones, it’s probably him,” said DeBrusk.


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