April 10, 2011: The end of the regular season
Tuukka Rask’s most stunning left pad save, denying an all but certain goal. Despite losing, Tuukka helped to preserve Tim Thomas’s record-breaking season for his save percentage, beating out Dominik Hasek to assume the number one spot with a .938.
Today is the culmination of 82 games spread across six months of the regular season. It all began one morning (Central Standard Time) when the Bruins opened their season at 02 arena in Prague. There are two ways to chart the Bruins right now. Against the team they were a year ago, when they ended the season and entered the playoffs against the Sabres as a sixth seed. Or, against where they were six months ago when the season commenced.
One year ago the Bruins were still suffering the suffocating expectations of the previous year, in many respects. They bowed out too early then, and were expected to rise ever higher. It was a time of doubt. Without number one center Marc Savard there were doubts one year ago, doubts they would be able to pack the offensive punch needed for a deep run. Tuukka Rask was carrying the team then, almost as if by accident leading the team through a hard-fought battle with Buffalo. But despite his spectacular play, more questions than answers loomed.
Six months ago, the Bruins were once again without Savard, though talk of his eventual return was more muted. Questions about offensive production lingered six months ago, too. The addition of Horton was intended to provide the kick the Bruins needed. The team already appeared vested in renewed starter Tim Thomas. A stronger puck-moving defenseman was also considered a component the team desperately needed–and laterdid. The downfall of five months prior had been put behind the team, and a group that was stronger, more experienced, wiser, had risen from the ashes of that fateful night at TD Garden as the Flyers blew past them.
The lessons of round two against the Flyers prevailed throughout the regular season. Time and again the Bruins elevated their compete-level when it mattered most; against the Capitals, against the Flyers, against the Penguins. The Bruins did however underestimate weaker opponents, to be fair. But they elevated their game with a consistency that was unmatched.
Now with just a few days to go until the Bruins began round one against the Canadiens, what can be said? For one, the team possess a top net-minder playing the season of his career (though the same could be said two years ago to some extent). The Bruins have been blessed with Tomas Kaberle, at long last. And the team has benefited from the surprise and clutch goal-scoring of Lucic and Marchand, among others. The Bruins, on paper, would appear to be assured a deep run.
But as with prior obstacles, as the team embarks on the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, the biggest challenge with be psychological. Can they win? Can they pace themselves? Can they play 60 minutes? They have the pieces, but do they have the head for it?