It finally came back to hurt the Boston Bruins. The Bruins (22-9-2), have been leaning heavily on some of their key players, and youngsters from Providence, due to injuries, suspensions and sickness. All things considered, going 3-1 on a 4-game road trip that started in Toronto and ended in Vancouver, is pretty remarkable. It is made even more impressive when you hear some of the guys played despite have flu-like symptoms themselves.
During the road trip we got to see all sides of this Bruins team, both good and bad. I will go over the bad first so we can all leave feeling positive about what the team pulled off on the road trip.
Loss at Vancouver:
Without question the Bruins most disappointing game was their last of the road trip against the Vancouver Canucks. While the team did not play as bad as the 6-2 final would suggest, it was far from their best effort. The team was definitely not at their best, but the Canucks deserve credit for taking advantage of their opportunities. Also, in the interest of fairness, even though I cringe saying this, Roberto Luongo had a hell of a game in net for the Canucks. Now that I’ve pumped Luongo’s tires, I’ll move on.
I feel like I am beating a dead horse, actually it may just be my head against a wall, but on the road trip Boston continued to struggle with consistency. In their first two games on the trip, the Bruins trailed after one period. The team was eventually able to battle back in both of those games, beating the Maple Leafs 5-2 and the Flames 2-1.
In their next game they started strong, jumping out to a 3-0 lead after one period in Edmonton. It finally seemed like they would have a game that did not need a late comeback. Although they did not need to comeback at any point, they did need to fight for the win. The Oilers never got the memo that they were the inferior team and fought back, literally. After Edmonton scored to make it 3-1, a heavyweight fight between Milan Lucic and Luke Gazdic at 4:17 of the second period seemed to change momentum in favor of the Oilers. Another goal late in the second brought the contest even closer. A comfortable lead quickly turned into a tight game, leaving the Bruins once again needing a strong finish. Although it wasn’t a strong finish (Boston got outshot 13-3), the Bruins did manage to hang on and won 4-2 thanks to an empty netter in the final minute of the game.
Despite inconsistent play, the Bruins were able to win more than they lost on the road trip. I did put the teams up and down play in “the bad” section because it can become more of a problem as the playoffs begin, but as I have said before, the team somehow manages to overcome their inconsistent play and their timely goals have become somewhat of an identity for this team.
No one is going to feel bad for the Bruins; injuries, illness and suspensions can and do happen to every team, but taking three out of four on the road trip was impressive. After placing Loui Eriksson on IR (injured reserve), losing Shawn Thornton to suspension and Chris Kelly to a fractured fibula in their last game before heading to Toronto, the hits kept coming to this Bruins roster on the road.
A blue line, already missing Adam McQuaid, lost another body when Dougie Hamilton left in the first period of the game against the Maple Leafs. Like Kelly, Hamilton is expected to be out a few weeks because of a lower-body injury. Another Bruins skater who did not escape Toronto without getting injured was forward Daniel Paille who is suffering from concussion-like symptoms.
If the injuries were not enough, the team also had to deal with the flu, an illness that quickly spread through the team. Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara and Reilly Smith were just a few that were reportedly suffering from flu-like symptoms. By the time the team made it to Vancouver, they needed to call up multiple players from Providence on an emergency basis. The team could have easily used all the tough breaks as excuses and settle for a mediocre road trip, but leadership, from both the players and coaches, helped keep the team focused enough to take three out of four.
Kevan Miller and Reilly Smith:
Both of these players were really instrumental in the team’s success on the trip. Miller, who honestly came out of nowhere on me, has been impressive since joining the team because of injuries to the blue line. The more games Miller has played, the more comfortable he has become, and it has shown up in his play. Before being a minus-1 in the 6-2 loss to Vancouver, Miller had a goal, an assist and was a plus-3 on the road trip. The rookie 26-year-old defenseman’s play was a crucial part of the team’s success on the road.
Reilly Smith, who reportedly was so sick he had to be sent home from the morning skate before the Canucks game, moved up from the third line to fill the open spot on the second line because of the Eriksson injury. Given the opportunity to play with the second liners brought the best out in Smith. The young forward netted three goals and had an assist on the trip, including the game winner against the Flames. As I’ve said before, Smith has emerged as a key player for the Bruins this year, and he showed just how important he is by stepping up in the wake of all the roster movement.
It was certainly not a perfect trip, but it was about as good as you could have hoped for if you’re a Bruins fan. Overcoming all the challenges they had to face on the road speaks to the leadership on this team, as well as its depth. Not only the depth they have on their roster, but also in their organization. Having defensemen like Kevan Miller and Matt Bartkowski, who has helped both defensively and offensively, in the organization is really important because of all the injuries the Bruins have been riddled with lately.
The team has had two days off coming into the game tonight against the Flames and hopefully it will be enough time for the players who are not injured to get over the flu-like symptoms that the teams has been dealing with. Even if that is the case, Claude Julien will still have to be creative with his line combinations because of all the injuries. Having seen the team’s resiliency on the road trip, I expect them to continue to have success despite being shorthanded.