Where would one ever begin writing this as a Hollywood-type script, in preparation for a great sports movie? It would be tough to write a script that would be believable, if all the things that have happened for the 2022-23 Boston Bruins this season were included in the story. The idea that a team (as of Wednesday) had compiled a record of 64-12-5…thus far having surpassed, and then some, the existing NHL record of 62 wins (64) in this 82-game regular season schedule…add to that their notching the most points(133) achieved in a single season – topping the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens record of 132 by a single point with one game still to play! Then add in David Pastrnak scoring 60 goals – the first Bruins player to do it since the Phil Esposito years, and lets keep the imagined fantasy going with a pair of outstanding goaltenders: Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman. Ullmark is #1 across the NHL Goaltending leaderboard – top man in wins (40), goals-against-average (1.89), and save percentage .938. The ‘technical backup’ Swayman holds the #3 spot on that same leaderboard with very respectable numbers that include 23 wins, a goals-against-average of 2.21, and save percentage .922. Okay, still not unbelievable enough, let’s imagine Ullmark as a candidate for the Vezina Trophy “as the goalie who is the best at their position,” we can consider Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron a finalist to win the Selke Trophy… “given to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game,” and if he wins it would be for the sixth time in his career. Let’s not forget the new coach Jim Montgomery, make him a finalist for the Jack Adams Award…the coach “adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success.” Perhaps we should stop there? No, let’s not – we can add Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney to the mix as a finalist for The Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award “given annually to the top National Hockey League general manager.” Enough said!
Back to Earth, with knowing that much of the above is true, and happening right before the eyes of the Boston Bruins faithful. We could dwell on the fact that Ullmark left Tuesday night’s win halfway thought the third period, due to him appearing to tweak some part of his body, and was replaced capably by Swayman. According to coach Montgomery, no reason for concern. “He’s going to be fine, just some muscle tightening, that’s all.” With the playoffs ready to start either Monday or Tuesday, naturally there is reason for concern, but with Swayman ready to fill the role, there should not be panic. The Bruins have already recalled goaltender Brandon Bussi from Providence on an emergency basis as a possible backup, which means Ullmark might sit out the season finale in Montreal tonight (Thursday)…and not have the opportunity to surpass Pete Peeters’ 1982-83 40-win season. A definite plus is the resuscitation of the power play, as the locals scored twice on the power play on Tuesday, something that hasn’t happened since last December. Several of Don Sweeney’s moves are quickly coming to fruition, a list that not only includes the addition of Dmitry Orlov, Garnet Hathaway, and Tyler Bertuzzi…but also the surprise season of Pavel Zacha, with career-highs (21 goals and 36 assists – 57 points) that earned him NESN’s 7th Player Award for the 2022-23 season. He was acquired from the New Jersey Devils in a swap for winger Erik Haula, and was signed by Sweeney for four years at a reasonable price – a bargain to be sure. In addition to all that, remember that he was mainly responsible for unpopular hiring of Montgomery as the replacement for the popular Bruce Cassidy – what a difference maker that was!
Following tonight’s finale in Montreal, the Bruins will be only 16 wins away, I’d like to think of it as reachable, when you remember this team had 14 consecutive wins on TD Garden ice at the start of the 2022-23 season, and other numerous win streaks. The team can take note of coach Montgomery’s comment’s following Tuesday’s victory – he expressed great confidence, a peaceful, easy feeling, and more, based on the confidence that this team plays the right way. When you add up the coach’s comments, you can think about the possibilities that are within reach for this group, solidarity that could very well end up earning the 2023 Stanley Cup. The road is paved one game at a time, culminating in 16 victories, or 16 Ullmark/Swayman bows and hugs celebrations! Next week will provide lots of answers as the playoffs begin, and opponents are determined. The best advice is: fasten your seatbelt, this is going to be one heck of a ride ! Stay tuned for the release of the Playoff Schedule.