Maybe it’s as simple as hockey priding itself as the ultimate team-before-self sport, and certainly things have been aided by a soft-as-a-pillow stretch of the schedule. But whatever the explanations are, the results are definitive: The Bruins came out of the NHL’s trade deadline cooking with gas.
The Bruins rode a five-game winning streak into Thursday night’s game in Buffalo, and even if they’re playing an opponent gutted by trades and marked by surrender, the chemistry they’re developing since Don Sweeney’s deadline-day swap meet is what makes playoff dreams grow.
In the first five games after acquiring Taylor Hall, Curtis Lazar, and Mike Reilly, the Bruins outlasted Buffalo in a shootout, swept a pair from the Islanders, crushed the Capitals, and beat the Sabres again. They did it with 17 goals for and only six against. They did it with newfound depth and an injection of energy from a trio of players that includes the former league MVP in Hall. And they did it with a seamless assimilation that is easy to take for granted.
But they aren’t doing it by accident.
With credit to the leadership already inside the room, the attitude of the new players walking in, and the alchemy of coach Bruce Cassidy to put them all together, Sweeney knew this was what he was after.
As Sweeney explained the evening after making the deals, “We have such a motivated group. We have a tight-knit locker room on and off the ice; they’re pulling for each other.
“You definitely want to add some juice. We felt that finding some depth, finding some potential balance in scoring up front with the addition of Taylor and versatility in Curtis and puck-moving ability in Mike, that we were trying to address what we thought were a couple areas of need and to complement our group.
“You never know. Obviously, you’re trying to put the pieces to the puzzle together.”
So far, so good, with the obvious star being Hall. An MVP only three seasons ago with New Jersey, Hall spent part of his drive from Buffalo to Boston contemplating his impending transition, and why the chance to be a Bruin made him willing to waive a no-move clause in his contract. What he realized spoke to why he’s been able to make such an immediate impact here.
Team above self.
“I’ve been the focal point on a lot of teams in my career,” Hall said during his introductory Zoom call. “I wanted to be one of the guys, be on a team that was successful.
“I’m 29 years old but I still feel you can learn stuff about this game at this age, and better yourself as a player and as a leader. I’m excited to do that, just be one of the guys. I don’t expect to come in and light the league on fire, but to win games, have something that I haven’t had before. That’s what makes me so excited.
“I don’t want to set expectations too high. I want to come and win games and I think I can help that. I know I’m beating a dead horse, but I really want to just be part of a winning team.”
Hall’s comfort with David Krejci and Craig Smith has energized the second line, and the opportunities he’s getting behind Brad Marchand have turned the line into an even more worthy complement to the star-studded trio ahead (Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak).
That’s what Sweeney envisioned.
“Hopefully, Taylor can use his speed and gain some separation and push defensemen back; he can certainly prove he’s gotten around defensemen to get pucks to the net,” Sweeney said. “And obviously having the chance to play with either Charlie to play off of that or possibly Krech who can get him the puck in those areas while he’s in motion. He’s gotten scoring chances, he just hasn’t finished at the same level as he’s had in previous years. And you never know; that’s obviously what we’re hoping for.”
First five games after the trade? Two goals and an assist for Hall; three goals and two assists for Krejci; and two goals and three assists for Smith.
And then you have Lazar, who slipped into place on the fourth line as if he’d been playing between Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner for years.
“We all play similar styles, and that’s something that allowed us to have that foundation from the get-go,” Lazar said. “We get pucks in deep, we go to work.
“We’re not slouches. We take a lot of pride in that at our best we are setting that tone. We’ve embraced that, being that energy line, a spark that we can provide. Whatever the need, we can rise to the occasion.”
The tide lifts all the ships, and since April 12, the Bruins are surging, playing their best five-on-five hockey of the year, heating up just as the playoffs loom. Reminiscent as it is of their 2018-19 story, when trade-deadline additions Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson helped fuel a run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, so far, this one is working out exceedingly well.