SAN JOSE, Calif. — The Bruins entered Saturday with a plus-61 goals differential, and were plus-34 in the third period. The next-closest teams had figures half as good. With an NHL-leading 64 points, the Bruins had exactly twice as many as their opponent, the San Jose Sharks.
Nearing midseason, a glance at the standings leaves the impression that the Bruins are ripping up the league.
“We’re not,” Brad Marchand said as he walked to the bus after the morning skate.
“We’re a good team. There’s no question. But there’s a lot of good teams.”
Saturday’s plunge into the Shark Tank was Game No. 39, and at this point, the Black and Gold appreciate where they stand. Those who have the experience of Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci know that nothing is promised.
In their time as Bruins, they have won Presidents’ Trophies (2013-14, ’19-20) and missed the playoffs (2014-15, ’15-16). They have won a Stanley Cup (2010-11) and lost them (2012-13, ’18-19). They have coughed up a 3-0 lead in a playoff series (2009-10, Philadelphia Flyers) and come back from 4-1 down in the third period of a Game 7 (2012-13).
“To win, you have to be healthy at the right time,” Marchand said. “You need the right bounces. The right calls. You need guys to be on their game at the right time. It’s a process we have to continue to work on.
“We’re not going to dominate teams. When you’re in first place, you might think it’s going to be easy every night, or you’re going to walk over teams. That’s not how it is. If you look at a lot of our games, we find ways to win. That’s what a good team does. We’re not going to dominate games. Every team in this league is good and can win every night. You’ve seen some of the bottom teams beat us.
“It’s about sticking with it and being resilient and being able to work through that adversity on any given night, even when you’re having a bad game, finding ways to win,” he added. “Those are the things you have to battle through come playoff time.”
Three decades ago, coach Jim Montgomery was captain of a University of Maine team that went 42-1-2, outscoring teams by nearly a 3:1 margin on their way to an NCAA title. The locker room talk then was similar to what’s heard in the room now: one shift, one game, then the next.
It’s sports cliché, sure. But it works.
As a coach, Montgomery said, “what I’ve learned is that when your team is going really well, focus on one area to get better at. Keep your meetings shorter, so that they hold onto one thing. I’ve learned less is more when things are going well.
“I think these guys are really good. When you’re winning, guys are more mindful and aware that you’re not as good as your record is, and you can be pushed a little harder.”
The Bruins know there are teams that might be middle of the pack now but will morph into second-half monsters. They are ready for that. Losing Jake DeBrusk and his 30-goal scoring pace for a month will hurt. But they remain focused on today.
“We talk about it a little bit — we’re not going to look ahead,” Marchand said. “It’s even like, when the (home winning) streak was going on — I could care less about that winning streak. It means absolutely nothing. Just in general, at all. If you didn’t look it up, would you have known who had the longest home winning streak? No. Because nobody cares.
“The only thing we want to know is who’s going to lift the Cup at the end of the day. To do that, there’s a process we have to focus on. We have to be really good every night.
“That’s the difference between teams that are really good or that aren’t. They find a way to win, or they find a way to lose. Every team has their momentum swings throughout the games. It’s who can weather those, who can find a way to score a goal at the opportune moment. That’s what makes great players great players. You might not see them all game, but they find a way to get a goal at the right time or at a big moment. They’re game-breakers.”
Montgomery revisits the Bay Area
Montgomery spent the 2000-01 season as a player with the Sharks, chipping in 1-6–7 in 28 games. He had a great season with their AHL affiliate, the Kentucky Thoroughblades, and his line produced 22-52–74 in 55 games.
He scored his lone goal for San Jose against the Blackhawks in Chicago, set up by Scott Thornton and Todd Harvey. Montgomery remembers playing in front of a small number of “very loyal, very rabid fans” in the Bay Area.
“I had a really good time here,” said Montgomery. “I thought that was the tightest group, led by guys like Bryan Marchment, Todd Harvey, Mike Ricci, Buster [Owen Nolan] … Probably learned more off-ice than on-ice. I’m just kidding.”
His coach with the Sharks was Darryl Sutter, currently dispensing his serious, dry, gruff and at times sarcastic wisdom in Calgary. Sutter, who went on to win two Stanley Cups in Los Angeles, made an impression on Montgomery, who was starting to consider a career in coaching.
“Just how accountable he held everyone to what he thought your role was,” Montgomery said. “That was impressed upon me by him.”
Split decision in net
Linus Ullmark (Saturday) and Jeremy Swayman (Sunday at Anaheim) were set to split the back-to-back set in net. Montgomery said the goalies would continue to rotate games … With forward A.J. Greer (illness) out, Montgomery went with seven defensemen. That number included Jakub Zboril (1-0–1 in 13 games), who hadn’t played since a rough outing Nov. 23 at Florida … It appears that ex-Duck Chris Wagner will make his season debut Sunday … Trent Frederic (9-7–16 in 35 games) entered Saturday with 9 goals at 5 on 5, the same number as Bergeron … The Bruins were focused on making Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson play defense. Karlsson entered play on a 14-game point streak (2-20–22). The 32-year-old’s bounce-back season had him on a 110-point pace (13-41–54 in 40 games) and made him the leading candidate to capture his third Norris Trophy (2011-12 and 2014-15 with Ottawa) … Northeastern product Matt Benning, who was drafted by the Bruins in 2012 (sixth round) but did not sign, is on pace for a career year in points (1-16–17 in 39 games) … Few forwards are tougher to handle down low than the Sharks’ Timo Meier (6 feet, 1 inch and 220 pounds) who had three goals in his previous two games, and Tomas Hertl (6-3, 215) … Entering the weekend, the Ducks and Sharks ranked No. 3 and No. 4, respectively, in the Connor Bedard draft sweepstakes. Chicago (9-25-4) had the best lottery odds, followed by Columbus ... Now on pace for 60 goals this season, David Pastrnak’s 269 career goals are the most in any Bruin’s first 549 games … Taylor Hall played in his 800th game … Charlie McAvoy (two assists) recorded his 200th career point. He nearly scored on a wraparound bid, but James Reimer dove paddle-first to keep it out.