When the Bruins fell to the Sabres on Saturday, goalie Tuukka Rask took the decision in the tilt, marking the first time he’d been stuck with a regulation loss since November.
At the time of that loss (4-2 to the Oilers), Boston was 10-8-4, a middling team that hadn't quite found its stride. The Bruins have lost just six times since, with four of those coming via overtime or shootout, giving them 76 points on the season. They’re tied with Vegas for second in the league, with a game in hand over the Golden Knights, and sit three points back of Tampa Bay having played two fewer games than the Lightning after Monday. They also have a goal differential of +49, second-best in the league.
Why isn't Boston considered a much bigger contender? There’s probably a few reasons: The Bolts have a much more explosive offense along with the leading Hart candidate. They have three really, really good lines while the Bruins have one game-changing trio.
But to discount Boston would be a mistake. There’s veteran experience. The defense is solid, and blueliner Charlie McAvoy is a budding superstar. Not many teams, if any, have an answer to the line of Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron?David Pastrnak and the rookie class is a solid one. Tuukka Rask should be a Vezina finalist.
A possible playoff matchup with the Lightning would have to see the Bruins play incredibly disciplined. That vaunted top line would have to produce and the penalty kill would have to be on-point. It wouldn’t be easy by any means, but this Boston team looks like it has a strong chance of making a run.
31. Arizona Coyotes
Last week: 31 (-1)
A nice win against Minnesota! A competitive matchup with Winnipeg! Things are trending up. Well, kind of.
30. Buffalo Sabres
Last week: 30 (-)
The Sabres came up with good showings against good teams in Boston and Colorado over the weekend.
29. Ottawa Senators
Last week: 29 (-)
Things were picking up a bit for the Sens with back-to-back wins before losing against Toronto. Matt Duchene has started to get in on the action.
28. Vancouver Canucks
Last week: 27 (-1)
Thomas Vanek should bring back something nice for the trade deadline. So should Alex Edler. That's really about it.
27. Montreal Canadiens
Last week: 28 (+1)
How much does Max Pacioretty get in return at this point? His shooting percentage is his lowest since 2009-10.
26. Detroit Red Wings
Last week: 26 (-)
They played Boston tough and that was with Jimmy Howard in net. Could he or Petr Mrazek be on the move at the deadline?
25. Edmonton Oilers
Last week: 24 (-1)
Not sure where that 6-2 win over Tampa Bay came from, but can you imagine how bad the Oilers would be without Connor McDavid?
24. Florida Panthers
Last week: 25 (+1)
They’re 5-1 in their last six, with 28-year-old rookie goalie Harri Sateri providing a boost as James Reimer and Roberto Luongo get healthy.
23. New York Rangers
Last week: 22 (-1)
They’re making the right decision by selling at this point (and being transparent about it). The key will be to see how much they can get rid of.
22. Chicago Blackhawks
Last week: 23 (+1)
Things are starting to fall off the rails here. Yes, they miss Corey Crawford in net, but they are simply playing poorly.
21. Carolina Hurricanes
Last week: 21 (-)
The Canes are starting the sell off. Notice that goalie Cam Ward is playing a lot more now.
20. New York Islanders
Last week: 20 (-)
It's becoming increasingly weird that the Isles haven't made a trade for a goaltender. How expensive can a guy like Robin Lehner be?
19. Columbus Blue Jackets
Last week: 18 (-1)
Two options for Columbus: Make a splash at the deadline, or start to offload assets.
18. Philadelphia Flyers
Last week: 19 (+1)
Two good wins in a row against Carolina and Montreal. The Vegas game showed how good the Flyers can be when things are clicking.
17. Anaheim Ducks
Last week: 14 (-3)
The stopped the bleeding with a win over Buffalo, and followed it with three more points in games against Edmonton and San Jose. Adam Henrique has five game winners so far in his short tenure in Anaheim.
16. New Jersey Devils
Last week: 11 (-5)
Keith Kinkaid has played well in Cory Schneider's stead, but back-to-back losses to Ottawa and Calgary were rough.
15. Colorado Avalanche
Last week: 10 (-5)
The Nathan MacKinnon injury has understandably cooled things off a bit, but they do have a nice stretch coming up with games against the Habs, Oilers and Canucks.
14. Los Angeles Kings
Last week: 15 (+1)
Anze Kopitar is quietly having a great season, but there still remains nothing behind him and not nearly enough to make a run.
13. Calgary Flames
They went 2-1 on a Tri-State Area swing, but still have to get through a pair of matches with the Bruins and one in Nashville. Getting away from home has seemingly gotten things back on track for the Flames.
12. San Jose Sharks
Last week: 13 (+1)
Rangers forward Rick Nash should be the target for the Sharks, who are ranked 15th in offense. They already have a good defense, adding a scorer to take pressure off the core group would do wonders.
11. Pittsburgh Penguins
Last week: 12 (+1)
This is back to being Matt Murray's team, even if he didn't play great against Washington or Vegas. But he's winning, which counts for something.
10. Minnesota Wild
Last week: 16 (+6)
Their 6-2 win at St. Louis was much more important than the 4-3 OT loss to Arizona.
9. Washington Capitals
Last week: 6 (-3)
The Caps come back from a rough stretch against Pittsburgh and Vegas to sweep a home-and-home with Columbus. Think they would want Mike Green back?
8. Dallas Stars
Last week: 9 (+1)
Dallas is quietly playing great hockey,with a five-game win streak before a clunker against Vancouver. The Stars are getting really good play from Kari Lehtonen.
7. Toronto Maple Leafs
Last week: 8 (+1)
There's talk of the Leafs being sellers at the deadline, which makes no sense. Seems like buying is the right option--they're pretty close.
6. St. Louis Blues
Last week: 7 (+1)
A very nice win against Winnipeg. Should the Blues try to see if they can get some value for Jake Allen with Carter Hutton performing so well? Probably not after the performance against the Jets.
5. Winnipeg Jets
It was a tough loss against St. Louis. Great to see Mark Scheifele back, though.
4. Nashville Predators
Last week: 4 (-)
Two straight overtime losses, before a shootout win against Montreal, but Nashville continues to play great hockey, and is a team that no one wants to face in the playoffs.
3. Boston Bruins
Last week: 5 (+2)
The Bruins continue to close in on the Lightning, and the demolishing of the Rangers shows just how good Boston is… and where the Rangers are right now.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning
Last week: 2 (-)
Consider the Edmonton loss as nothing more than a clunker of the last game of a Western swing. Don't read into it too much.
1. Vegas Golden Knights
Last week: 1 (-1)
The Golden Knights followed up the loss in Marc-Andre Fleury’s homecoming in Pittsburgh with a win in San Jose. Fleury's play is slipping slightly, but it hasn't really cost them yet.