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March 18. 2014 8:10PM

Ian Clark's On Hockey: These Bruins look quite familiar

BOSTON BRUINS fans, is this all starting to feel familiar? It should, really. The current Bruins team feels an awful lot like the one that raised the Stanley Cup three seasons ago and the one that made it to the finals last year.

On Monday night, the Bruins beat the Minnesota Wild 4-1 for their ninth consecutive win. Tuesday’s game with New Jersey provided the opportunity to run the mark to 10.

The Bruins are built to win another Stanley Cup. Depth, scoring from all over the lineup, strong defensemen, veteran leadership mixed with youthful enthusiasm and great goaltending. In short, everything is in place.

Veteran Jarome Iginla, who came to Boston as a free agent in the offseason, summed up the team pretty well in his postgame interview on NBCSports Monday night.

“We believe we’re a good team. It’s very well-rounded,” Iginla said. “A big part of the fun this year has been that it’s been all different lines, different D men, young D men jumping in. Krugs, (Torey Krug), Dougie Hamilton, Bart (Matt Bartkowski), all different guys stepping up and I think they’re giving us a lot of confidence. A lot of guys share the pressure. We share it as a team. We get in tight games and we think we just keep playing hard, keep playing physical and we believe Tooks (goalie Tuukka Rask) is going to be great in there as he has all year and we feel we’re going to find a way to score.”

Iginla himself is a major piece of the puzzle. At 36 years old and in his 18th season in the NHL, his numbers are down as you would expect. But they are not down much. Through 67 games, Iginla has 23 goals and 30 assists. Most players in the NHL would take that kind of “down” year.

While Iginla is not likely to reach the career high of 98 points from 2007-08 again, his 53 this year are better than each of his first three years in Calgary. Boston had to replace the lost scoring of Nathan Horton, and Iginla has done that playing alongside Milan Lucic and David Krecji.

“That was a big hole to fill. He’s come in there and filled that hole really well,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “He’s fit in so well with that line. He brings us the same thing the other guy did with his size and his scoring ability. He’s done a great job. And again, we’re talking about a veteran here who has tremendous leadership qualities. Again, maybe not surprising to a lot of people what he’s accomplished here, and certainly he’s been a great asset to our team where it could’ve been a lot different had we not gotten him.”

Iginla also gives the Bruins a likeable guy in the locker room to rally around when it comes playoff time. A veteran with that many years of service and no Stanley Cup ring always seems to find that extra effort in the postseason and that rubs off on everyone. On a roster with players who have already scaled the mountain, that can only add new fuel to the fire.

It’s a lineup of forwards with all the boxes checked, from playmakers like Krecji (43 assists) to finishers like Iginla and Brad Marchand (21 goals) to third line scoring contributors like Loui Erikkson (8-18-26) to role players like Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton.

And then there’s the blue line, where veterans like Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk blend perfectly with the up-and-comers like Krug (14-22-36, plus-13 rating) and Bartkowski (15 assists, plus-21). And Hamilton continues to mold into the all-around defensemen he’s been projected as with seven goals and 12 assists and a plus-19 rating.

The backbone is Rask between the pipes. It’s hard to believe this is only his second season as the clear-cut No. 1 goalie in Boston. He is quickly edging into elite goalie status that comes from playing at a high level consistently.

There’s even a Granite State angle to like from time to time on the Bruins. Rookie Matt Lindblad is a Dartmouth product who made his NHL debut Saturday and was sent back to Providence on Tuesday. He became the second Big Green player to suit up for Boston this season, joining Nick Johnson, who has played in nine games.

Some of the names have changed, but the feeling remains the same. This is a Bruins team that can win it all and the winning streak has the rest of the NHL taking notice. Boston is now within striking distance of St. Louis for the President’s Trophy for the most points in the league.

While that would be nice, that trophy is not the one you really want.

“You try to win every game and if you have a chance to clinch the league, why wouldn’t you try?” said Rask. “But I don’t think it’s our goal in our minds that we have to win it. We just want to be feeling good about ourselves going into playoffs and play our best hockey in April, May, June.”

Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is iclark@unionleader.com.


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