BOSTON — The Celtics were supposed to be next.
After the confetti was swept off Boylston Street following the Patriots’ Duck Boat parade, the city of Boston turned it’s championship-starved eyes to Causeway Street assuming the Celtics would be next to much a postseason push given their talent and recent history.
That glance has moved down the hall. But while the Celtics are still trying to figure out how to unlock their formula for success, the Bruins begin March looking every bit like a contender after a dominating effort in Thursday’s 4-1 win over first place Tampa Bay.
“We know we have a good team. Our goal is to compete and see where we land,” Brad Marchand said. “We’ve worked pretty consistently all year. I think you’re starting to see us all kind of benefit right now.”
It’s hard to ever call anyone a true Stanley Cup favorite at the beginning of March. Hockey isn’t built that way. Winning the President’s Trophy is no guarantee to win the Stanley Cup. There’s always a handful of teams that start the postseason capable of a deep run. Right now Boston looks like one of those teams.
Beating the Lightning, who are running away with the Eastern Conference, isn’t THE reason to be optimistic, just one of them. The Lightning were on the second game of a back-to-back and the Bruins clearly had more spring in their legs. But Tampa came into the night 19 points better than anyone else in the Eastern Conference and 13 points better than anyone in the NHL so beating them in any circumstances says good things about Boston’s effort.
And it wasn’t just that they won, but the way they did. David Backes outboxed Adam Erne, three minutes into the game setting a snarly tone early. For much of the night, the Bruins had great plays and great chances to turn into great saves for Tampa goalie Louis Domingue, who made 37 stops. But they didn’t seem shaken, continuing to attack, eventually wearing the young netminder down in the final nine minutes.
“You still want to use some of the game to see where you’re at, at least, so I thought our guys responded real well,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said.
The Bruins are 11-0-4 in their last 15 games. They’re playing cohesively and reliably at both ends of the ice. Their success has continued even without injured leading scorer David Pastrnak, who could add a shot of energy when he returns later this month.
While they didn’t add a star at the trade deadline, both Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson seemed to slide comfortably into the lineup. They look like assets for a team that’s getting strong goaltending and contributions up and down the roster.
With just over a month left in the regular season, the Bruins look capable of good things in April and beyond. They play Tampa two more times in the regular season and nobody would be surprised if they matched up again in the playoffs. So this may have been start of a fresh rivalry.
“I wouldn’t say (it was sending) a message,” Bruce Cassidy said. “But we wanted to let them know we’re a good hockey club as well.”
Potentially a very good one.