Defending champs rise from worst to first

The Boston Bruins got off to a horrid start to their Stanley Cup

championship defense, winning just three of their first 10 games

and landing in last place in the Eastern Conference.

After an incredible two-month surge, they’re back on top.

”They deserve a lot of credit for that and they worked hard to

accomplish that and I think it’s important that they enjoy the

three days of the Christmas holiday they have,” Bruins coach

Claude Julien said after Boston beat Florida 8-0 on Friday night

for its 20th win in 23 games.

It’s easy to see why the Bruins have been nearly unbeatable

since losing two in a row to Montreal at the end of October.

They enter the NHL’s three-day Christmas break with the most

goals scored (119) and the fewest allowed (63) in the NHL. A recipe

for success for any team – not just defending champs.

During the Bruins’ rough stretch, the players heard complaints

and some boos from the hometown fans. They sensed the

disappointment and feel as if they’ve responded with a similar

effort that saw them win the organization’s first title in 39

years.

”We were sitting at the 15th spot in October with a lot of

criticism on us so we realize that this is a game that things

change quickly and oftentimes things change through hard work and

that’s what I think we did the last two months,” forward Gregory

Campbell said. ”We worked hard, we played our game and we played

consistent. It’s a tough league. Every night is a battle and every

night you have to compete. Wins aren’t always going to flow as

easily, or not as easily, but I think as pure as they have, but as

long as we’re competing and playing our game, I think that’s our

goal right now.”

The big offensive night against Florida was hardly unusual for

the Bruins this season. They’ve scored six or more goals nine times

– eight coming in their last 22 games. Quite a run for a team known

for its defense under Julien.

”I think it goes to show that we have probably more talent than

sometimes people give us credit for,” Julien said of the team’s

offensive outburst. ”We play a good team game, we create our

scoring chances and right now our guys are scoring some pretty nice

goals.”

Behind Boston’s offense is the top goalie tandem in the league.

Both Tim Thomas – last season’s winner of the Vezina and Conn

Smythe trophies – and Tuukka Rask have goals against averages under

1.85, making the Bruins the NHL’s only team with two goalies

allowing under two goals a game. The pair have combined for three

shutouts in Boston’s last five games and held opponents to two

goals or less 22 times this season.

”It’s a big-time luxury. I’m not going to hide that fact. It

doesn’t matter who you put in net right now, you know you’re going

to get good goaltending,” Julien said.

”Both guys have been at the top of their game, which allows you

to put in one or the other. The other guy gets a rest and the other

guy stays sharp. They’re both very supportive of that approach and

they’re OK with it. That just makes us such a better team by having

that situation right now. We’re extremely fortunate because most

teams in this league don’t have that approach or luxury.”

The players talked after Friday’s win about how they realize now

what it took to recover from the rough start but they hardly seemed

content with where they’re at – considering that the calendar

hasn’t even turned to 2012.

”We’re feeling good about ourselves. We’re confident, but we

can’t, we always said it before, we can’t be satisfied,” forward

Patrice Bergeron said. ”Now we have a couple days to rest and make

sure we get ready for the second half of the season because it’s

going to get tougher.”