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.”