After a subpar first half of the season, the Boston Bruins hope to have finally regained their championship form.
They can serve as a model to the Los Angeles Kings.
With three of the last four Stanley Cup titles between them, the Kings head to Boston on Saturday night for a clash of potentially late-blooming contenders.
Boston (26-16-7) was the 2011 Stanley Cup champion and won a third division title in four years last season while earning the Presidents’ Trophy, but the first 40 games this season saw the Bruins lose more than they won. They were on pace for their lowest scoring average (2.55 goals per game) since 2009-10 and worst goals-against average (2.60) since 2006-07.
However, they went into the All-Star break on a 6-1-1 run, then defeated the first-place New York Islanders 6-2 on Thursday.
"We talked about that many times before the game – how we had to recapture the confidence we had before the break," defenseman Torey Krug told the team’s official site. "We were going through quite a stretch there – we were playing well, we were back to our identity.
"We were back to our style, and we’ve got to continue to do that."
Since Dec. 29, Boston has earned at least a point in 11 of 12 games while knocking off top Eastern Conference competition such as Detroit, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh. The Bruins are allowing a league-low 1.77 goals per game in that span behind Tuukka Rask, who has a .953 save percentage in his last nine starts after making a season-high 43 saves Thursday.
Rask’s new backup is Malcolm Subban, the brother of Montreal’s Norris Trophy-winning defenseman P.K. Subban. The 21-year-old former first-round pick, who has yet to appear in the NHL, was recently called up after Niklas Svedberg was sent to the AHL on a conditioning loan.
One of Svedberg’s rare starts came in this season’s first matchup with Los Angeles (21-15-12), and he was outdueled by Jonathan Quick as the defending champions beat Boston 2-0.
Quick made 31 saves but hasn’t had a shutout since that day and certainly hasn’t been at the top of his game lately, one reason the Kings have lost seven of nine (2-3-4). The 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy winner has a 3.54 goals-against average in that span, though Quick did snap a personal six-game losing streak with 26 saves in a 4-3 win over Chicago on Wednesday.
Jeff Carter scored twice and Jake Muzzin netted the game-winner for Los Angeles, which returned from the break to snap a four-game losing streak but remains outside the West playoff picture.
"We know our group of guys, we’ve been saying that all year," Tyler Toffoli told the Kings’ official site after scoring his 13th goal. "Tonight was a night that we wanted to prove to ourselves that we could win big games and we did it tonight. One game at a time, and we’ve got 34 left."
The Kings have struggled defensively for much of this season, especially on the penalty kill. They have allowed 11 goals in their opponents’ 31 power-play chances over the last 10 games and rank toward the bottom of the NHL with a 77.7 penalty-kill percentage.
The only time all season Los Angeles hasn’t allowed a power-play opportunity was against Boston. Toffoli and Tanner Pearson each scored in that win.