Bruins Could Shed Underachiever Label By Sustaining Momentum From Now Until June

Bruins Could Shed Underachiever Label By Sustaining Momentum From Now Until June Underachievement has come rather easily to the Boston Bruins over the past few years. 

Only the Bruins can find a way to take eight out of 10 possible points during a moderately crucial five-game road trip in early winter and leave their fan base grinding their teeth in exasperation. The B's let the two extra points get away by blowing a pair of third-period leads and losing in shootouts — in Atlanta on Dec. 30 and Buffalo on Jan. 1.

Frustrating? Yes. 

But keeping things in perspective, it's always a positive road trip when you pick up points in each contest.

Since getting blanked 3-0 by the Ducks at the TD Garden on Dec. 20, the Bruins are 4-0-2 and have leapfogged their old rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, for the top spot in the lackluster Northeast Division.

The Bruins have survived dry spells from top scorers Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton, as well as the ever-dangerous Marc Savard, who still seems to be getting his sea legs back under him since his return from post-concussion issues.

Horton and Savard rose from the land of the dormant with a goal each against Toronto on Monday. Lucic snapped a seven-game points drought with an assist on Savard's goal and leads the team with 28 points (16 goals, 12 assists).

Tim Thomas has been looking more and more like the Vezina winner who led the Bruins to the top seed in the Eastern Conference two years ago.

While Thomas returns to form, Tuukka Rask salvaged his own sanity with a solid 36-save performance in the 2-1 win over Toronto. Two nights earlier, he was benched after allowing three first-period goals on 16 shots at Buffalo in his first action since Dec. 15.

Kudos to coach Claude Julien for having the guts to go right back to his second-year Finnish goalie, the black and gold’s saving grace and MVP last season.

Less than a month ago, many were calling for Julien's head. But his team appears to have turned the corner, and now he has a chance to take a talented group with some young and dangerous players in a very weak division to the next level — a level many felt was within grasp before injuries tore a catastrophic hole through the Bruins in the 2009-10 season. 

The Northeast Division is ripe for the taking, not just this year, but for years to come. The Ottawa Senators are in shambles, Buffalo is young and inexperienced, Montreal is as consistent as Carey Price, and in Toronto, Brian Burke will be heading back to the drawing board without the aid of a high draft pick. Their first-round pick will be heading to the Hub thanks to the Phil Kessel trade, the same deal that produced the No. 2 pick in last years' draft, Tyler Seguin.

General manager Peter Chiarelli has given Julien his full blessing and support.  The only question is: Can Julien deliver?

Buy in. 

That's what a coach needs for any system to be successful. Fans, sportswriters and even team presidents might not like the system, but as long as the players do and can produce in it, that's all that matters.

The "underachiever" tag has followed many current Bruins players around like a biblical plague. Underachievement has been a basic fact of life and the preferred postseason aftertaste for Bruins fans since 1972.

Yet, there is an unbelievable amount of hope rising on Causeway Street. The once-slumbering Bruins have found the only thing that is promised to every franchise. Opportunity.

They should follow the Patriots' approach, and take everything day-by-day and game-by-game. It would be easy to look ahead with the Canadiens, Penguins and Eastern Conference-leading Flyers looming.

For Julien, Thomas and the Bruins, the most important game of the season so far will be Thursday night, when the Minnesota Wild come to town.

Divisions cannot be won in January, but they certainly can be lost.  The upcoming months represent a great opportunity for the Bruins. However, opportunity waits for no one.

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