On Feb. 16, the Boston Bruins awoke to find that the previous night's game, a 4-3 loss to the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs, was not an apparition or a nightmare. All they could do was look to the calendar and find solace in knowing that a six-game road trip was ahead.
The Bruins find themselves amongst a handful of teams in the NHL with better records on the road than at home. In fact, of the six division leaders as of Wednesday morning, four (Philadelphia, Boston, Detroit, and Phoenix) have better records away from home ice.
Whatever the reasoning, be it the distance from the pressure and desperation that wafts down from the balconies of TD Garden or just an inexplicable bucking of a trend, the Bruins have seen much of their success this season on the road.
After dropping three straight — including two at home against Detroit and Toronto — the Bruins seem to have found their remedy on this six-game road stretch that started on Long Island on Feb. 17.
Couple a season-long résumé of road success with the integration of three new components to the Bruins' lineup in Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley, and Tomas Kaberle, and this current trip seems to have come at just the right time. Players have long attributed road trips as the most effective way to mold teammates into family, and when you can introduce a trio of players from sub-.500 climates to winning on a consistent basis you just might find the solution to lift the fog of nervous energy that hangs over the Garden ice.
The Bruins began the trip by dispatching a pair of last place teams with wins in New York and Ottawa before grinding out an entertaining 3-1 win over the red-hot Calgary Flames who came into Tuesday night's action 11-1-2 in their previous 14 games.
Through three games, everything has gone according to plan, three wins and no losses, while not expending a drop of extra energy with overtimes and shootouts.
But while everything is all hunky dory after beating a Calgary team who had just breezed through the Montreal Canadiens 4-0 in the Heritage Classic, the Habs put the pressure back on the Bruins with a 3-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday. The win for Montreal keeps them just four points back in the division behind Boston.
The next stop for Boston just so happens to be Vancouver on Saturday for a matchup with the Western Conference leaders. A regulation loss there would make it a wash for Montreal and Boston between Vancouver and Calgary and may even give the Canadiens a chance — with wins at home over Toronto and Carolina – to wake up Sunday morning tied with the Bruins in points (although Boston would have two games in hand).
Such is life when you live and die by the road.
However, the Bruins' 19-7-4 record on the road has put them in a position where there is no need to panic. Even if the stars align for Montreal this week, Boston will enjoy a pair of games against last place teams and finish off their road trip with a game Sunday in Edmonton before turning the calendar to March with another game in Ottawa next Tuesday.
With six points already in the books through the first half of this current road trip, six more are up for grabs.
As March approaches, so do the Canadiens with first place in the division and home ice in the first round on the line. In that month the Bruins will play seven road games and eight home games, including two dates against the Habs — one on the road on Mar. 8, and another at home on Mar. 24.
While having a stellar road record is the sign of a gritty team, Boston must make their home ice count as a 15-12-3 record at the Garden won't put any psychological strain on whoever their first round opponent may be if the do indeed procure the top spot in the Northeast.
Thus far, the current road trip has been a breath of fresh air, and with a favorable schedule there is no reason the Bruins should not take away at least four more points before returning to Boston on Mar. 3.
When they do return, a new sense of urgency on home ice will be direly needed if the Bruins hope to gain any significant separation from the Canadiens.
The regular season is far from over, however, and the current road trip is far from over as well for that matter. Whether home or away, each win counts as two points in the standings and as we march toward spring each game and hanging point looms large under the ever-expanding NHL microscope.
With a new-look roster taking the time to mold together on the road, the Bruins will look to take a fresh approach when they hope to shed the home ice yips and win no matter where the puck drops.