Bruins’ Arduous Late-Season Schedule Presents Challenge in Quest to Defend Stanley Cup

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Bruins' Arduous Late-Season Schedule Presents Challenge in Quest to Defend Stanley Cup Coming off a grueling run to the Stanley Cup and a short offseason, a relatively light early-season schedule was welcome news to the Bruins.

Boston has just 10 games in October, their lightest workload of the six full months of the regular season. Seven of those October games are at home, as are 13 of the first 17 games of the year overall.

But there is a price to be paid for the luxury of that start, and that charge comes due in the final six weeks of the season. The Bruins will face a brutal stretch run, with 17 games in the month of March alone.

The Bruins have played that many games in a single month just once before, and that was all the way back in January, 1965. Boston didn't fare too well back then, going 4-13-0 and losing all 10 games it played on the road that March.

The current Bruins should do better than that, but they'll have to be road warriors as well, with nine of those March games away from the Garden. That includes a rare late-season West Coast swing with a trip to California at the end of the month with stops in San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim.

Last year, the Bruins finished their Western swings in February with a trip through Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton, and the furthest West they ventured after that was a St. Patrick's Day clash with the Predators in Nashville. Overall, the Bruins had eight of their final 11 games at home last season.

The Bruins have traditionally gotten their longest trips out of the way early, often opening the season by traveling to California or Western Canada. Prior to last year, they had traveled further than Nashville just once after New Year's Day since the owners' lockout, and that was a mid-January trip through California in 2010. The last time Boston ventured to the West in March was back in 2002, an eventful journey that featured Robbie Ftorek getting fired in Phoenix and GM Mike O'Connell taking over behind the bench in San Jose.

The Bruins won't get much down time between these games either. The longest break in that span is just two days between hosting Toronto on March 19 and playing at San Jose on March 22. There are four sets of back-to-back games, with all four ending on the road and two featuring both games away from the Garden.

The Bruins don't just have to worry about the miles they'll be logging and the quick turnarounds in those final weeks of the season. They also have to deal with some pretty stiff competition, as 14 of the 21 games they play in March and April will be against playoff teams from last season, including two matchups each with Tampa Bay, Washington, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and the Rangers.

March is a busy time for many teams this year, but no other squad faces quite the challenge that the Bruins do. Four other teams also have 17 games scheduled for the month, but Calgary, New Jersey and San Jose all have fewer games than the Bruins in April and all four teams have fewer road games in that stretch. Only the Rangers also play 21 total games in March and April and although they have to travel to Minnesota and Winnipeg, New York also has a seven-game homestand in that stretch.

The Bruins are better equipped than most teams to handle such a challenging schedule. They have a veteran club with a core that's been together for several seasons, and nearly the entire squad was thoroughly battle tested through the playoff wars of last spring's Cup run.

They also aren't intimidated in enemy rinks, as they've been among the best road teams in the league throughout Claude Julien's tenure. In his four years behind the Boston bench, the Bruins have gone 20-13-8 (5th best in NHL), 24-13-4 (2nd), 21-13-7 (7th) and 24-12-5 (5th) on the road.

But the Bruins also learned this past postseason how important home ice can be. After losing their first two games at the Garden against Montreal, they went 10-1 at the Garden the rest of the way, including a pair of decisive Game 7 victories, while posting just a 6-6 road record in the playoffs.

Some of that home success can be attributed to the momentum Boston built late in the regular season, going 7-1-3 in its final 11 home games. The Bruins won't get the chance to find that kind of rhythm at home late in this season, which will make getting off to a strong start and taking advantage of those early home games all the more important to put themselves in the best position possible to defend their title come playoff time.

"There is not much time and I think the guys really need to have a mental break, a physical break," Julien said of the short offseason. "And when we do come back we have to be ready to go. We know the importance of at the start of a season, making sure you're in playoff position, so we really have to work on that part of it."

If they don't, they could really have their work cut out for themselves at the end of the season.

NESN.com Bruins beat writer Douglas Flynn will be answering one question facing the Bruins this offseason each day until Aug. 8.

Thursday, August 4: What will a full year of Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley mean for the Bruins?

Saturday, August 6: Will the Bruins be able to find more consistency on the penalty kill?

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