The 2015 NFL season ended two weeks earlier than New England Patriots fans would have hoped.
The Denver Broncos’ win in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game erased any hopes of the Patriots hoisting their second consecutive Lombardi Trophy, and it’ll now be eight long months before anyone has a chance to watch Tom Brady & Co. do their thing in a meaningful game.
Here’s a suggestion for gloomy Patriots fans: Flip over to the hockey game.
The Boston Bruins are seeking a return to the postseason after last season’s no-show, and they’re smack dab in the middle of a heated Eastern Conference playoff race with fewer than 35 games left to play.
As the B’s prepare to play their final game before the NHL’s All-Star break Tuesday night against the Anaheim Ducks, here’s a quick refresher on what you might have missed if you’ve spent this fall and winter focused solely on football.
1. PATRICE BERGERON IS ELITE
Bergeron will be the only Bruins representative in this weekend’s All-Star Game, and no hockey fan with eyes and a brain could disagree with that selection. The top-line center without a doubt has been Boston’s best player this season, leading the team in points while ranking second in both goals and assists. He’s also continued to play the brand of stellar two-way hockey that has defined his career and has him in line for a third consecutive Selke Trophy.
2. BRAD MARCHAND’S NOT SO BAD, EITHER
Bergeron’s partner in crime is putting together quite a season of his own. Marchand, like Bergeron, is on pace for a career high in goals (a team-best 20 in 43 games, including one in each of his last five), and he’s complemented his usual penalty-kill prowess with a greater role on the power play. In a season full of line shuffling for the Bruins, Marchand and Bergeron have been the two constants.
The one issue has been finding a right wing to round out Boston’s top trio. Brett Connolly, David Pastrnak, Jimmy Hayes, Ryan Spooner, Frank Vatrano and Landon Ferraro all are among the players coach Claude Julien has slotted in with Marchand and Bergeron this season, and none has been able to produce with enough consistency to earn a permanent first-line spot.
3. THE BRUINS ARE (MOSTLY) HEALTHY
Forward Chris Kelly likely will miss the remainder of the season after fracturing his femur in early November, and it remains to be seen when defenseman Adam McQuaid will be well enough to return from his upper body injury. But other than that, the Bruins at the moment are largely injury free, with Pastrnak, Joonas Kemppainen and, most importantly, David Krejci all back in the fray after lengthy stints on injured reserve.
4. SPECIAL TEAMS ARE SOARING
The Bruins’ power play, which had largely been a weakness throughout the Julien era, has been among the NHL’s best this season. They entered Tuesday ranked second in the league in power-play percentage behind Alex Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals and are tied for third in power-play goals despite ranking second-to-last in power-play opportunities.
Boston’s penalty kill has been lights-out, too, after a miserable start to the season. The B’s lost a talented penalty killer when Kelly went down but have killed 28 of their last 29 penalties to climb to fifth in the NHL in PK percentage.
5. THE EAST IS CRAZY COMPETITIVE
We can say with relative certainty that the Capitals are the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. Beyond that, certainty goes out the window. A mere seven points separate the third-place New York Rangers from the 12th-place Carolina Hurricanes, and the Bruins’ recent 5-1-0 surge has pushed them toward the top of that cluster. Following their win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday night, the B’s own the third-best record in the Atlantic Division and could move into second with another victory Tuesday.
Oh, and the Montreal Canadiens have been the worst team in hockey over the last two months. So there’s that.
Thumbnail photo via Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports Images