How could this happen? A late entry into the playoffs last year has jumped that fast?
Yes. Absolutely. Here's why:
Goaltending: Tim Thomas is a first team end-of-season all-star. The once-acrobatic goaltender is focused and compact and reserves his gymnastics for only the most desperate of situations. When healthy, his backup, Manny Fernandez has been solid. Should he fail, the best goalie outside the NHL, Tuukka Rask, proved his readiness with a recent 1-0 shutout of the Rangers.
Defence: Zdeno Chara is all-star again. He plays against every tough opponent and brings an edge when necessary to his 30 minutes a game. Dennis Wideman should be an all-star. His metamorphosis into a big-time player is a credit to himself and his coaches. Andrew Ference has shocked people with his top-four play and Aaron Ward brings a wealth of experience as a partner to Chara. The complementary defencemen, especially Matt Hunwick and Shane Hnidy, have handled a manor of situations.
Forwards: The Bruins are deep and prolific. They move the puck extraordinarily well. Marc Savard, David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron bring vision and creativity to the rink. Milan Lucic, Blake Wheeler and Michael Ryder (who knew how good this guy could be?) bring size and scoring to the wing. Shawn Thornton is one of the league's great glue guys. Phil Kessel has become a competitive game breaker after surviving trade rumours last spring. Stephane Yelle has found his niche once again.
Coaching: The best coaching job delivered in the last two years belongs to Claude Julien. End of story
They are deep. They are focused. They are strong on special teams. It’s gone on too long to be overlooked. This is the team against which all others in the conference should be measured. And to date, the rest have all fallen short.
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