As Bruins steam towards playoffs, individual milestones piling up
By Joe McDonald
Uploaded by: Martin Arnold
Individual milestones continue to pile up for the Boston Bruins, but there’s a larger goal in mind for this group.
On Saturday, as Boston dismissed the Detroit Red Wings 4-1 at TD Garden, Bruins forward David Krejci played his 900th career NHL game, all with the Bruins and most as a key member of their veteran core. Recently, Zdeno Chara celebrated 1,500 NHL games and 1,000 as captain of the Bruins. Alternate captain Patrice Bergeron played his 1,000th game last season and continues to move his way up the organization’s all-time scoring list.
Goalie Tuukka Rask reached the 500-game plateau this season, which is the equivalent of 1,000 games. He’s also the club’s all-time leader in games played and wins, while tying a franchise record with eight 20-win seasons.
Fellow netminder Jaroslav Halak, who has only been with the Bruins for two seasons, also achieved the 500-career-game milestone this season.
Safe to say, it’s an impressive list of accomplishments.
“It means we’re getting older,” Rask said with a smile. “It’s awesome. It’s not very often this happens that you keep the same core group of guys for 10, 15 years. Successful teams have it and it’s been a big part of our organization that we keep those building blocks and we keep adding around it.”
That “core” mentality has been discussed time and again in the last decade-plus when it comes to the aforementioned players. But what does that really mean?
“It’s what drives the team is our core,” said Bruce Cassidy, who collected his 200th coaching victory on Saturday. “If they’re not going, it’s a pretty good chance the team’s not going to have success. That’s typical throughout the league, but what I’ve always liked about our core is their ability to work with the younger guys, hold guys accountable with their practice habits and how they play the game.”
Brad Marchand is on his own level in more ways than one. He was a rookie when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and he’s been an important part of them ever since, especially in his role as Bergeron’s longtime linemate. Marchand, 31, is quickly skating, scoring, assisting and chirping his way into milestone categories and should play his 800th career game next season.
The Bruins’ core has also grown roots. There are now layers beyond the top-tier players and that bodes well for their success rate and their ability to remain a perennial Stanley Cup contender.
“Can’t help but trickle down to the younger guys. It helps the coach a lot (that) the team is taking care of itself and you’re not constantly asking for it from those older guys, and not every older guy does it that way, so we’re very fortunate with this group,” Cassidy said. “And, they’re good hockey players to boot. Then we’re starting to grow it, right?”
Torey Krug, a leader in his own right, is firmly established in that second layer of the core. The veteran defenseman is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and the Bruins want to keep him on the blue line for years to come. He wants to stay, but it’ll take both sides agreeing on a possible contract extension before he hits the market.
Krug, however, has a unique status as the conduit between the veteran core and the younger players. If he remains with the Bruins for the foreseeable future, and once Chara and Bergeron are done playing, Krug will likely wear the ‘C’ on his sweater one day.
“They set the bar for this culture that you want to be part of this group for a long, long time, and when you see those guys reach those milestones, it makes you want to become a bigger part of that core, and hopefully, be part of it for a long time,” Krug said.
Even though Charlie Coyle has been a member of the Bruins for only one calendar year, he’s set to help carry on their culture for a long time after he agreed to a six-year contract extension earlier this season. He, too, is a part of that second layer.
Then comes the third layer. On paper, they may be less experienced and younger, but they are treated no differently than anyone else on the team. Chara and Bergeron make sure that’s the case with any player, which is one reason the Bruins have success every season — because they really have a one-team mentality.
Because they’re learning from future Hall of Famers, the winning culture should continue even after the veterans hang up their skates.
“We’ve got younger players who have a great opportunity to learn from a really good group of guys who have been in the league awhile and know how to lead,” team president Cam Neely told The Athletic. “Not only to get that experience but to be able to learn from those guys about what being a leader is really like both on and off the ice.”
Of course, David Pastrnak has the ability to become the face of the franchise for a long, long time. The 23-year-old forward scored his 42nd goal of the season Saturday and should reach the magical 50-goal plateau sooner rather than later.
It also helps that younger players Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Matt Grzelcyk, Sean Kuraly, Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork have all bought into the system and philosophies. The culture has also trickled down to the Providence Bruins; those players know exactly what to expect, and what’s expected of them, when they get a chance to play in Boston.
With the trade deadline approaching on Feb. 24, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney continues to work on ways to improve the team because he knows the window of opportunity for the core players is closing. The Bruins need to go all in. They have the ability to win again, but it has to happen either this season or next.
So, after celebrating another core player reaching a significant milestone on Saturday, Rask was asked how much the “core” has left.
“We’ll see,” Rask said. “I don’t know but we’ll see.”