Bruins on Boylston: With five games to go, what are the five causes behind the Bruins’ historically successful season?

By Leo Kagan, Assistant Sports Editor

The Boston Bruins moved into third place on the NHL’s single-season wins list on Sunday, tying the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens 60-win season with a 4-3 shootout win over the St. Louis Blues. 

Unlike many this season, the Bruins’ win did not come easily—though the B’s led by three after two periods, the Blues stormed back into the game, scoring thrice in the third and sending the game to overtime. It would take a shootout to end it and mark the Bruins’ 60th win of the season.  

But the win came all the same, just as the other 59 did. Now, with five games remaining, the Bruins stand on the precipice of history—two more wins and they’ll match the record set by the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings (and tied by the 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning). 

Three more wins and they’ll stand alone in history. 

But the mood was not always so jolly in Beantown—there was a point last summer when some doubted the Bruins’ ability to even qualify for the playoffs, let alone win the President’s Trophy. A whirlwind offseason left the B’s in a precarious position, but the team proved doubters wrong. Since the start of the 2022-23 season, the B’s have set themselves up for playoff real estate as fine as can come. 

So how did the team come so far from where they were expected in the offseason? In honor of the Bruins’ last five games of the regular season, here are five reasons why the organization leapt forward instead of sliding back. 

  1. A new head coach

The Bruins’ firing of former Head Coach Bruce Cassidy in June was a puzzling move at the time. Why fire a coach who never failed to lead his team to the playoffs in six consecutive seasons—or one who brought the franchise within one win of the Stanley Cup?

But as questionable as the move seemed in June, it looks downright brilliant in April, as new Head Coach Jim Montgomery has led the Bruins to historic heights in his first season behind the B’s bench. 

The most widely reported reason for Cassidy’s dismissal was his harsh approach with players—he was effective in extracting excellence from his lineup, but his perfectionistic style proved too demanding for some Bruins. 

Montgomery, meanwhile, has no such issue. His more relaxed coaching methods are producing more relaxed players. 

I feel like there’s just a certain calmness because I’m not worried about making a mistake,” said defenseman Brandon Carlo to “The Athletic” in September. “That’s the thing that got in my head last year. I was just too worried about, essentially, f—ing up.”

The more relaxed players are free to experiment offensively—Montgomery is drawing out more of his team’s natural creativity. Feeling at ease under their new coach, the Bruins have propelled themselves to the top of league standings and record books. 

2. A step forward for the youth group

Cassidy’s brash coaching methods impacted some more than others—young players in particular struggled under his direction. Winger Jake DeBrusk’s relationship with Cassidy deteriorated most publicly, culminating in a trade request in November 2021, alongside other young Bruins, including center Trent Frederic and defensemen Connor Clifton and Brandon Carlo, who also faced difficulties with Cassidy. 

In 2022-23, however, the youth group has flourished. 

Carlo has stayed healthy and been a strong complement to fellow defender Hampus Lindholm on the second pair. Clifton—whose rambunctious playing style earned him demerits under Cassidy—has evened out and seized a third-pairing role under Montgomery. Frederic has reached career highs in both goals (16) and points (30). DeBrusk rescinded his trade request in July and has played the best hockey of his career since.

The Bruins’ veteran stars—Bergeron, Marchand, and center David Krejčí—have not slowed down even as their respective odometers have ticked upwards. But as ageless as they appear, the trio are far from immortal. A youth wave will supplement an approaching expiration date on the B’s veteran stars—and it’s a significant component of this year’s historic heights. 

3. Resurgent veterans

But as great as the kids have been this season, a bounce-back for a pair of key veterans has been equally important to the Bruins’ success—enter Krejčí and winger Nick Foligno. 

Krejčí wasn’t an NHL player in 2021-22, instead opting to spend the season in his native Czechia to play hockey closer to his family. When he re-signed with the Bruins over the summer, some—including myself—questioned whether Krejčí would be as impactful as he once was as a Bruin after a year in the Czech Extraliga, a second-tier professional league. 

Thus far, Krejčí has not disappointed, stepping back into the lineup as if he’d never left, and sparking right winger David Pastrňák’s best season to date with his playmaking skills. 

Foligno, on the other hand, joined the Bruins last season, signed initially as a depth forward with the potential to take some reps in Krejčí’s recently vacated second-line center slot. But his first season in Boston was a letdown—Foligno scored only two goals in 64 games, struggled with injuries, and found himself demoted to the fourth line for the majority of the season. 

This year, however, Foligno has bounced back in a big way, successfully avoiding injury and finding another step of quickness, which has aided him in his role as a bottom-six checker with a mean streak. 

Though he’s injured right now with playoff status uncertain, Foligno’s production (26 points in 60 games) and forechecking skills have put him squarely back in the realm of valuable. 

Though Krejci and Foligno play vastly different roles in the lineup, their respective resurgences have given the Bruins two more weapons to play with in a loaded roster. 

4. A well-acclimated goaltender

At the time of netminder Linus Ullmark’s signing in the 2021 free agency period, the Bruins’ goaltending situation looked uncertain. Longtime ace and 2014 Vezina Trophy winner Tuukka Rask was recovering from a surgery that would end his career the following February. Jeremy Swayman, though a promising prospect, had just 10 NHL games under his belt. 

In short, Ullmark—who posted an admirable .917 save percentage through 20 starts the previous season for the league-worst Buffalo Sabres—was projected to be a stabilizer for an unsteady goaltending tandem. I even predicted Ullmark had an outside chance at the Vezina Trophy in 2022

But while Ullmark had a solid season, he didn’t come close to best-in-show status, something he attributed to a brand new franchise and living situation. But after a full year in Boston, Ullmark turned the page and launched into this season as the league’s best goaltender—a title he’s managed to keep all year long. 

While he’s certainly been aided by one of the league’s very best defense corps, Ullmark has been a big part of the Bruins’ stout defense—his 41.3 goals saved above expected is second-best in the NHL. His increased comfortability—in the net and off the ice—has been key to the Bruins’ regular season dominance.

5. A healthy dose of grit and luck

As imposing as the Bruins’ lineup is on paper, no team wins 60 games without a few lucky bounces over the course of a long season. 

One area in which the B’s have been particularly fortunate is injuries. Though Foligno and left winger Taylor Hall are out right now with long-term injuries, the majority of the lineup has been healthy for the whole season. It’s a lot easier to win games when you’re not filling your roster with AHL talents. 

Beyond the luck, the Bruins have shown real heart—the B’s Feb. 28 match-up against the Calgary Flames comes to mind. Playing their fourth game in six days on a West Coast road trip, the Bruins, despite being outshot 57-20 (!), eked out a win against the Flames in overtime. The road team looked out of it the entire time, and while Ullmark stood on his head to earn the Bruins’ victory, the whole team battled from start to finish to win what looked like a scheduled loss. 

You need to be good to be lucky and lucky to be good—the Bruins are evidence of this fact. Now, as the postseason approaches, the Bruins will cross their fingers, lace up their skates, and hope that the luck can continue until June.