It isn't the end all, be all for any season, but for the time being the Boston Bruins have to be pretty satisfied.
After sweeping their weekend slate in Florida - and thus sweeping the season series from both the Lightning and Panthers - the Black and Gold surpassed the Pittsburgh Penguins and now find themselves in first place in the Eastern Conference standings with 18 games left in the 2013-14 season.
Their 5-2 win over the Panthers capped off a six-game in nine-day stretch that began with a 4-2 loss to the Washington Capitals on March 1 at the TD Garden. Since then, the B's have won five in a row and are back to playing the tough, physical hockey that they like to display, especially in the 10 games before the Olympic break in which they went 8-1-1.
In this recent five-game span, the Bruins have outscored their opponents by 22-9. Not bad considering they allowed nine goals in their first two post Olympic games against the Sabres and Caps, in which they were outscored 9-6.
What matters to the 20 men inside the locker room is being consistent late in the season before making their playoff push. And its safe to say that they've come out of their mini rut and displayed some fine hockey.
"It's fun going in as a team and winning," Jarome Iginla told reporters after scoring his 550th career NHL goal on Sunday. "Tonight, our goal was to be on top of the conference at the end of the day. It was really good for us, especially with the short turnaround and I thought we played well."
Coming off a thrilling 4-3 shootout win over the Lightning less than 24 hours prior to their tilt against the Panthers, Claude Julien and company had very little time to rest and prepare for Sunday's contest as they traveled approximately 250 miles south. They were also dealt a big blow early when Daniel Paille left the game just three minutes into the game after taking a vicious hit from defenseman Ed Jovanovski.
Much like Saturday's contest, the B's gave up the first goal. But, similarly, they stormed right back and took control thanks to a power play goal from newcomer Andrej Meszaros in his first game donning the spoked B.
Despite two goals from Dorchester native and former BC Eagle Jimmy Hayes, the Bruins were sailing smoothly outshooting Roberto Luongo and company by a 41-22 margin. Oh, and they found of the back of the net four times in the third period with Torey Krug, Patrice Bergeron, Iginla and Chris Kelly scoring goals.
Not bad for a team that was shorthanded for nearly 57 minutes without Paille.
"It's all about experience and having been through it before. Today was an easier game to get up for because it meant an opportunity to take over the conference, so the guys were pretty up for it," Julien told NESN's Jamie Erdahl. "I was impressed with just the pace of our game having played two games in less than 24 hours. I thought the guys responded well to that, too."
Luckily, Paille's injury is not considered very serious according to Julien and is day-to-day at this point. Given how the team prides itself on depth, its only a good thing.
Paille and his linemates, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton, have been carrying the bulk of the load during this recent stretch. In this six-game span, Campbell has scored four times, while Paille's speed led to several scoring chances and Thornton's grit kept the opposition on edge.
On Sunday, the top two lines got back up to speed. Reilly Smith followed up his shootout winner with an assist on Meszaros' power play goal at 9:58 of the second. Patrice Bergeron (18th of the season) scored another power play tally at 11:21 of the third, just 3:43 after Torey Krug broke a 10-game scoring drought with a nifty goal past Luongo for his 13th of the year. Iginla became the second Bruin to score 20 on the season when he beat Luongo to put the B's ahead 4-2 just 23 seconds after Hayes' second goal of the game.
All seems to be going right for the Black and Gold this week. They added depth to their roster in Meszaros and Corey Potter (off waivers) to bolster their blue-line, and they didn't have to subtract much during the trade deadline. Moreover, they are finding ways to win during the busiest stretch of the season.
Now they have a few days off before traveling to Montreal for Wednesday's contest. The Bruins are still looking for their first win against the hated Canadiens, and now have to deal with perennial B's killer Thomas Vanek, who was acquired from the Islanders at the deadline.
With a 10-point cushion over the Habs in the Atlantic Division, the Bruins have to feel pretty comfortable with their situation heading into Wednesday. Still, they need to keep their foot on the gas pedal and shake off some cobwebs against a heated foe.
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