The Bruins continue to change on the fly, amending their roster via trades and callups (Mark Stuart got the holler late last night), and maybe they have begun to change their fortunes.
"I'm a realist," said coach Dave Lewis following his club's 3-0 win last night over the Edmonton Oilers before a crowd of 16,449 at the Garden -- the last tuneup prior to a six-game road trip. "I think this will be an interesting road ahead of us. I know I'd like to be healthy, but probably every team is like that."
The hardest of the realities Lewis now must face is that talented center Patrice Bergeron was not in uniform for the third period against the Oilers, and the Bruins -- in keeping with the NHL/KGB code of state secrecy -- would say only that the 21-year-old center sustained a "lower-body" injury. He was rumored to have a hip injury earlier this season, and his offensive production dipped dramatically amid the rumors.
The Bruins again were without veteran winger Glen Murray (groin pull), although he isn't expected to miss more than another game or two. If Bergeron is out for a sustained period -- the club offered no timeline along with no specific injury -- that could be a crippling blow to a team desperate to pick up points with only 27 regular-season games remaining.
The victory, Boston's fourth in the last five games, essentially was salted away in the first period when Brandon Bochenski and Marco Sturm connected for power-play strikes only 62 seconds apart, leaving the Bruins with a 2-0 lead by the 16:15 mark. Tim Thomas, who earned his second shutout this season, then made 14 stops in the second period when the Bruins hit one of their copyrighted midgame lulls, allowing the Oilers no fewer than four power plays in the period. Thomas finished with 32 saves.
"The year in Finland, when I had 15 shutouts," said Thomas, thinking back to the season before he signed here as free agent, "that surprised me as much as it surprised anyone.
"I don't go for shutouts -- I go for wins."
Bochenski's strike, which came with Zdeno Chara working the top of the crease on a five-on-three advantage, was his fourth in four games since he joined the Bruins via trade with Washington. He also assisted on two goals -- both by Sturm -- to give him a 3-point night. Sturm, who scored an empty-netter with 2:12 left, looked like a Deutschland knockoff of John Bucyk with his first goal, providing a quick snap high into the net after goalie Dwayne Roloson turned back a Bergeron attempt from the left side. The Chief must have roofed 300 like that over the course of his illustrious career.
"I was watching before the game, his highlights," said Sturm, noting the montage of Bucyk goals shown prior to the game, the Chief feted for his 50 years of service to the club. "So maybe that helped."
Another huge aid for the Bruins was the play of newcomer Andrew Ference, who, though not big, isn't afraid to assert himself, especially around the Boston net. The former Flame, acquired in the Saturday deal that sent Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau to Calgary, recorded no fewer than six of Boston's 17 hits. Ryan Smyth, the Oilers' spiritual leader, was the recipient of at least four of those body slams.
"I thought he had an excellent game, with big-time hits," said Lewis, who also saw another relative newcomer, Jeremy Reich, pummel the Oilers' Marc-Antoine Pouliot in a brief but impressive dustup. "He shows poise, and he's not afraid to battle down low, in the trenches."
Before the night was out, the Bruins killed all seven of Edmonton's power plays, for an elapsed time of 13:35. If they sustained an emotional hit in the Primeau-Stuart trade, it didn't show, at least not dramatically. They still had trouble generating shots at even strength, but on a nightly basis, succeeding on power plays is a standard survival skill in today's NHL.
Now come stops in Long Island, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Toronto, and Florida (Lightning and Panthers), all before the Feb. 27 trade deadline. Meanwhile, trade rumors continue to hover over the club, with Sturm, a free-agent-to-be, one of the top candidates to be moved.
"They're just rumors," said Lewis. "Who makes 'em up, I don't know. That would be a good story."
Perhaps. Just a few days ago, of course, rumors had Stuart and Primeau, two other UFAs-to-be, headed out of town. Now they're playing for the Flames -- proof once more that where there's smoke, there's often a fair bit of fire. Some of this stuff, you just can't make up.