The facts: 6:30 p.m., CSN, 720-AM.
BOSTON — The Bruins entered the game Thursday against the Blackhawks on a 12-0-1 streak, their 12-game winning streak having just ended. They had gone an astounding 20-2-4 in their previous 26 games, surging to top of the league standings with the Blues.
But while they’re a heavy favorite to be Eastern Conference champions for the third time in four seasons, the prevailing belief in hockey circles is that the Western Conference is vastly superior. The West’s 226-133-50 mark against the East certainly supports that theory, though Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara shrugged it off as a cyclical, year-to-year thing.
“It just seems there are some very good teams in the West this year,” Bruins winger Brad Marchand said. “But I think on any given night, any team can win.”
And perhaps the beasts of the East — the Bruins and Penguins — have an advantage. While the Blues, Sharks, Ducks, Hawks and others are beating each other up in the deeper, bigger and more physical West, the Bruins and Penguins won’t have quite the same meat-grinder to get through.
“Travel-wise, it always takes its toll,” said Hawks winger Kris Versteeg, who has played in both conferences. “The East definitely has the upper hand on travel. Maybe the West is deeper throughout the top eight teams, but the top teams in the East and the West, they’re all in that upper echelon. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. You’ve still got to get there either way.”
Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith has been a front-runner for the Norris Trophy all season. But Chara, who has 16 goals, 19 assists and a plus-24 rating, is another leading candidate.
“I can tell you one thing,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “There are some people that have won the Norris Trophy with lots of good stats. I still wouldn’t trade them for Zdeno Chara.”
Keith has six goals and 51 assists, with a plus-24 rating.
One of the big story lines last spring was Corey Crawford’s supposed weakness on the glove side, an area the Bruins targeted heavily in the Stanley Cup Final. Marchand laughed when asked about it.
“You know what? Ninety percent of the goalies in the league, it’s low-block and high-glove,” he said. “So it’s nothing new. Guys just tend to shoot there. Maybe we were just getting lucky on the glove side last year, that’s all.”