The Boston Bruins emerged slowly from the starting gate this season but have since moved toward the front of the pack in the NHL's Atlantic Division. The Bruins have won seven of their last nine games as they head into Thursday's game against Minnesota.
At 10-6 overall, Boston trails only Montreal in the Atlantic and is on an upswing that can be attributed to - at least partially, if not more - goaltender Tuukka Rask. Rask has allowed just three goals over his past four starts while posting three shutouts during the Bruins hot streak.
Here's a closer look at Boston's season so far:
Youth is Served
For the first time in a few seasons, Boston is getting solid contributions from young players, such as defenseman Brandon Carlo and winger David Pastrnak. The latter has been stronger and more aggressive this season and seems to have earned the trust of coach Claude Julien in most situations.
Carlo, meanwhile, has shown plenty of poise during the B's recent hot streak and is proving that, as a 19-year-old defenseman in the big leagues, he certainly belongs. He's a rare young talent who plays with the intelligence and patience of a veteran.
The Importance of Backes
Center David Backes is a physical, gritty player who can score goals and appears to be having a positive influence off the ice, as well. He adds toughness to a position that has lacked it the past couple of years in Boston.
The Rask Factor
Rask, as mentioned, has been phenomenal between the pipes. He's taken some flak during his career for various things - including the notion that he's never won a "big game" - but the only one tending goal better than him is Montreal's Carey Price. Rask has allowed one goal or fewer in seven of his 11 starts this season. That's even more significant when you consider that the Bruins offense only ranks 20th in the league in goals scored. Simply put, the B's season ledger would look much different without Rask's sizable contributions.
The Bottom Line
How good are these Bruins? It's probably too early to tell but their play over the last month indicates that they can hang with the top dogs in the Eastern Conference. Unless their offense picks up, however, it may come down to how far Rask can take them. For now, he's shown some pretty broad shoulders.