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The Bruins' path to becoming the best team in NHL history

The Bruins are on pace for an NHL record 66 wins and 140 points more than halfway through the 2022-23 NHL season.

The Boston Bruins are playing at a pace never seen before in the NHL.(Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)
The Boston Bruins are playing at a pace never seen before in the NHL.(Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

With a 4-2 win against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday, the Boston Bruins won their sixth game in a row, giving them 10 wins in their last 11 games and improving their record to a shocking 38-5-4.

Take a second to soak this in: if the Bruins maintain this pace, they’d author arguably the greatest regular season in NHL history.

With 80 points in 47 games played, the 2022-23 Bruins are the fastest team ever to reach that mark and currently boast a points percentage of .851. That puts Boston on pace for 66 wins and 140 points, which would break the wins record (62) held by the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings and 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning, and the points record (132) held by the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens, who accomplished the feat in 80 games.

Only the 1976-77 (.825) and 1977-78 (.806) Canadiens maintained points percentages above 80 for a full season. Crucially, those teams were iterations of a dynastic Habs run where they won four straight Stanley Cups and 10 of 15 championships from 1965 to 1979.

This provides context in two directions. First, the Bruins are also flirting with putting together the greatest regular-season run we’ve ever seen, barring some nitpicking about ties versus “loser points.” Second, and most crucially, they’ll find themselves in a different place in history if they win or lose a Stanley Cup.

Here’s a breakdown of where this Bruins team stands and the hurdles they must clear to rub elbows with the greats by actually winning it all.

Why the 2022-23 Bruins are so dominant

Here is where the Bruins rank in several key categories league wide:

GF/GP: T1 (3.81)

GA/GP: 1 (2.02)

PP%: 2 (27.2)

PK%: 1 (86.8)

When it comes to what makes this Bruins team special, some factors are familiar. David Pastrnak ranks far ahead of other Bruins in scoring — second overall in goals (40) and third overall in points (69) — but Boston is enjoying tremendous two-way play from the usual suspects, including Brad Marchand (45 points), returning familiar face David Krejci (39) and Patrice Bergeron (38). In recent years, opponents have learned to fear Boston’s potent power play and that’s carried over to this season, while their penalty kill is as good as ever.

That said, there are certainly some key differences that set this team apart. A few highlights include:

  • A coaching change, and maybe an upgrade?: You can debate the upgrade part (Bruce Cassidy’s enjoying mostly promising success in Vegas), but Jim Montgomery’s a worthy Jack Adams candidate either way.

  • A shocking ascension in net: Linus Ullmark developed a solid reputation with Buffalo, but one season in, the Bruins might have questioned their four-year, $20-million investment in the goalie. Now he looks like a potential steal. Ullmark currently leads the NHL in wins (25) while generating the best save percentage among workhorse goalies (.938). Spit out a “fancy stat,” and Ullmark likely shines. This Hockey Viz chart provides a graphical look at how fantastic Boston’s goaltending has been.

  • Initially, the Bruins appeared to overpay for Hampus Lindholm, who seemed on track to be considered “once-great.” About that: he’s a credible Norris Trophy dark horse candidate this season.

  • Again, it’s nice to get a strong center back, and Krejci’s delivered despite a year out of the NHL.

Hockey fans are used to good Bruins teams — often quite good ones — but this one’s deeper than ever, with a league-best eight players with 10-plus goals. As painful as it is to be a party pooper, there are a few reasons keepers of the cup shouldn’t chisel the Bruins’ name on the Stanley Cup just yet.

Possible bumps in the road

First, it’s important to at least take a moment to remember that as promising as the tandem of Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman is, it’s an unproven duo in the postseason. Sometimes that surprise Cinderella run goes pumpkin under the harsh lights of the playoffs. There are also certain indicators that a team might slow down. Beyond possibly unsustainable save percentages, the Bruins’ team shooting percentage may also cool.

The biggest bumps in the road aren’t about the Bruins, however, but instead about the path ahead. Thanks to the NHL’s current playoff format, Boston's second-round opponent would either be a team tied for second in the NHL in points (Toronto Maple Leafs at 66) or a team that’s been to three straight Stanley Cup Final series, winning two (Tampa Bay Lightning, 61 points).

Of course, the Lightning can spin some sad yarns about how a historically great regular-season team may not even make it that far. In 2018-19, the Lightning generated the fourth most standings points (128) and fifth-highest points percentage (.781) in NHL history. Then they failed to win a single playoff game.

Recent NHL history provides other examples of playoff letdowns. Last season’s Florida Panthers won the Presidents’ Trophy by collecting 122 points, yet their second-round exit prompted painful changes and they face a steep climb to even make the playoffs this season. The 2009-10 Washington Capitals generated 121 points, but couldn’t solve a red-hot Jaroslav Halak.

Sometimes, you run into a hot goalie or terrible injury luck.

The Bruins must control what they can, and the best advice would likely be to defy Marchand and give veterans rest, from Bergeron to Krejci to less obvious choices such as Marchand, Lindholm and Taylor Hall.

Also, if there are opportunities at the trade deadline, the Bruins need to go for it and have been linked to Vancouver Canucks captain Bo Horvat. Only Bergeron and Krejci know how many years they have left, and even Marchand is somehow already 34 years old, while Pastrnak is an unrestricted free agent this summer and will command a serious raise on his current deal.

Boston has the 11th strongest schedule for the remainder of the season, per Tankathon. That doesn't necessarily mean all that much for a team as good as these Bruins, but it won't be a cake walk to the finish line.

How Bruins compare to some of the best teams in NHL history

Ultimately, we don’t know if these Bruins will win the Stanley Cup. Let’s quickly compare them to some of the best teams in NHL history:

2022-23 Bruins: 38-5-4 for 80 points in 47 games (.851 points percentage) with a plus-83 goal differential.

1970s Canadiens: The 1976-77 team generated the best-ever record at 60-8-12 for 132 points in 80 games (.825) with a plus-216 goal differential.

Combine the sheer number of Stanley Cup wins with the limiting factor of ties, and most would give the peak versions of these Canadiens teams the edge over the 2022-23 Bruins.

Bobby Orr era Bruins: The 1971-72 Bruins generated 121 points in 78 games (.776) with a plus-126 goal differential.

When Orr was healthy, the Bruins won two Stanley Cups in three seasons and put together a run of dominance that may outshine these Bruins. This year’s team could still stay in the argument with a possibly higher points percentage, though.

1980s Islanders: The 1981-82 Isles went 54-16-10 for 118 points in 80 games (.738) with a plus-135 goal differential.

No team has won three straight Stanley Cups since the dynastic Islanders won four straight from 1980-83. Perhaps historians may wrestle with comparing one single transcendent Bruins team with the dynasty Islanders, and also the team that wrestled the torch away from Long Island.

1980s Oilers: The 1983-84 version reached 119 points (.744) with a plus-132 goal differential, and unlike in 1985-86, won a Stanley Cup.

By winning four Stanley Cups with Wayne Gretzky and one without him, the Oilers join the Islanders as teams whose overall dominance is undeniable. The “greatest player of all time” thing may nudge bar debates toward Edmonton over Boston even if the B’s end up with far more standings points.

Yzerman-Lidstrom Era Red Wings: They had the best season to never win a Stanley Cup in 1995-96, recording the second most regular-season points with 131. They had 116 points and 115 points, respectively, during their 2002 and 2008 championship seasons.

Runs like those of the Red Wings likely formed ideas about a Presidents' Trophy “curse,” as they failed to win the Cup four times during that era when they led the NHL in points. So, if the Bruins can finish strong and win a Stanley Cup, there could be an argument that this year's team had a higher peak than any of those Red Wings teams.

- - -

Like most great sports debates, arguing the 2022-23 Bruins versus history’s greatest teams will come down to nostalgia and fandom as much as stats themselves. Of course, the Bruins need to actually sustain this pace and win a Stanley Cup to drum up those arguments, and even the icons of the sport will admit that’s easier said than done.

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