Bruins fans hoping they’re true Cup contenders

It’s almost about that time. Time to take a more serious look at your Boston Bruins.

Like we said, we miss the fact that Merrimack’s Tim Schaller isn’t with the B’s any longer. Last year he was on a Bruins team that won a series before being jettisoned by powerful Tampa Bay in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

While many are starting to catch baseball fever – the regular season begins at the end of this month, believe it or not as MLB doesn’t wait for April any longer – it’s just about five weeks before the best playoff season starts, the chase for the Stanley Cup.

The Bruins aren’t fighting for a playoff spot like they were in the final couple of years of the Claude Julien reign. They are in, the second best record in the Eastern Conference. In fact, thanks to the way it’s set up now (pros and cons) we already know that it’s very likely they’ll play Toronto in the first round and Tampa again in the second. Sorry to ruin your suspense.

But now is about the time you start to wonder, is this Bruins team, which has at least a point in 16 straight games, capable of making a deep playoff run – meaning Eastern Conference Finals or Cup F inals?

It’s always a hard question to answer. The Cup playoffs are always full of surprises, and playoff hockey is so much different from the regular season. In April and May, you see the same team every other night and it’s all about matchups and goaltending.

But the Bruins had one heckuva month of February, not losing a game in regulation time. Despite a lot of changes in the last few years, they still rely on their core group from their 2011 Stanley Cup title – franchise face Patrice Bergeron, ageless defenseman Zdeno Chara, pesty but skilled star Brad Marchand (only goal in Saturdaynight’s win) and distributor David Krejci. As that group goes, basically, so go the Bruins.

Of course, they have developed some young stars of late. Defenseman Charlie McAvoy and scorer David Pastrnak are the basis of the new core. That’s what you want with a franchise.

General manager Don Sweeney made the basic deadline or near deadline deals for the helpful scoring forwards, nabbing

Marcus Johannson and Charlie Coyle. They may combine for 40 goals for the season when their final numbers are tallied.

“If you try to get into the playoffs and move forward, I think you have to have the depth,” Sweeney said during a recent press conference, noting the team surivived early season injuries. “… Overall the balance has kind of been there.”

But to do what this team did this past month, go on a west coast trip and return basically unblemished, is remarkable.

Of course, there are a couple of other variables that you need in the postseason, most importantly the goaltender, and then the coach. Tuukka Rask has certainly been an interesting character during his time in the Bruins net and came under some fire earlier this year, especially when he had to take a brief personal leave. But he’s 14-0-3 with a GAA of right around or just below 2.00 in his last 17 games,and he’s just the second goalie in NHL history to pust multiple point streaks of at least 17 decisions. That’s what you need from your playoff goaltender.

There haven’t been too many complaints about Cassidy ever since he took over the Julien right after the Patriots and 28-3 in Houston. He’s pretty authoritative, seems to have learned from past coaching mistakes, and likes to play the trends.

“I think Bruce, he holds players accountable,” Sweeney said recently. “In game stuff, situtations, he definitely is a coach that has his finger on a player, how they’re doing, what they’re bringing to the table.”

Sweeny cited Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen as players who Cassidy has made sure they play his way. His way includes scoring goals. Imagine this – the B’s are wondering what the heck to do when their top scorer, Pastrnak, returns. When is the last time a Bruins team had that kind of issue?

“You’ve seen the response,” Sweeney said. “You guys know Bruce. He’ll tinker. He’ll tinker with the guys that are playing well. That’s one of the strengths of him as a coach, identifying in game who’s playing well and maybe who’s not. I think he does a real good job of that.”

Will we identify the Bruins as a team that’s playing well come playoff time? It’s a long, arduous season, with a lot of ups and downs, injuries, surprises, trades, etc.

But a month from now is when it really counts, and right now the Bruins and their fans are counting on a fun spring.

With fingers crossed.

Tom King may be reached at 594-1251,