At its outset, this March is not slated to be much different than its immediate predecessors for the Boston Bruins, except it is.
Which way the scale tips on that paradox by the conclusion of the month is simply on them.
Like most of the Bruins’ recent March itineraries, that of 2013 will feature more game days than not. They will engage in extramural activity 17 times over a span of 31 days or less, just as they did in 2012, and only one more time than they did in 2010 or 2008.
The difference is that those 17 games will constitute everything from the 18th through the 34th contest on their season. The merger of March with that portion of the schedule was enabled by the NHL lockout and resultant shortening and delayed start of the 2012-13 campaign.
Glance back at any of the first five years in the revolutionary reign of head coach Claude Julien and games No. 18 through 34 have generally yielded more favorable results than the month of March. One of the reasons for that is the more manageable spacing out of game nights.
Boston’s second set of 17 games will be compacted within 30 days this season, beginning with Saturday’s home matinee versus Tampa Bay and culminating in a March 31 visit to Buffalo. In the years between 2007-08 and 2011-12, that same stretch variously spanned 34, 37, 38, 38 and 40 days.
When Julien inherited a two-time playoff no-show, his first season began with a 9-6-2 start, which the Bruins precisely doubled to 18-12-4 between Nov. 17 and Dec. 20, 2007. Conversely, March of 2008 saw them stumble through a 6-5-5 cliffhanger.
They ultimately nabbed the last available playoff spot on the first Friday of April, and their final winning percentage of .573 was a few slivers below the .588 success rate of Games 18-34.
It was a similar trend in 2008-09, when the team took an astronomical stride to contention. The Bruins went 15-2-0 from Nov. 17 to Dec. 23 and then stumbled to a 7-5-1 record through March, though they had enough spare ground to stay in first place.
One of Boston’s better stretches in a rocky 2009-10 season was an 8-4-5 run between Nov. 12 and Dec. 19. Things looked less certain when the Bruins went 8-7-1 in the final full calendar month of the regular season.
Strangely enough, the eventual championship year has been the only time Julien oversaw a latter half of autumn (8-6-3 for a .559 winning percentage) that was not up to par with March (7-4-4, .600), or the season as a whole (46-25-11, .628).
Last season was reminiscent of 2008-09 in that the Bruins went 14-2-1 from Nov. 19 to Dec. 28 and later placed a March record merely two games above .500 at 9-7-1.
Those were each sets of 17 games. One had five additional wins and five fewer regulation losses. The other had nine fewer off days interspersed and began after the team had virtually completed three-quarters of a season with 61 ventures already in the books.
This season will be a hybrid of two of the most traditionally contrary stretches of a season for Julien’s pupils. They will simply need to approach it in a manner that exploits the plus points, such as the fact they are only six weeks and 17 games into the schedule.
By the time the calendar Zamboni takes its next monthly tour, there will be 14 regular-season games yet to come, all crammed into the first 27 days of April. Anything reminiscent of the previous five March marathons, the best of which had Boston posting a .600 winning percentage in 2011, could inflict permanent scars.
Granted, years such as 2012 will downplay the importance of home ice. The Bruins finished second in the East last year, only to lose three out of four at the Garden, and four out of seven overall, in the first round of the postseason.
On the other hand, over the four seasons before that, they rolled up a 21-8 postseason record at home, including a 10-1 gush through 2011 after initially dropping two in a row to Montreal.
Having started 2012-13 at 13-2-2 and boasting the league's second-best winning percentage, the Bruins have a fairly thick margin for error at their disposal. They certainly do not need to pull a late-autumn 2008 or 2011 to ensure home ice for the first and future rounds in the playoffs.
A performance that bests all preceding Marches, however, is a reasonable objective. Nothing will be slowing down until this campaign is over, and Boston, like its 29 competitors, had best keep the momentum in its grasp.
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