Patrice Bergeron knew exactly what the Bruins were up against to begin the season. Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk were all starting the season on the shelf.

But while the challenges were clear, the Bruins’ captain framed the situation more as an opportunity, one for some other players to step into the void and make a mark that they might not have been expected to make if the team was at full strength. It’s what everyone says whenever a significant injury occurs, but there seemed to be more gravity to Bergeron’s words this time.

And as was evidenced by the team’s unusual celebration of Bergeron’s 1,000th career point in a 5-3 win in Tampa on Tuesday, this team follows where its captain leads. The Bruins got off to the hottest start in team history not so much in spite of those issues as because of them.

Thanks to the tone Bergeron set, the Bruins entered the month of October with an uncommon focus that not only helped them overcome the absence of their first-line left wing and two top-four defensemen but saw them through the growing pains of some fairly significant system tweaks. When those players returned earlier than expected, it only added to the historic start for the Bruins, who had their seven-game winning streak end on Wednesday in a 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers.

A strong culture had already been in place, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any real passengers in the Bruins’ 17-3 start. This group has coalesced as a team, in every sense of the word. Within such groups, you will inevitably find some individual performances that are eye-popping. They may not necessarily be over-achievements, but you just didn’t see them coming.

Here are five of them:


• Linus Ullmark. We expected that some combination of Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman would give the Bruins good enough goaltending to win more than they lost and eventually make it into the playoffs. We did not see Ullmark grabbing the reins and becoming an old-fashioned, workhorse No. 1 goalie. Part of that was due to the injury that kept Swayman out for three weeks, but most of it can be attributed to Ullmark’s performance. Ullmark hasn’t necessarily stolen games, but he has definitely stolen periods.

• Nick Foligno. Raise your hand if you thought this respected veteran was all done. Guilty as charged here. He came into training camp with the same positive attitude that you would expect from him and he vowed that this season was going to be different for him after a healthy summer that allowed him to train how he wanted. Then came the preseason and he looked a lot like the same player from a year ago – plenty of hustle and grit and nothing to show for it. He was even waived at the start of the season, though management surely didn’t expect to lose him with his $3.8 million price tag. There should be a few teams kicking themselves now. Foligno has played a pivotal role, making the fourth line an impact unit while also contributing with his net front presence on the second power-play unit.

• Jake DeBrusk. The conventional wisdom on DeBrusk’s game said that if he’s not scoring goals, he’s not doing much to help the team. That has been far from the truth this year. He’s fourth on the team in scoring but that doesn’t tell the story of the impact he’s had. He’s learning to use his long reach on puck retrievals and battles and his legs are almost always churning. It would be easy to chalk it all up to the coaching change, but something clicked in DeBrusk in the middle of last season when a trade request became public. With the direction of his career on the line, he weeded out most of the inconsistency in his game. Now it looks like GM Don Sweeney’s refusal to take pennies on the dollar in a trade for the winger might have been one of his best decisions in building this team.

• Connor Clifton. It should have come as no surprise that when a challenge was issued, Clifton took a step forward. It is part of the New Jersey native’s DNA. But few saw Clifton capable of taking the giant step forward that he did. With McAvoy on the sideline, Clifton became a legitimate top four defenseman and helped Hampus Lindholm enter the Norris Trophy conversation. He’s averaging just under 21 minues a game, almost four minutes more than his career average.

• Coach Jim Montgomery. With their first coaching change, GM Don Sweeney and team president Cam Neely waited too long to end Claude Julien’s great run behind the bench. When they whacked Bruce Cassidy last summer, it felt like they pulled the trigger too soon. Now it looks like they may have gotten this one just right. Cassidy is an excellent coach and he’s proving it again in Vegas. But sometimes a team just needs a new messenger. Montgomery has not only provided a different voice, but the message itself has been changed. His aggressive attacking system has been a boon for offensive-minded defensemen like Hampus Lindholm and McAvoy and it has has turned the Bruins into an offensive juggernaut.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.