BOSTON -- It's not about the winning streak. It's all about the process for the Boston Bruins.
With a 2-1 win over the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday night at TD Garden, the Bruins won their seventh game in a row and now own the top spot in the Eastern Conference with 93 points, one ahead of the idle Pittsburgh Penguins.
With 16 games remaining in the regular season, Bruins coach Claude Julien is pleased with the way his team is playing right now. Boston is a deep team, and every aspect of its game is on display. With a crazy schedule this month not only for the Bruins but for the league as a whole, Julien believes his team knows that the name of the game is about preparing for the Stanley Cup playoffs, not making excuses.
"I see commitment from everybody," Julien said. "It's pretty obvious when you've played the number of games that you've played, and you look at the way you've played, there's a pretty good commitment from our guys."
When the Bruins are playing well defensively, it translates into a potent offensive style of play, and that's what they've been exhibiting during this streak. Goaltender Tuukka Rask has a front-row seat and he's pleased with what he's watching.
"We're just playing Bruins hockey day in and day out and not trying to do too much," Rask said. "The schedule's tough and we're trying to keep things simple. We pretty much know we're going to make the playoffs, and we just want to get our game to a level we think it needs to be going into the playoffs."
The Bruins concluded their 12th of 17 sets of back-to-back games, and they're 9-2-1 in the first game and 10-2-0 in the second game. Thursday's game easily could have been a letdown for the Bruins, especially coming off an emotional 4-1 win over the division rival Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night at Bell Centre.
"We're playing really well right now," said Bruins forward Brad Marchand. "Everyone seems to be buying into the system and playing their role and not trying to do too much. When you have all four lines going, and all six D and both goalies, it's great. We're showing we've got a really good team here, and that's what we need to be doing down the stretch."
With the regular-season schedule winding down, it's going to be a battle for Eastern Conference supremacy between the Bruins and Penguins. Boston has basically secured the top spot in the Atlantic Division, but the Bruins are focused on more than just the seeding in the standings.
"It would be big, obviously," Marchand said of winning the conference title. "You want to finish as high as you can, and home-ice advantage in the playoffs is huge, but it's more about the process and how you get there. I think if we just worry about playing our game every single night, things will work themselves out."
The Bruins' consistent play is what has made this team a perennial Stanley Cup contender, and it's no different this season. At times, the Bruins have been streaky, but when things are going well they are one of the best teams in the league.
Given the Bruins were facing the Coyotes on a back-to-back game on Thursday night, it was a bit of a surprise that Julien decided to start Rask in net. It proved crucial as he finished with 21 saves, many of them timely.
"I don't think we should overanalyze Tuukka, or Tuukka's fatigue," Julien said. "Chad [Johnson has] played well for us, and he's going to play and they're going to share the net. For me, it was a decision I made, and I felt Tuukka wasn't overly tired. He felt great and he can rest tomorrow because we don't play."
After the game, Rask said he didn't feel completely fresh Thursday but expected to play.
The Bruins believe there's still another level they can raise their game to, and that's something they want to reach when the playoffs arrive.
"Honestly, we've been pretty focused," said forward Jarome Iginla. "We've been trying to keep pushing ourselves to be better and to keep working on things. It's been fun winning. Guys here, it's a hungry team and a very competitive team. We want to keep winning and keep getting better. We've been able to get ourselves into a battle for the top of the conference, but even that guys don't really talk about on a day-to-day basis."
Not lost in Thursday's win was the fact that Julien earned his 300th career victory in Boston. Overall, he has a 419-249-10-84 record in 762 career games as a coach, but he always downplays individual accomplishments. His goal is to win another Stanley Cup with the Bruins.
"I had no knowledge and my guys know it doesn't matter to me," Julien said. "It's great, don't get me wrong. It's great and I'm happy it's happened here. I'm happy to have that, but at the same time, to me, I'd rather look forward to hopefully a lot more than just that. I'm proud to have accomplished this in Boston. It's great. I've really enjoyed myself here and I'm looking forward to another 300."