Bruins penalty-kill unit on top of its game vs. Jets

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Bruins penalty-kill unit on top of its game vs. Jets

BOSTON -- Certain players and teams lost aspects of their game during the lockout. The Boston Bruins are no exception to that.

But now with a 2-0 start to the shortened season, the Bruins still have one thing they know they never lost: their identity.

For a refresher course, prior to the lockout, the Bruins were a strong defensive team, committed to keeping the shots to the outside, allowing their goaltender to see those shots cleanly. And with that solid defense came offensive opportunities.

Through two games, the Bruins still play with that identity. And that defense-first style has translated into a penalty kill unit that's aggressive and instinctive, quick to prevent the opposition's power play to set up shop and get the shots or passes through the slot that they yearn.

Forget about the power play. If you can keep the other team from scoring on their man-advantages, and carry that defensive identity into even-strength play, you can win in this league. Just ask the core group of this Bruins team who hoisted the Stanley Cup back in 2011.

That said, the Bruins don't get a banner raised for opening this season 2-0. But they are showing that they're in a good place, especially if their penalty-kill unit plays like it did on Monday afternoon, in a 2-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets.

"That's what made the difference today," said Bruins coach Claude Julien after the win. "And I thought our penalty kill has been good the first two games. A 5-on-3 last game against the Rangers, and then two 4-on-3's today. Especially in overtime, it was a tough call on Zdeno Chara, obviously, and to have to kill that to finish the game, our guys did a great job, the two D's that were out there, but also Patrice Bergeron and Chris Kelly were switching over up front. They were breaking up a lot of plays once they got over the blue. So, again, that's probably a good reason why we're sitting here today with a win."

The Bruins killed off all four Jets power plays, with two coming at crucial points in the game.

Johnny Boychuk was called for high-sticking with 1:11 left to play in regulation with the game tied at 1-1. That resulted in the Bruins having to be down 4-on-3 for the first 49 seconds in overtime (the overtime period is 4-on-4 at even strength).

The B's killed that off, but then Zdeno Chara was called for a holding penalty with 1:28 left in overtime. It was a questionable call for sure, as Chara chased Blake Wheeler down the right side of the ice. Wheeler attempted to cut hard inside to the net with the puck, and Chara put a body on him. Wheeler tripped and went flying into the net, and the refs gave the Jets a 4-on-3 power play for the rest of the game.

But the Bruins also killed that one off, and then won the game in a shootout.

"It's important that we do the job on the PK, especially in overtime like that," said Patrice Bergeron. "It happened twice, and we found a way. So give credit to everyone that was on the ice, but also Tuukka Rask. He made some great saves for us."

The Bruins also referenced the chewed up ice at the end of the game, as being a reason for the penalty-kill success in overtime. But through the first two games, it's clear that their success stems from more than just a slower surface.

"I think we were pretty aggressive right away, right off the bat," said Bergeron. "We didn't give them time to set up, and I don't think they got the plays they wanted because we were so aggressive.

"I think we all know where to be. We communicate a lot on the ice. Also, coach does a great job to make it more, I guess, black and white. Then it's about instincts and just making sure you do the right plays."

It's their identity.

With Thomas drawing attention, Stevens turns to Rozier in big moment

With Thomas drawing attention, Stevens turns to Rozier in big moment

BOSTON – Prior to Saturday’s game, Terry Rozier talked to CSNNE.com about the importance of staying ready always, because “you never know when your name or number is going to be called.”

Like when trailing by three points in the fourth quarter with less than 10 seconds to play?

Yes, Rozier was on the floor in that scenario and the second-year guard delivered when his team needed it.

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But Rozier’s fourth quarter heroics which forced overtime against Portland, did not provide that much-needed jolt that Boston needed as the Blazers managed to fend off the Celtics in overtime, 127-123.

For Rozier’s part, he had 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting.

The 15 points scored for Rozier was the most for him since he tallied 16 in a 30-point Celtics win at Orlando on Dec. 7.

But more than the points, the decision by head coach Brad Stevens to draw up a play for him in that moment, a time when most of what Boston does revolves around the shooting of Isaiah Thomas who has been among the top-3 scorers in the fourth quarter most of this season, was surprising to many.

And at that point in the game, Thomas already had 13 fourth-quarter points.

Stevens confirmed after the game that the last shot in the fourth was indeed for Rozier, but Thomas’ presence on the floor was important to its execution.

“He (Thomas) also draws a lot of attention,” Stevens said. “So I think you just weigh kind of … what kind of shot you’re going to get, depending on who it is.”

Rozier had initially screened for Thomas, and Thomas came back and screened for him.

“I was open as soon as I caught … and I let it fly,” Rozier said. “Coach drew up a play for me and it felt good to see the ball go in.”

Being on the floor at that time, win or lose, was a victory of sorts for Rozier.

He has seen first-hand how quickly the tide can change in the NBA for a young player.

After a strong summer league showing and a solid training camp, Rozier had earned himself a firm spot in the team’s regular rotation.

But a series of not-so-great games coupled with Gerald Green’s breakout night on Christmas Day, led to his playing time since then becoming more sporadic.

Rozier, in an interview with CSNNE.com, acknowledged it hasn’t been easy going from playing regular minutes to not being sure how much court time, if any, he would receive.

But he says the veterans on the team have been good about keeping his spirits up, and one in particular – Avery Bradley – has been especially helpful.

Like Rozier, Bradley’s first couple of years saw his playing time go from non-existent to inconsistent. But Bradley stayed the course and listened to the team’s veterans who continued to tell him that his hard work would pay off sooner or later.

Those same words of wisdom Bradley received in his early days, he passes on to Rozier.

“It’s big,” Rozier told CSNNE.com. “He (Bradley) tells me things like that. I felt I was ready for this (inconsistent minutes) after all that he told me. It’s big to have a guy like him that has been through it all with a championship team, been around this organization for a while; have him talk to you is big. It’s always good. That’s why I stay positive, and be ready.”

Which is part of the reason why Stevens didn’t hesitate to call up a play for the second-year guard despite him being a 33.3 percent shooter from 3-point range this season – that ranks eighth on this team, mind you.

“He’s a really good shooter,” Stevens said of Rozier. “I think with more opportunity that will show itself true, but he made some big ones in the fourth quarter. We went to him a few different times out of time-outs, and felt good about him making that one.”

And to know that Stevens will turn to him not just to spell Thomas or one of the team’s other guards, but to actually make a game-altering play in the final seconds … that’s major.

“It helps tremendously,” said Rozier who added that his confidence is through “the roof. It makes me want to do everything. You know defense, all of that. It’s great, especially to have a guy like Brad trust you."