NEWARK, NJ – Claude Julien couldn’t help but chuckle if “getting off to a good start” was one of the stress points for the Bruins headed into their Wednesday night battle against the New Jersey Devils, who are battling for their playoff lives.
The Bruins haven’t been ready to go at the start of games for the better part of the last month. They get hemmed into their own end defensive for long stretches, and can’t generate quality scoring chances at the other end of the ice.
”I think," said Julien, "we’ve been talking about that for the last month, right? It’s been a good start for the last month and we’re still looking for it. I’m telling you right that I’d be really, really pleased if we start out strong tonight.
"We’ve talked about finding a groove and playing a solid 60 minutes in this last little bit, and that’s proven to be a challenge over the last month. But I feel like this team still has it.”
In six of their last nine games, the Bruins have allowed their opponents to score first. In each of the last two games in which Boston eventually scored first, it was still outshot by a 35-15 margin.
That means the Bruins have been bailed out by some brilliant goaltending from Tuukka Rask. Without him, things could be a lot worse for a Bruins club that’s still hitting the snooze button even though the NHL schedule has turned to April.
Players say their starts have been a topic of discussion within the dressing room as they attempt to assess and address any lingering issues before the playoffs arrive. If they can’t figure out a way to hit the ice at maximum efficiency in the first period, it will be another one-and-done in the playoffs . . . like last year’s first round exit at the hands of the Washington Capitals .
"It's something that we're trying to figure out as a team," Gregory Campbell said. "The experience we have in this room and the leadership is something that we're addressing. We talked about it against Montreal on Saturday -- we usually play them pretty well and the game is often dictated by our starts and as you saw, we got down 1-0. We played pretty well for the rest of the game, but it's tough to climb back into games and that's going to be the story moving forward.
"That's been our concern, is playing a 60-minute effort. We have a lot of character on the team, so coming back from leads has never been an issue for us, but it's about being prepared and coming out and sticking to the game plan that we go in with."
With only 10 games remaining on the season and less than three weeks left until the playoffs, the Bruins are clearly feeling the urgency to fill the middle period with quality play and then leave them behind with a strong finishing kick in the third.
In some circles it’s called a strong 60-minute effort, as Campbell referenced, and it’s something the Bruins haven’t really tapped into.
“You need to get used to being in ‘playoff mode.’ Being more attuned to the physical end of things and not straying away from our game plan,” said Johnny Boychuk. “It’s like a mindset. You get into that ‘playoff mode’ and you have to do it beforehand to get it rolling for the playoffs.
“You have to get used to playing like that because if not then you’re going to be out in the first round . . . kind of like how we were last year.”
Top to bottom, the Bruins know that kind of playoff result is unacceptable for a second year in a row. The conscious effort to build toward something starts with a good first period followed by two more strong ones against a weakened New Jersey bunch primed for the kill.