The Bruins have dropped four games in a row for the first time this season, and lost both emotionally charged games since Monday’s horrendous Marathon bombing.
Even worse, they dropped to 1-5-1 in seven games against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens with their 3-2 loss to the Pens on Saturday afternoon at TD Garden, and did so while Pittsburgh was missing injured Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and James Neal from their lineup.
So there’s clearly no reason to do handstands, or start assuming another upward climb to the Stanley Cup Finals is a lock for this spring.
But there are still reasons for optimism with the Bruins. The glass being half full starts with the way that the Bruins played in Saturday afternoon’s emotion-soaked loss to Pittsburgh.
According to several Bruins players within the dressing, there was a players’ “chat” that took place in the last couple of days about the team’s current level of play. The discussion happened to coincide with Milan Lucic becoming a healthy scratch for Saturday afternoon’s game, and it also led to Boston’s most physically engaged effort in weeks. It’s actually pretty ironic the Black and Gold enjoyed their most physically engaged effort in weeks with bruising No. 17 benched for the day. But the specifics aren’t really important as long as every member of the Bruins team has received the message, and started buying back in to what has always made the team successful.
“That’s what we’re asking our team to start doing…to get that edge back that we’ve had. It’s a start and we’ve got to keep that edge. But we’ve got to polish off other parts of our game,” said Claude Julien. “We’ve got to be better around that net area. There are a lot of loose pucks there.
“We just have to be willing to go there and find those pucks and win those battles. There aren’t too many pretty goals anymore and it’s all from second and third efforts.”
What was the message sent out during the discussion between players that prompted a little more emotional edge on Saturday?
“I think we’re back to playing with a bit of an edge, so that’s a positive. I think the emotions, the week, a lot of things come together and [the players] just having a chat and saying listen ‘we’ve got to get back to playing the way we used to play,” said Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton. “Everybody needs a reminder on those things every once in a whole. It never hurts to mention things, right?
“[It was a] friendly reminder. The old lady friendly reminds me all the time about [putting down] the toilet seat.”
Anybody that’s been married for any period of time knows just how intense the toilet seat “chats” can become.
Yet it didn’t sound like a fire and brimstone-type speech by the Bruins leadership group to start speaking with their shoulders. Instead it was a reminder that clearly got everybody’s attention facing a difficult stretch of six games in nine days that began with Saturday afternoon’s matinee against Pittsburgh.
Boston rolled out 35 registered hits for the game, and won the physical battle against a Penguins club rolling into TD Garden looking to make a statement.
Some of it might have been pent up emotions after the week’s events in Boston that so clearly affected the group of men inside the B’s dressing room.
Some of it is a clear sense of urgency that the Bruins better find their highest ground with only eight days remaining in the regular season.
But it’s just also how the Black and Gold are going to have success in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
It’s clear watching this particular group of offensive players that the Bruins are not going to win a run and gun playoff series. Trying to rely solely on conservative systems defense and goaltending is never a preferred victory method in the playoffs.
The Bruins need to slug it out with opponents, they need to intimidate and they need to snarl at enemy hockey clubs with the kind of hitting that will grind away at a teams’ will. The fact there were only three players in the Boston lineup that didn’t have at least one registered hit on Saturday – and two of them were Tyler Seguin and Carl Soderberg, while the other one was Zdeno Chara oddly enough – made it clear the team-wide message to “step it up physically” has been received.
“We know what we have to do to play Boston Bruins hockey. We have to finish checks, we have to play with emotion and with a little bit of an edge,” said David Krejci. “It’s about playing the way that we’re supposed to play, and making sure we do that over the final five games. Today was a good start, and now we just need to find a way to score a few more goals to go along with it.”
It was clear Nathan Horton got the message. The Bruins right winger had already thrown out a series of body checks and racked up four registered hits in just eight shifts in the first period. His final body check turned into a brawl with Pittsburgh power forward Jarome Iginla that Horton won after two right-handed punches. Unfortunately Horton then left the ice toward the end of the first period with an apparent left hand/wrist injury after the scrap with Iginla.
That is the unfortunate price to be paid for a team playing with a little menace in their hearts, but that’s also why the Bruins have some unprecedented depth heading into this year’s postseason.
One negative side effect of turning up the dial physically is a few more penalties taken, and that was the case with Brad Marchand after taking a couple of retaliatory penalties. The first was a roughing call after the Nose Face Killah lost his cool with Jussi Jokinen’s grating style of play.
Marchand dropped his glove and ripped off Jokinen’s helmet in front of the Boston net, and subsequently took the only penalty from the incident. That roughing call turned into an Iginla power play goal that gave Pittsburgh a lead they wouldn’t relinquish, and spelled out the fine line between “playing with an edge” and “going over the edge.”
“I think there were a few penalties there that probably shouldn’t have been penalties, but they’re definitely a physical team,” said Marchand, who started Boston’s scoring with a first period power play goal. “When teams are physical, sometimes you react to that. We have to get back to doing [being physical] ourselves.”
Bottom line: the Bruins made a nice first step toward getting back to their former Big Bad Bruins selves on Saturday afternoon in a highly anticipated game against the Penguins. Now the challenge is there for Boston for the rest of the regular season. The Bruins need to consistently play with a surly attitude for the final five games of the regular season, and build toward a punishing, physical hockey club that’s truly ready for the playoffs ahead of them.
Once they start doing that, the playoff wins and the good Black and Gold feelings won’t be far behind.