Bruins prove they can still be great without Seidenberg

Bruins prove they can still be great without Seidenberg
January 19, 2014, 8:15 pm
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CHICAGO – Perhaps now the teeming masses will believe the Bruins are still an elite team capable of great things, even without defenseman Dennis Seidenberg.

The struggles in the defensive zone and on the penalty kill have been well-documented since the German defenseman blew out his knee three weeks ago, but they’ve also been legitimate. The Bruins are now 4-5-1 in the ten games without Seidenberg, and they’ve allowed a much higher level of goals per game (2.9 goals per game) and power play goals allowed (30 percent success rate) during their struggle for answers.

Clearly the Bruins are still a top shelf playoff team in the Eastern Conference, but legitimate questions cropped up as to whether Seidenberg’s absence took the Black and Gold out of realistic running for another Cup victory.

Well, they might have just found the Cup affirmation they were looking for in a playoff-style 3-2 shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center.

“It’s about us continuing to play like we did [against Chicago]. I don’t think it’s about looking over our shoulders, or over-respecting anybody,” said Claude Julien. “It’s about going out and showing that we’re a part of that group, and we are. Our game slipped and we struggled through some of that stuff, but we’re a good team.

“We just need to play like we can, and then you get performances like we had today [against the Blackhawks].”

The Bruins might have ultimately fallen prey to the NHL’s gimmick following the great game, but they also played a dead even game against the Best of the Western Conference in their own madhouse of a barn. There was no overpowering of the B’s defense around the net as had become commonplace lately, and there were no second or third chances if the goaltender did give up a rebound.

Those are the areas of the game that the Bruins missed their workhorse defenseman more than anything: battles directly around the net, and gritty shot-blocking when the puck does get to the scoring areas. Johnny Boychuk played a season-high 26:03 and blocked a team-high three shots, and Zdeno Chara had his snarl on with a game-high 28:08 of ice time against a team that got victimized by him last June.  

That they were able to do this without the services of Seidenberg tells the Bruins that A) they’re capable of playing up to that ceiling without his services and B) some of the other B’s players are beginning to pick up the considerable slack. Those were both very good things immediately culled from an entertaining showpiece event for the NHL played out on national television before the football game.

“It was a good test for us. We know they’re a great team, and we’ve had our struggles lately,” said Tuukka Rask. “The last game in Dallas we played well, and we wanted to keep it going. We showed today that if we play our game, then we can play with anybody.

“It was a great game. The end result wasn’t what we wanted, but it was still a good job. We eliminated their second chances, and the stuff around the net was really cleaned up defensively. It was a real step in the right direction.”

Some might have even looked at a shootout loss to the Blackhawks from the outside, and envisioned an outgunned Bruins team holding on for the loser point against Chicago. But the Bruins outshot the Blackhawks (37-36) and went toe-to-toe with them in every regard: both teams scored two even strength goals, and one goal apiece in the first and second period before going scoreless in a final 20 minutes of regulation dominated by the Bruins.

In fact, one could actually argue that the Bruins dictated the pace of the game after a fast and furious first 20 minutes, and had several chances to win it in the third period and overtime on two Gregory Campbell chances right around the net. The fourth line center couldn’t cash in on either chance with an open net staring him in the face during the overtime session.

Tuukka Rask surrendered a soft goal to Brandon Bollig on the game-tying score in the second period that somehow found an opening between the B’s goaltender and the near post on a bad angle shot. Rask said he did everything he could to stop it from going in, but pucks don’t trickle through when a goalie truly shuts down the near post.  

So at the end of 65 minutes plus the shootout, the Bruins knew they could have very easily won the statement game if one or two things had gone a little differently. They also know they’re capable of greatness no matter what Peter Chiarelli and the B’s front office does at the trade deadline.

“We battled hard. They battled hard. It was a good game,” said Krejci. “From now on we’re going to be playing good teams, and teams that are battling for a playoff spot. So we have to take every game like it’s a playoff game. We need to get ready for that night in, and night out.”

As Krejci alluded to, the road for the Bruins doesn’t let up after Sunday’s spotlight game against the Blackhawks. They get a chance at sweet revenge on the Los Angeles Kings little more than 24 hours later with a 3 p.m. game at TD Garden, and continue with three more weeks until the February Olympic break.

It won’t be easy for a Bruins team still in a very good spot despite playing sub-.500 hockey over the last 10 games, but at least they have a little renewed swagger after staring down the Blackhawks before the stupid shootout.