B's effort vs. evenly-matched Blues should show them way

B's effort vs. evenly-matched Blues should show them way
November 22, 2013, 12:30 pm
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It kind of figures it would take the Western Conference mirror image of the Boston Bruins to get the best out of a team that’s been reliably inconsistent through the first two months of the season.

With the heavy, physical and defensively responsible St. Louis Blues in town, the Bruins executed a playoff brand of their own gritty, simple style and played their best game of the season in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Blues on TD Garden ice.

“There are a lot of similarities. I don’t know if we quite have a 6’9” defenseman, but it’s tough to play against forwards and teams that are disciplined and stick to the game plan,” said St. Louis Blues forward David Backes. “You saw a couple of breakdowns tonight and they all ended up in the back of the net and [then there was] a hard-fought third period, which was a great period of hockey.”

It wasn’t just a great final 20 minutes of hockey. It was a great 65 minutes of hockey until the anticlimactic, artificial shootout sucked all of the hockey purist nirvana out of the building.

Both sides clearly made mistakes, and those tend to be the difference-makers in games between evenly-matched opponents such as the Bruins and Blues. One was a soft serve ice cream cone surrendered by Tuukka Rask with 1:09 go at the end of the first period when he allowed a slow Derek Roy lob shot from the point to sneak underneath his pads and stick.

Perhaps it was a little fatigue from playing his third game in four nights as Rask said he simply felt “okay” when asked about the challenging workload postgame.

But aside from that and Rask’s inability to break his own stick as he slammed it around in frustration following the actual shootout loss, the Bruins couldn’t have asked for much more - aside from perhaps a goal from their top six forwards that could have ended things in regulation. Otherwise it was two punch-tossing NHL heavyweights going back-and-forth with mighty cycling shifts, suffocating fore-checks and layer upon layer of defense brought on by superior coaching.

In other words it was an enjoyable playoff-style game to watch.

Just look at the stats: the shots were 31-26, the hits were 32-31, the face-off wins were 34-29 and both teams scored goals in the first and second period before a scoreless third period. One could imagine both of those teams meeting up again in June if they consistently played the same brand of hockey that they featured on Thursday night.

“It doesn’t matter whether we win or lose in the shootout, said Claude Julien. "We all have our opinions on that. I just find when a game is played so well like that, it’s a lot easier if both teams could have walked out of here and said, ‘You know what, hard fought game,’ and both teams would have been happy. Right now you come out of there more or less feeling like you lost the game, and in my mind we played well enough to win.

“Those are tough – whatever, if you want to call it a loss – to take because I thought we deserved a lot better.”

All the signs were there that the Bruins wanted the two points coming off nearly a team-wide “no show” against the New York Rangers.

Brad Marchand was as engaged and aggressive making plays with the puck as he’s been all season, and was perhaps spurred on by some of the “healthy scratch” talk that’s kicked up if he doesn’t soon find the North/South in his game.

Carl Soderberg generated nine shot attempts, scored a goal on a beautiful shot from the slot and has put together a good stretch of productive games over the last two weeks.

Gregory Campbell had his best game of the season while scoring his first goal of the year, and generated six shot attempts, blocked two shots, threw out three registered hits and won 9-of-11 face-offs while reminding everybody why he’s such a plus as a fourth line center that probably could play a bigger role on a different team.

Kevan Miller jumped right into the fray and played nearly 18 minutes of heavy, challenging hockey in his first NHL game, and allowed Julien to keep his defensemen pairings together rather than forcing more minutes on his five established blueliners.

The Bruins rolled four lines and six defensemen, and everybody’s motor appeared to be running at a high level.

“We were expecting that, a physical game and a team that’s hard to play against,” said Patrice Bergeron. “I thought we played that same kind of game. It was pretty even, I thought. They had some chances, we had some chances, and we played pretty solid.

“They’re a good team, they have a deep lineup, and so do we. I thought it was an even game, and we did have our share of chances and pucks lying around the net. We’ve got to try to maybe do a little better job of finding the back of the net. That being said, we stuck with it. We didn’t give them too many chances in our end as well. I thought it was a good effort.”

It was clearly a good effort from the Black and Gold, and it was another piece of evidence that the Bruins are one of the few East teams that could hack it in an excellent Western Conference this season. But the fact remains the Bruins wouldn’t even be in the playoff picture in the West with their current regular season record, and there are far too many nights when they haven’t mustered the level of effort shown against a highly-respected St. Louis hockey club.

Everybody liked the kind of hockey theatre they saw when the Blues and Bruins locked in for their heavy, hard brand of pure hockey, they just want to see a little bit more of it on a consistent basis in the Hub of Hockey.