NEWARK, NJ – The Bruins are in a complicated space with just nine games to go in the regular season.
They’ve won two in a row, and five of their last six, after Wednesday night's hotly contested 5-4 victory over the Devils, and they’re now one point ahead of the Montreal Canadiens in the Northeast Division.
Even better, the Black and Gold have a game in hand as, in the overall Eastern Conference standings, they sit just four points behind an embattled Penguins team that’s losing stream without the injured Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby.
But the Bruins have their own issues. Patrice Bergeron is already on the shelf because of a concussion, and they may have lost another important offensive player Wednesday when Brad Marchand took a vicious Anton Volchenkov elbow to the temple in the second period and had to leave the game. Nor did the Bruins respond to Volchenkov's takeout of Marchand in a positive way. They didn't retaliate physically, and they sleptwalked through an uninspired five-minute power play after Volchenkov was thrown out of the game . . . even allowing a shorthanded goal that cut a 4-1 lead to 4-2.
Worst of all, with the B's leading 5-3 late in the third period, Milan Lucic’s disinterested possession of the puck in the neutral zone led to a Travis Zajac-caused turnover and a successful scoring bid that pulled Jersey to within one goal. It's not the way you want to close things out in such an important game, especially one in which you held a 4-0 lead midway through the second period.
But the bottom line is the bottom line.
“After the second period there was a lot of frustration in the room over that last five minutes. Guys were frustrated,” said coach Claude Julien. “But I came out before the third [period] and told them, ‘We played a decent first . . . the second wasn’t good. But our goal remains the same as it was before the game: Win the game and you’re in first place.’
“It was obvious we gave them some life. [Getting nothing on the five-minute] power play was probably the one thing that disappointed me most. We had to go out and regain the momentum back in the third period and we were able to do that. They scored a goal, but we were sure of ourselves. We didn’t panic and just went out and got the next goal for the win.”
That goal came when the speedy combo of Daniel Paille and Tyler Seguin overwhelmed Mark Fayne as he attempted to collect a puck behind the Devils net. Paille fed Seguin in front of the net and the 21-year-old pushed a shot past Devils goalie Martin Brodeur to make it 5-3, and give them enough of a cushion to hold on for the win.
“We had points in the game where I thought we were dominating and we had points where they had all the momentum,” said Seguin. “We were capitalizing on our opportunities, but then when we got up 3-0 we definitely took our foot off the gas pedal a little bit. We saw what happened.
“It’s 100 percent disappointing. But we also got the two points and first place back. That was our goal headed into the game. So we’re going to walk away thinking about those positives, and worry about the negatives later.”
It’s the same sort of complicated, mixed feelings the Bruins had after beating the Hurricanes 6-2 score on Monday night: They're scoring goals and finishing off offensive plays, but they’re also giving things up way too easily in their own zone for a team built on defense and goaltending.
One bonus for the Bruins against the Devils: They came out with a much stronger start to the game than they have in a long, long time. They scored three goals right off the hop in the first period, and used their penalty kill unit and power play to build a four-goal lead midway through the second period.
But they were also outshot by a 28-18 margin throughout the game. And, as Seguin alluded to, the Bruins simply gave out once they’d pushed things up to a 4-0 lead and still have failed to really hammer things through with a full 60-minute effort.
“Our offense is clicking a little more, but it’s either a slow start or a slow finish for us,” said Gregory Campbell. “Today it was a slow second period where we sat on our lead and got a little comfortable. Good teams find a way to play a complete game and be consistent throughout the game. Give them credit for fighting us all the way, but onus is on us to stay with the game despite the score.”
The Bruins are putting in full effort to not get overwhelmed by the negativity surrounding their game right now even as the wins begin to start piling up. Their physicality needs to be dialed up a notch or three; with the exceptions of Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk, the B's finished with five hits in Wednesday’s win. Their defense needs to do better than the waving, timid group of players that allowed the Devils to dictate terms over the final 30 minutes.
Most importantly, the Bruins need to show the kind of emotional engagement that has 100 percent absent for long stretches of this season. The heart and spirit of such a strong character group like the Bruins hasn’t been consistent throughout the first 39 games of the NHL regular season.
Those all need to be there as the Bruins get ready for the “playoff mode” that so many of their players talked about prior to the victory in Jersey. For now, however, the B’s will take the two points for these partially joyless victories as they keep working to secure wins that will make them feel satisfied at the end of 60 hard-working minutes.