TAMPA BAY -- Claude Julien and the Bruins called for a full end-to-end effort against the Lightning after escaping the Tim Thomas Florida reunion with a slim margin of victory.
What they got on Saturday night was the best win of the season in a game that featured steady offense, stifling defense and flawless goaltending in a 5-0 drubbing of a hot Tampa Bay Lightning team.
“The first Detroit game was good, and this one was up there as well,” said Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask. “Defensively it was really good, and offensively we were able to accomplish the things that we had practiced over the last couple of days. That all paid off in a very good 60 minutes of hockey.”
Defensively, the Bruins simply focused on packing things in around Rask and their own net, holding a high-powered Tampa Bay group to 23 shots on net while effectively bottling up Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis. The pair combined for five shots on net and really didn’t have many quality scoring chances until Stamkos got one late in a one-sided game that had already been decided.
That was a far cry from the lackadaisical team that took the ice against the Panthers and had breakdowns like the ones by Zdeno Chara and Rask that led to a game-tying goal by Florida's Jesse Winchester in the third period. Rask couldn’t freeze the puck and Chara allowed Winchester to get in close to the net after assuming that his goaltender had everything taken care of.
Julien called out both Chara and Rask for the “miscue” prior to Saturday night’s game, but there was nobody to be called out after the Bruins rode the Lightning.
Behind the solid, unbending defense was the perfect play of Rask, who stopped all 23 shots he faced while earning his first shutout of the season. Rask is now 5-2 with a 1.29 goals against average and a .954 save percentage in the seven games Boston has played this season, making a firm statement about where he stands within the current pantheon of NHL goaltenders.
“The defense isn’t blocking shots when they don’t have to, and then they are when the time is right,” said Rask. “They’re giving me a lane to see the puck, so it’s been great while also taking care of the rebounds. It’s been going in the right direction, for sure.”
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the Black and Gold victory, however, was the show of offense. For a team that was strictly mediocre offensively entering Saturday night, the Bruins received a goal from each of their four lines and every forward registered a point aside from Gregory Campbell. The production speaks to the kind of depth that Boston always trumpets as one of their strengths, and the way in which the goals were scored was exactly what the Boston coaching staff wanted to see.
Players were driving the middle of the net, standing in front to screen a goaltender in Ben Bishop, and then finished off plays when given chances close to the cage.
The quick goals in the opening minutes of the first and third periods, and the two goals within 55 seconds of each other in the second period that ultimately chased Bishop were all trademark Bruins hockey.
“That was much better. We had a good start offensively, but we scored the goals the way we wanted to score them,” said Julien. “From the net drive for David [Krejci] to the net front presence from [Jarome Iginla], and the middle drive from Loui [Eriksson] on the [Patrice] Bergeron goal. You’ve seen us work on our cycle game the last couple of practices, and [Chris] Kelly’s goal was indicative of that.
“Offensively it was nice to see us score some goals, but I thought the pace and the tempo of our game was good tonight too. We were moving the puck quickly and skating from start to finish. I was a lot happier with this game than I was with the game [against Florida.]”
So what’s left for a Bruins team that seems to have finally found their way after a couple of weeks of searching?
Iginla is still searching for his first goal as a member of the Bruins seven games into the season, and Brad Marchand is still up and down with his play -- he assisted on Kelly’s goal with a nice pass off a cycle play down low, but also had a couple of slashing penalties pinned on him during the game.
The biggest challenge, however, will be fighting any feelings of satisfaction after playing one quality game. The Bruins simply need to maintain and start piling up the points as they work their way up the standings in an Atlantic Division that still seems a little weird to look at.
“As a complete effort in all zones it was an effort we can be happy with,” said McQuaid. “We always say there’s room for improvement, though. It’s good to see that we’re getting there, but it needs to keep continuing night in and night out.”
The Bruins found the secret sauce to their winning formula Saturday night against a Lightning team that isn’t quite ready for prime time. Now they just need to find it again when they play a red-hot San Jose Sharks team, led by the cocky Joe Thornton, coming back to town this week for a visit.