BOSTON -- Its easy to envision the Bruins roster as a collection of champions because . . . well . . . thats what their nucleus is comprised of after climbing to the top of the Stanley Cup mountain two years ago.
But theres also hard evidence that the Black and Gold have winning DNA as part of their genetic hockey makeup, and it all comes down to the way the Bruins play in the final 20 minutes of games with everything on the line. It didnt get the hockey club two points in the end on Tuesday night, of course, but another dominant third period against the New York Rangers allowed the Bruins to come all the way back from a 3-0 deficit and salvage a point in a 4-3 shootout loss at TD Garden.
The Bruins have now outscored their opponents by a whopping 15-5 margin in the third period this season, and have only allowed teams to score in the final 20 minutes twice in their first 11 games.
That's a Stanley Cup champion-type of statistic.
Pretty much our whole team is still here from when we went on our Cup run, so we all know the game isnt over until the buzzer rings. We just seem to have that confidence if were down by a goal or two that we can battle back, said Brad Marchand, who rattled home the game-tying goal with 43 seconds left in the third period and leads the Bruins with seven goals scored this season.
You need that. You need that going into the playoffs and going down the stretch. Its a good thing to see early on, but weve just got to keep building on it.
Thats a Bruins team characteristic thats been there for the last couple of years, and is really a byproduct of Bostons physical, grinding style of play that wears the opposition down over the course of the game. The pressure impressed upon opponents over a full 60 minutes of hockey usually starts yielding something good in the latter half of the game, and some of the second-effort goals began to find the back of the net.
David Krejci opened up the comeback chances by popping home the rebound of a tipped Dennis Seidenberg point shot to open up the scoring, and the rest had to wait until the final two minutes with Tuukka Rask pulled from the net. Nathan Horton scored in a scramble in front of the net after an Andrew Ference shot from the left point, and Brad Marchand roofed a shot from the right circle after an errant pass found its way on his stick.
Some of that is luck and some of that is the residue of dogged determination and an unwillingness to settle for less in a season where every point matters. Some of it also pounding opponents into a level of submission if theyre not willing to fight through tired legs and flagging spirits.
More than anything as a team you want to play with consistency, and I think it was important for us to continue that pace in the third period the same as the first. I dont think its any really special recipe in the third, but the guys just stick with the game plan. Its not magic, said Andrew Ference. We have an aggressive team and were fast and big. So if we stay physical then by the time the third period rolls around youre playing against a team that feels a little beat up . . . especially if our forwards have been chasing them around all night.
Its tough as a defenseman to play against us when were going well fore-checking and dogging other teams. The third period is when you feel that a little more in the legs if youre the other team.
That third period is when the team-high six hits from Milan Lucic and Shawn Thornton began to soften up the New York defensemen corps. Mistakes were made by a hardened Rangers bunch that led to turnovers and lax coverage in front of the net.
Its got to be considered a very good sign for the Black and Gold when they can induce a heavy team like the Rangers into that kind of malaise during winning time in the final period of the game.
It wasnt all positive spin and back slaps after the game was over, though.
There was a very real frustration in Bostons room following the shootout loss because the Bruins seemed to show a little more urgency in the third period than they did in the first 40 minutes of the game.
Defensive breakdowns and careless neutral zone plays combined with a couple of soft goals allowed by Rask (probably his worst performance of the season) underscored a flawed game.
I dont think we competed as well as Ive seen us compete since the beginning. I thought that was probably down a notch, and we needed to compete a little bit more if we wanted to win this hockey game, said Claude Julien. But to gain a point after being down 3-0 in the third is certainly something to be happy about. I just dont think were going to get carried away with thinking this was a great situation.
I think were fortunate to get this point and well take it and hopefully learn from it.
But if theres one characteristic the Bruins have consistently shown over the last few years, its the heart of a champion in the final segment of a hockey game. The Bruins have shown already in this shortened season that they will be victorious on most nights given good health and a fair helping of luck.
But on that occasional off night the opposition will have earned the two points by weathering the Bruins storm in the third period when the game is on the line. That is the very definition of being a hockey team that is hard to play against as Peter Chiarelli and Claude Julien set out to construct at the start of their time in Boston.
The Bruins served notice again on Tuesday night against one of the Eastern Conferences best teams that opponents better be ready to hang in for all 60 minutes against them. That includes weathering the storm Boston brings in the final 20 minutes when everybody can sense that the games two points are on the line.