BOSTON – The Bruins knew they’d be pushed in the second half of a back-to-back situation Thursday night after an emotional game in Montreal. They were 100 percent correct.
It wasn’t easy and featured one of the ugliest second periods of the season from both teams, but the B’s took home a 2-1 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes at TD Garden on the strength of a pair of first period goals. It pushed the season-high winning streak to seven games and makes the Black and Gold the hottest team in the NHL coming down the stretch.
The Bruins built up their early lead while taking advantage of miscues from the Coyotes. Keith Yandle forced a puck blindly up the middle of the ice in the defensive zone, and Zdeno Chara picked it off before firing a wrist shot past a screened Mike Smith.
The Bruins doubled their advantage when Jarome Iginla tipped a Johnny Boychuk blast from the right point that saw the B’s full of life.
Then came a second period where the Bruins and Coyotes combined for a measly five shots on net, and played the kind if uninspired, constipated hockey that was a way of life before the season-long lockout. The Coyotes shook free of the doldrums in the third period when Lauri Korpikoski redirected an Oliver Ekman-Larsson shot past Rask, and then forced Tuukka Rask into several of his 18 saves on the evening.
It wasn’t pretty at all for the Black and Gold, but it was effective enough for two points at the end of it all.
GOLD STAR: Tuukka Rask was once again the star of the show. He made 21 saves and stopped a number of scoring chances in a game that absolutely could have gone in the other direction. Rask stoned Shane Doan on a breakaway in the second period and somehow kept an Antoine Vermette shot out of the net in the third when his outstretched glove and Carl Soderberg’s stick both knocked the puck away at the same time. In the past two games, Rask has stopped 56-of-58 shots for a .966 save percentage while serving as one of the biggest reasons for victories over the Habs and Coyotes.
BLACK EYE: Center Mike Ribeiro finished with zero shots on net, 3-for-13 in the face-off circle and was the only minus-2 player for the Coyotes in an utterly invisible performance. The only noticeable moment was a shove from behind to Jarome Iginla against the boards in the first period and otherwise he could have used an envelope and stamps for his nothing performance. It’s too bad because other players such as Shane Doan and Lauri Korpikoski showed up for the Desert Dogs, but Ribeiro was DOA at the Garden.
TURNING POINT: Armed with a 1-0 lead, Rask stopped a Brandon McMillan shot that deflected off Dougie Hamilton from going over the goal line and got the puck going the other way. Johnny Boychuk loaded up for a couple of shots at the other end before finally releasing one that Jarome Iginla tipped down past Mike Smith for the insurance goal. It gave the B’s a solid two-goal cushion headed into the second period, and ended up standing as the winning goal once Phoenix scored in the third period. That’s the second night in a row a quick turn of defense-into-offense really submarined an opponent.
HONORABLE MENTION: Johnny Boychuk had another strong showing coming off a solid night in Montreal. He finished with an assist on the game-winning goal, along with five shots attempts in 23:51 of ice time. Boychuk also blocked five shots including one on a partially open net with Shane Doan poised to snap a puck that could have been the tying goal. Boychuk also has career highs in assists (16) and points (19) and continues to rank high in the top 10 with his plus-27 mark for the season. Some of the other defenseman positions might be in flux, but Boychuk’s spot certainly doesn’t appear to be.
BY THE NUMBERS: 5 – the number of combined shots from the Bruins and Coyotes in a literal and figuratively uneventful second period.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “There’s a pretty good commitment right now from our guys. I’m pretty pleased with our effort. It’s not so much the streak. It’s the consistency, and the consistency leads into that streak that you’re seeing.” –Claude Julien, who is enjoying what he’s watching during a seven game winning streak.