BOSTON In years past this might have been a game that the Bruins let slip right through their gloved fingers.
Playing their third game in four nights and their first back-to-back tilt of the hockey season at the tail end of November meant there were plenty of tired legs allalong the Boston bench.
That much was obvious when the Bruins cut morning skate short after a scant 15 minutes and instead hoped to focus their energies toward Saturday night. Its times exactlylike these when most people expected the Stanley Cup hangover issue to become a problem for a team that tapped deep into their energy reserve last spring.
Add in the fact the Bruins were coming off the sudden demise of their long 10-game winning streak at the hands of the Red Wings and the mediocre Winnipeg Jets were coming to town and it had all of the expectations of a hockey team putting out an effort equivalent to the sad trombone sound.
Coming off an always dramatic road game at the Bell Centre against the Habs, the revenge game in Buffalo for the Milan LucicRyan Miller flap of two weeks ago and a Thanksgiving Showdown with the Red Wings, Saturday night hockey against the Peg didnt exactly scream out big game. In factthe Jets -- even with their newfangled logo and Blake Wheeler managing to stay on-side all night --defined "small game" for the Bruins in every sense, and they'd always played down to that kind of competition in the past.
You know sometimes youre not going to always have great legs, said Zdeno Chara. Its the season, its the schedule. You are not always going to feel great. But the bottom line is if you dont have your legs you have to move the puck. Thats what we were focusing onmoving the puck.
All of those factors wrapped into one would have combined for a lackluster result over the last few seasons with these Bruins, but theyve learned their lessons well. The Stanley Cup champions netted their 11th win in the last 12 games with a solid, gritty 4-2 victory over Winnipeg at the Garden on Saturday night.
Things didnt look good early when Joe Corvo failed to get back on defense quickly enough, and left Dennis Seidenberg hanging on a 2-on-1 converted by Evander Kane in one of his game-high nine shots on net. Then Dustin Byfuglien took advantage of a play misread by David Krejci, and fired a puck from the right point to make it a quick two goal lead for Winnipeg.
But the Bruins managed to snare their 14th win of the season despite falling behind early by two goals when it appeared their skating legs had already hit Faneuil Hall for the evening.
It was our third game in four days. We definitely wanted to keep our intensity alive. We have been solid this month so far, said Daniel Paille, who set up the game-tying goal in the second period with some dogged penalty kill work. I dont think we want to let that go. I think we all felt good about it. I think we realized that we can do a lot more. Winnipeg came out ready for us and once we were settled we played a lot better.
It was appropriate that there were third and fourth line heroes all over the ice for the Bruins in a game where they needed a little of that extra something. Chris Kelly is the picture of hustle, smarts and honest-to-goodness effort, and he showed all three while unveiling a little skill too with a pair of second period goals that represented the game-tier and the game-winner.
The first was set up by Paille doing yeomans work on the penalty kill, and was a glorified tap-in after Kelly hustled toward the front of the net after Rich Peverley drove through most of the Jets' skaters toward the net. The second was another third line hustle play with Benoit Pouliot screaming into the offensive blue line to corral a loose puck, and then firing a cross-ice pass to Kelly for a one-timer that eluded Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec.
It is all kinds of perfect that the Bruins have proven to be unbeatable when theyre getting contributions from the bottom six forwards, and the Bs are now 7-0-0 on the season when Kelly lights the lamp.
But thats what needs to happen on those nights when there is no crispness or snap to Bostons game. Claude Julien took a rare early game timeout when the Bruins dropped down by two goals in the first period, the unsung offensive players produced and the Bruins found a way to win one of those games that didnt have the weightiness of some of their recent tilts.
I think that's one of our strengths is we have four lines that are consistent, all can contribute offensively and all can play defense, said Kelly. I think you can have every line out there if, last minute up by a goal and all the guys are going to get the job done. I don't know any other team that can do that.
The maddening inconsistencies of the Bruins were always part of the team package prior to winning the Cup, and it was assumed they would still be there after hoisting Lord Stanley over their head.
But the Bruins have gone about proving theyre a different team after their gloriousencounter with the Cup, and Saturday night was another shining example of just how far they've come as a hockey group.