TORONTO The Bruins defense went from brain dead to Hockey MENSA in the course of two days, and it was the biggest factor in Bostons 1-0 gritty win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre.
That the Bruins were playing their fourth game in six days and still managed to block 22 shots five by Johnny Boychuk all by himself and hold the Maple Leafs down to 21 shots in the game spoke volumes. For a Toronto team that was averaging 30 shots per game headed into the weekend divisional showdown, thats some pretty darned plucky work all things considered.
The Maple Leafs managed to match enough of the grit displayed by the Bruins to avoid the series of one-sided blowouts that characterized last year's six-game series sweep for the Black and Gold. But that kind of game is much more the domain of the Bruins than it is for a Leafs that aspires to what the Bruins have someday.
"There were battles all over the ice tonight. They gave us a really good game. We're a little more experienced, and we have a guy in Zdeno that's capable of shutting down top players when he is at his best," said Claude Juilien. Chara was at his best tonight."
It was pretty clear the emphasis was on getting back to the teams backbone, which is good, old-fashioned hard-nosed defense led by their Minster of Defense, Zdeno Chara. They all followed the game plan to perfection, and didnt give up more than a handful of scoring chances in 60 minutes of heavy hockey.
Phil Kessel ripped an open shot from the right face-off circle during the game's final power play at the end of the third period, but Tuukka Rask was more than up to making his best save of the night. Kessel also dinged a shot off the far crossbar in the first period, but those represented the only Toronto chances that were anything approaching "close to a goal."
Otherwise the Bruins defense simply swallowed them who as they've done so many times in the past -- and in doing so wiped away the bad taste of the bizarre loss to Buffalo. The fact that Boston blocked more shots (22) than Toronto finished with for shots on net (21) tells one everything they need to know about the physical commitment Boston made to clinching a victory.
Thursday night was a strange game. It was too wide open for our liking and we wanted to get back to the game that has made us successful: thats good, fundamental defensive hockey, said Gregory Campbell. You have to play that way to be able to pick up wins on the road in 1-0 games or one-goal games.
This is the standard that were held accountable for. The coaches always stress the identity of our team and play within that. Once we stray from that youre really playing with fire. Were built as a strong defensive (team) with some guys that can also score goals, and when we do that were a hard team to play against.
The only real chance the Leafs had to do some damage was in the first period on a goal that was eventually waved off. Cody Franson wound up and fired a bomb from the high point that whistled past everyone before hitting the back of the net, and Toronto thought they had tied the game at 1-1.
But Nazem Kadri had bumped Rask off his pins as he jumped out to challenge the shooter, and the refs dismissed the potential Leafs goal due to goaltender interference. Replays showed that Rask was outside the crease when the light contact took place, but he wasnt going to start asking any questions about the call.
He crossed and hit my skates and I lost my balance. Its one of those tough calls. I wasnt in the crease but I wasnt really out of it, said Rask. I was in the middle of whatever zone youd call that. Im not going to start diving there.
Instead hell take a shutout and his 21 saves to the bank behind the determined Bs defense, and improve his record to 5-1-1 on the season. The Bruins defenders in front of him eliminated the odd-man rushes and the curious decision-making in their own zone, and looked well more like themselves in the process.
It was certainly not the bungling team that had given their most goals since 2008 in their last game.
Its all great. Thats what you want them to do, said Rask. It was just a solid game. We created a lot of chances too, but we didnt go into that run and gun game like we did in the last game against Buffalo.
We just stuck with the program and grind it out. Sometimes it will be 1-0 and sometimes it will be 4-3 or whatever. Today it was a tight game and we just stuck with the game plan.
The shutout puts the Bruins back up near the top of the defensive rankings with a 2.38 goals allowed per game, and sends a message not to expect Thomas Vanek-style offensive explosions against Boston all of a sudden.
I thought we were really sloppy against Buffalo. We just cleaned up our defensive game and at the same time we had to kill a lot of penalties, said Julien. We talk about a good road win and this is one of them. You talk about the fourth game in six nights and the way we competed for most of the night from fore-check to back-check our guys really showed a lot of character.
The sterling defensive effort was what everybody was looking for after the ugliness of the loss to Buffalo, but it really doesnt register as much of a surprise.
Teams dont win Stanley Cup championships without character and steel-hearted will. The Bruins showed plenty of both categories in a victory that keeps the Black and Gold in the drivers seat of the Eastern Conference with 17 percent of the 48-game shortened season already in the history books.