RALEIGH, NC The Bruins just keep blazing through the checklist and righting some of the wrongs from last season.
The biggest and most overarching hockey penance for Boston involves making everybody forget their stupefying, disappointing first-round loss to the Washington Capitals. But there are smaller, easier missions to be accomplished in the short term, and one of them was knocking around the Carolina Hurricanes after the young, hungry 'Canes club slapped them around last season.
Carolina swept them in a four-game regular season last year, outscored them 14-5 in those four games and gave the Bruins as much trouble as any team in the NHL has over the last few years. So the Bruins went out Monday night with a purpose and scored a pair of goals in the first seven minutes of the game to make a clear, dominant opening statement.
The Hurricanes made a comeback in the middle of the game, of course, but the Bruins opened and closed with authority to take the 5-3 victory at PNC Arena that elevated them to 4-0-1 on the season.
We still remembered what happened last year, said Nathan Horton. They took all four games from us. They really play us hard and we knew that coming in. We knew it was going to be a tight game going in and thats exactly what it was.
We played well and the big thing is that we got the win. In the end that was all that mattered.
The Bruins certainly hit some valleys within the 60 minutes in Carolina. Shawn Thornton and the fourth line couldnt get the puck out of the zone at the end of the second period, and that turned into a Jeff Skinner goal when he got the puck with a clear angle toward the net.
Less than a minute later, the Hurricanes scored again when Dougie Hamilton had already sped up the ice on an anticipated offensive rush, and Chris Kelly was left to lug the puck out of the D-zone with Alex Semin bearing down on him. That turned into an Eric Staal bomb from the slot that tied up the game after Kelly turned the puck over near the blue line, and things looked dicey.
Thats when Claude Julien reminded his skaters they still had 20 minutes to exact their revenge on Carolina, and they looked properly motivated while outshooting the Hurricanes by a 17-8 margin in the final 20 minutes.
If anything those two goals we gave up at the end of the second, we got caught standing still or the defense got caught moving the wrong way, said Julien. I went in and said Guys, the last time I checked weve got a 3-3 hockey game so you cant afford to hang your heads and drag it into the third. Weve got to go win a 20 minute third period. The guys did a good job of answering that call.
It eventually took a Hamilton cross-ice beauty of a pass to David Krejci during a wild scramble in front of the net in the final three minutes of regulation to bring the Bruins their fourth victory in five games. Tyler Seguin's empty net score for the puck prodigys first goal of the season was simply icing on the cake.
The game contained much more positive than negative for the Bs despite the tight score: the Bruins scored a pair of power play goals, their PK unit continued to dominate and kicked in a shorthanded goal, Horton scored on a breathtaking rush from the neutral zone that trumpeted just how solid hes been to start the season, and Boston got a resounding yes on the question of whether Anton Khudobin will be capable stepping up as the clubs backup goaltender.
They came back there at the end of the second and we were still tied, said Horton. We knew we could win, so we kept pushing and it came right down to the goals at the end.
If you told us that we would be all even going into the final period against them we would have taken that.
With Carolina licking their wounds after a physical defeat at the hands of a Bruins team that has yet to be beaten in regulation, the Bruins now move on to new peaks to scale.
Whats the new challenge for the Black and Gold?
Its about proving they can handle the back-to-back game situations that will arrive fast and furiously during the abbreviated season, and coming to play against a New Jersey Devils team that has not yet lost a game in regulation this season. The Devils had the luxury of sitting around in Boston last night waiting for the Bruins as the B's resided in NASCAR country for their game in Carolina.
Now Boston is the hunted rather than the hunter.
Thats because the Bruins dominated the Devils in four games last season despite New Jersey making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. Talented layers like David Clarkson and Ilya Kovalchuk will be looking to reverse that trend on the Black and Gold without their captain, Zach Parise. Unlike the Philadelphia Flyers, the Washington Capitals and the Florida Panthers, the Bruins are off to an excellent start this season while taking full advantage of the familiarity and large number of players coming back from Europe that gave them an early advantage on the competition.
Now the challenge is on for the Bruins to keep the Black and Gold train moving as Monday night kicked off a stretch of playing four games in six days. On the bright side, they were 9-4 in the second game of back-to-back situations last season and outscored their opponents by nearly 30 goals.
We learned from last year. We had a pretty bad start. This year we were ready to go and we know its important to get points in a short season, said David Krejci, who smoked the game-winning shot with 1:50 left to go in the third period. Weve got nine out of ten points and thats pretty good. But we need to keep it going.
Its time to prove they can pile up points when the season starts transforming into a compacted grind rather than the leisurely pace they experienced over the first week-plus of the season.
Just mark that one down as more goal on a season full of prove it moments for the Black and Gold as they make the slow, laborious march back up to the NHL mountaintop.