Rather than the stunningly bad loss to the Red Wings signaling something wrong with the Bruins, it would appear that it was the exact wakeup call needed for a talented hockey club.
The Bruins responded to a 6-1 defeat to the Red Wings in the middle of the week with undeniably solid wins over the New York Rangers and Columbus Blue Jackets in back-to-back games where they held each team under 20 shots on net for the first time in more than 10 years.
While the Friday afternoon win over the Blueshirts before a nationally televised audience was perhaps the more impressive two points, the Bruins somehow managed to scrape together enough emotion, precision and effort to easily handle a Blue Jackets team, 3-1, that didn’t have a chance against Boston this season. A lesser team certainly would have looked right past a Columbus team without injured offensive stars Marian Gaborik or Nathan Horton, but instead the Bruins pushed harder while outshooting the B.J.’s by a wide 36-14 margin.
Some of it was clear, stingy defense and a little bit of it was good goaltender from Chad Johnson, but a great deal of Saturday’s win over the Blue Jackets came down to the Bruins simply refusing to give up the puck. Instead the Blue Jackets decided to just keep chasing the puck all around the ice while handing the Black and Gold a season-high six power play chances.
The solid puck possession game for the Black and Gold forced Columbus into some lazy holding and hooking penalties, and continued opening the middle of the ice for Boston’s best offensive players. Milan Lucic made those defensive miscues work for him with a pair of goals, and a strike for Patrice Bergeron for the second game in a row while leading the way for the Bruins.
“The fact that we’re moving the puck up the ice quickly, we’re playing more of a north, south kind of game where we’re putting it in deep and putting it in areas where we’re able to recover it. Managing the puck in the offensive zone means you spend more time there,” said Claude Julien. “We just try and – we’ve done a pretty good job of minimizing our time in our own end and spending more time obviously in the other end. Our guys were on the puck and that’s part of working together and moving the puck around and managing it.
“I think we’re battling well and we’re staying on it and we’re not just throwing it away so you’re in and try and get one chance and turn it over and go back the other way. So I think that’s more of our game and lately we’ve been playing closer to what we expect out of our game.”
The numbers are pretty intoxicating for the Bruins, of course. With 38 points in 27 games, the Black and Gold have a five point advantage over any other team in the conference while ranking with the Pittsburgh Penguins as the Eastern Conference’s two top dogs. At the end of the month of November, the Bruins were 8-0-2 on home ice at TD Garden while collecting 18 out of a possible 20 points. The B’s haven’t lost a home game in more than a month dating back to the ugly Oct. 27 loss to the New Jersey Devils, and are creating a true home ice advantage.
“We’ve talked about after the Detroit game [we need] to really bounce back and have some really solid effort but really focus on our work ethic,” said Patrice Bergeron. “Teams are too good to not show up one night, we have to show up every night and I think we’ve done that the last two games. We competed well but we also stuck to the system and we created a lot of chances just by moving our feet.”
While the defensive prowess and puck possession shown by the Bruins is a happy, little something they can focus on while watching game tapes of New York and Columbus; it’s all about what the B’s are doing right in even the most difficult of situations.
The Bruins experienced some level of difficulty this season, and they’ve upgraded while also building an 8-2 record in both ends of the back-to-back situations this season. That’s impressive no matter how you slice it, and it’s eye-opening for an aging nucleus of players still paying the price for last year’s Stanley Cup Final.
“You might have different nights, somebody might be more involved, but I think it applies for everybody…we have to be physical as a team and emotionally attached to those games, said Zdeno Chara. “That’s when we’re playing our best. That’s the identity. “We’re always talking about it, when we do play that we we’re obviously very effective and we are hard to play against.
“When we don’t, it’s kind of, like we’re waiting for that spark. So you’re probably going to have more nights when we are involved and everybody’s physical. But when we kind of need that wake up call then some guys need to step up.”
The Bruins got that from some of the big leaders. Goals from Lucic and Patrice Bergeron, a great bit of irritating hockey behavior from Brad Marchand that drove Matt Calvert bonkers, and a genuine heavyweight battle between Lucic and Brandon Prout that was ruled a draw.
Now it’s just a matter of the Bruins rinsing and repeating what they did on Friday and Saturday following an embarrassing divisional loss, because the Bruins are awfully close to impossible to stop when they’re playing their way.