BOSTON As slump-busters go, the Bruins' win over the Devils Tuesday night pretty much had it all.
Tim Thomas rebounded from a disturbingly human month of March to record 30 saves in his 30th victory of the season. Milan Lucic notched the career-changing 30th goal of his breakout NHL season. The defense finally locked things down in front of the net. And the special teams-averse B's even managed a power play score in a 4-1 victory over a desperate Devils bunch at the TD Garden.
We want to go into the playoffs on the way up, not on the way down, said Shawn Thornton, who opened things up for the Bruins by crashing the net and earning a goal that bounced off his body and into the net. We have 10 games left, so we want to start being consistent and getting ready so we can go in on a bit of a roll, I guess.
There were plenty of individual accomplishments to puff their chests out about after essentially extinguishing New Jersey's faint playoff hopes, but the victory was simply about the Bruins returning to past form and snapping out of the 1-3-3 funk over the last seven games.
The Bs are now 3-0 against the Devils this season, and have outscored them 11-2 in the process of season-long domination.
The Bruins were difficult to play against. Skill players like Nathan Horton and Tyler Seguin were brandishing a physical edge that everyone will need to carry once the postseason begins. And their playmakers rose to the occasion when offense was needed against the trap-happy Jersey boys.
There were no troubling signs of leaden legs or flagging spirits on the bench, and there certainly wasnt any sign of bad body language or a defeatist mindset. The Bruins understood that theres plenty of work to do with 10 games left in the regular season, and plenty to gain or lose with that No. 2 overall seed in the Eastern Conference still very much within their grasp.
The win is just about regaining some focus and getting back to what were good at, said defenseman Andrew Ference in his second game back from injury. It is a long season and I think that were kind of getting down to crunch time with playoffs around the corner.
Its finding that balance of being focused and being intense for the games, but not squeezing the stick too hard and not being so tense that youre just paralyzed out there. This is a critical time in the year to find that balance of being loose and enjoying the game -- but also being extremely sharp. I think were finding that.
Even struggling Bruins like Dennis Seidenberg and Mark Recchi, who both seemed a little worn down in recent weeks after full workloads through the entire season, responded with big plays that helped set the victory in motion.
It feels great that I was able to get the thirtieth goal, said Lucic, who iced the victory with a third period strike that made it a 3-1 hockey game before Recchis empty net tally. But I think the biggest thing here tonight is that I felt like we played Bruins hockey again.
After they got their first power-play goal I think we started kicking into gear and started getting pucks in behind them and started winning battles like we used to. And that was a big reason why we were able to generate four goals today.
It's easy to see why this team holds so much promise when recounting the highlights from a hard-fought win. Among them: Thomas flashing a furious glove hand mid-butterfly while swallowing Ilya Kovalchuk bids from all over the ice, and Bruins players knocking the Devils all over ice through the final 50 minutes of the game.
Lucic was 100 percent on the money with his assertion. They once again played Boston Bruins hockey, a sharp contrast to the lack of effort and desire evident in their last few games on the road. The Bs stopped the slide in convincing fashion, and now must keep building wins and piling points until their highest playoff potential is achieved.
That is what we did tonight. Maybe we got a little comfortable with the standings during the slump, said Patrice Bergeron. We had to find some emotion back; our intensity. I thought playing in front of our fans helped us a lot.
Perhaps the biggest reason for optimism was also one of the most nagging issues with the Bs: the power-play unit that had gone 3-for-36 with Tomas Kaberle in the fold until breaking through for a Zdeno Chara one-timer at the beginning of the second period. The Bruins finished 1-for-5 on the night, which is an improvement at a 20 percent success rate and which also provided Boston with the game-winning goal against New Jersey.
It was a bit of a funky power play strike as the Bs never really set up traditionally, and instead had David Krejci flash to the slot area while Lucic found Chara all alone on the backdoor. For a team thats pegged as simply always looking to load Charas big gun at the point, the Bruins used an element of surprise and rattled things around to try and loosen up some pretty stagnant special teams play of late.
The Bruins entered Tuesday night 22nd in the NHL in power play success rate and 17th in penalty kill percentage, and know that both need to be much better. The Bruins are back in the mindset to improve those areas and give that one final push through the final portion of the NHL regular season.
The sprint to the finish line has begun with a promising first step against the dead-in-the-water Devils, but theres no more room for complacency or weariness.