KANATA, ON The Bruins seem to have found themselves just in time.
The Bs summoned exactly what they needed to make a statement to an Ottawa Senators team breathing down their necks in the playoff race, and salvaged a key six-game road swing that once seemed destined for disaster.
The Bruins finished their 11-day road odyssey with a 3-2-1 record and dispatched the feisty Sens by a 5-3 final score at Scotiabank Place in a key home-and-home series against Ottawa that concludes Tuesday night at TD Garden.
The Bruins and Senators both featured the kind of playoff intensity one would expect with the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference on the line, but Ottawa showed they might have a few lessons they still need to learn.
The lessons -- which include teaching their starting goaltender to use kitchen utensils properly -- have to do with consistency and the ability to retain momentum when things start to go awry.
While Bs coach Claude Julien was encouraged by Bostons effort, he wanted to see more before he pronounced an end to his teams February doldrums.
Its encouraging. I like the way we finished our road trip. Six games in 11 days in different cities isnt an easy task in itself, said Julien. The last three games we have two wins and an overtime loss; it seems like were headed in the right direction.
Theres also a little thing called having your best players show up in the big games and thats something the Bruins enjoyed during the trip.
Sure Daniel Alfredsson toyed with Tim Thomas late in the third period, but Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron dominated the ice from beginning to end in an urgent effort from the Black and Gold.
Bergeron was the Bs player that answered Ottawa early in the game when Erik Karlsson cut through the Boston defense for a Senators goal just 70 seconds into the game. Less than three minutes later the Bs leading scorer had popped the rebound of a Chara shot past Sens goalie Alex Auld, and the Bruins had seized back control.
Bergeron also iced a one-goal game in the waning minutes of the third period when he flipped an empty net goal in for his 19th tally of the season. But there was so much in between.
Bergeron led all skaters with nine shots on net and once again led all forwards with 19:29 of ice time that also ranked him fourth on Boston behind only Chara, Dennis Seidenberg and Andrew Ference. With injuries to Nathan Horton and Rich Peverley, Bergeron has taken on a lions share of the forward responsibilities and a hefty workload in terms of ice time but has responded in every way imaginable.
It was a huge win. I thought we played really well using our speed. We were aware of the standings before the game and knew this was a huge one, said Bergeron. We answered the bell and controlled the momentum. As leaders we need to step up. I say that all the time and everybody needs to step up.
But as leaders you need to show the way and lead the way. Zee obviously did that in stepping up and fighting for Johnny in the third. Were aware of that and trying to step up and lead the way as much as we can.
Likewise Chara has led the way as the Bruins garnered five out of six points in their last three games, and is again finding the consistency that appeared so elusive for nearly two months in the middle of the season. Charas big shot was a weapon all evening while forcing Auld into juicy rebound situations, and that allowed the 6-foot-9 captain to collect a pair of assists on six shots on net. Between Chara and Bergeron they had nearly half (15) of the 38 shots Boston totaled as a team against a wide-eyed Senators bunch.
Best of all, Chara led with passion when he watched former Ottawa teammate Chris Neil take out Johnny Boychuk with a legal hockey hit that forced the thunderstruck Boychuk say that six times fast out of the game.
Chara approached Neil before a face-off later in the period and challenged the Ottawa scrapper to a dance.
Chara hit Neil flush with a couple of shots before the Sens tough guy dragged the Bs defenseman down to the ice, but the message was clear: You dont mess with the Bruins.
Theyre climbing up and playing really well with a lot of confidence and speed. For sure we were aware of that. These games are big because theyre right behind us, said Chara. Its a part of the game. It was a big, solid, clean hit, but Im obviously going to stick up for my partner there.
Thats what we do. We care for each other. It was very unfortunate and hopefully Johnny is going to be okay. But you have to show respect for your teammates and you have to do the job.
The effort by the Bruins was all the more impressive on the second night of back-to-back games on the road, but then again the Bs have put together a 7-2-2 record in such situations this year. Through inconsistency and injuries the Bs have proven a couple of things:
Theyre nearly unbeatable when both Bergeron and Chara decide they mean business at the top of the Black and Gold hierarchy. And theyre starting to get their mojo back.