WILMINGTON – It took 20 minutes of last weekend’s game against the Maple Leafs to get there, but the Bruins should now be fully into “playoff mode.”
There also should be no going back for a hockey club that will need to win at least three out of their remaining six games – including a must-win in the penultimate game of the regular season at home against the Red Wings -- to qualify for the postseason. So the courageous blocked shots, the players willingly accepting heavy hits from opponents to make key plays and the open embrace of things that would normally make the Bruins players uncomfortable is here to stay for the upcoming six games, and for the playoff games that may follow.
So David Krejci’s whopping five blocked shots in the win over the Leafs, and those two key moments when Matt Beleskey hopped in front of fired pucks in the final five minutes of the third period in Toronto? Or Loui Eriksson willingly taking hits from two Leafs players in order to set up the empty net insurance goal from Beleskey that cinched the two points?
It’s the grit and grimy sandpaper that wins games during crunch time, and it’s something the Bruins could have used more of at certain points this season. Claude Julien certainly liked seeing all of it on display last weekend, and wants more with the Bruins again holding a skimpy one point cushion after both the Red Wings and Flyers won on Monday night.
“It does [set the tone]. When you look at Matt Beleskey’s shots blocked at the end, it just ignited our bench. It’s what we need if we want to move forward here. We need those kinds of efforts,” said Julien of a blue collar player that’s brought the energy and hard-nosed play consistently all season more than anybody else on the B’s roster. “When you see guys like that doing it because they want to be a part of the postseason, it’s encouraging. It’s definitely lifting for the rest of the hockey club.”
Get used to all of the above with the Bruins because that’s the urgency and desperation Boston will need for success at this late season juncture. They don’t have the most talent and there are clear weaknesses on the roster, so the Bruins will need to travel the extra mile that some others teams aren’t right now.
“This is the way that we have to play if we want to get into the playoffs,” said Krejci. “There are teams that are battling for the playoffs, and obviously teams like Toronto that have new guys in their lineup. They obviously wanted to show they belonged in the NHL. Every game is going to be hard to get the two points.
“We have to bring our ‘A’ game. That’s pretty much playoff hockey. You’ve got to do things you don’t necessarily want to do. Some guys have to block shots. Some guys don’t like to take a hit to make a play, but in the playoffs that’s how you win games. I thought we showed it as a team in a big win. You have to put it in your mindset, and then when you get on the ice you don’t hesitate.”
It was impressive watching the Bruins find that elevated level of play in the final 40 minutes against Toronto, and find a way to brush off the anxious, tight opening period where it appeared nobody outside Krejci wanted the puck on their stick. It’s important to keep in mind that it was a Leafs team full of young, up-and-coming AHL refugees rather than a battle-hardened hockey club, but the two points count all the same.
What matters is this: the game ended with players showing exactly the kind of desire and sacrifice needed for big game success, and some of the younger players on the B’s roster getting a front row seat to it all. That should make the Bruins that much more urgent and determined against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night, and each of the remaining, pivotal five games after that one.
“I think everyone in here knows it. That’s what it does take right now. If I can do it then I’m going to do it,” said Beleskey, of giving up his body to make plays, and keep the puck out of the net. “It’s like the playoffs have started now. We’ve got to get in there and secure our spot. Every shift counts and every period [too], we just need to continue playing with that urgency.”
While everybody in an NHL dressing probably knows what kind of price needs to be paid for late season success with valuable points on the line, it’s something different to have players step up and show that price will be paid in full. Players up and down the Bruins lineup like Beleskey, Krejci, Eriksson, Kevan Miller and Zdeno Chara showed that exact quality last weekend in kick-starting Boston’s heightened level of play.
Now it’s non-negotiable that the Black and Gold have to maintain that elevated effort level the rest of the way to see exactly how good they can be this season.