RALEIGH, N.C. If the Bruins could have up drawn up an ideal statement to make in their first game back from the All-Star break, the 3-2 disposal of a hungry, improving Hurricanes bunch in their North Carolina backyard was pretty close to it.
It was never going to be perfect, not after most of the Bs had five days off before jumping into things at the RBC Center on Tuesday night, but there were plenty of good things to build on with only 31 games left in the regular season.
The bottom line, of course, is that the Bruins emerged victorious and managed to beat the Hurricanes for the third time in the last two weeks.
We found a way to win and we played pretty good offensively most of the night, said Tim Thomas. We didnt create a ton offensively, but we found a way to get it done when we did do things right. Everybody is going to be sloppy after the break, and thats just the way it is. But under those circumstances we still found a way to win, so I think its a good stepping stone.
At the top of the Bostons wish list coming down the stretch is another hot streak for Nathan Horton in the goal-scoring department, and the right wing looks like he might be heating up after his performance Tuesday night. Before the break Horton joked he was going to find some new sticks, but instead the skilled forward went back to an old model and motto that worked for him.
He simply got confident, got engaged and got involved. Three shots on net and three registered hits are the right measure of strength and skill that the 25-year-old is constantly in search of balancing and he found the right mixture against the Hurricanes.
That culminated with Bostons go-ahead goal in the third period on a play that Horton created out of nothing behind the Carolina net. He was battling with Hurricanes defenseman Tim Gleason behind the Carolina cage, and fought to win possession away from a pair of Carolina skaters.
The puck shot over to David Krejci, and Krejci flipped a pass right to Horton in a crease right by the left post. Horton snapped up high with a wrist shot and suddenly he had his first goal in the last 11 games and his second goal in the last 21 games after starting out like a house of fire over the first month of the season.
It appears more and more that Horton is streaky, and that means there will be times when his feel and confidence erode. But that also means there will be binge scoring sessions when Horton can carry the team on his own, and it appears he's primed and ready to start another hot streak at just the right time.
Thats something that everyone has really been waiting to happen, and hopefully its a confidence boost and something that can really get him going, said coach Claude Julien. That was a goal scorers goal . . . He was in tight and he lifted it after a really great setup.
The other encouraging sign from one simple victory in February: The Bs best players continue to be their best players, with no signs of slowing.
Zdeno Chara had a monster January while skating an average of 24:59 per game for 14 games while putting up 12 points (6 goals, 6 assists) along with a plus-7 and continued that trend with a pair of assists and a dominating eight shots on net in the victory. Less obvious but even more valuable, Chara handled Eric Staal and allowed only a single shot on net to Carolinas most dominant scoring force in 20-plus minutes of ice time.
Chara had a turning-point game in the third-period collapse in Montreal last month, and it appears Big Zee is starting to build up another Norris Trophy resume with the way his game is rounding into shape beyond his mammoth 159-mph slapshot.
Patrice Bergeron scored his 17th goal of the season and his 9th in the last 13 games through a Brad Marchand screen, and Thomas came up large with a succession of save combinations in the final 20 minutes. Thomas simply reacted to Erik Coles long shot from the slot, and then kicked out his right hip on a leg save to stop Brandon Sutter on his rebound attempt right by the left post.
The successive save combination was a thing of beauty just as the win was for a Bruins team ready to sprint over the final 31 games with playoff position in the balance among a series of hard-fought games.
This is the final push. Its where the competitive juices get going and everybody is fighting for their lives, said Lucic. There are no easy games, but this is also where the fun begins. This is where we see exactly how good we can be.
Bostons first push after the All-Star break was a good one. Now all they need is 31 more just like it to get ready for what lays beyond.