BOSTON – It is nights like Thursday night when the Bruins offer a glimpse of what they could, and probably should, be as a hockey club this season.
Clearly, nobody is expecting the Black and Gold to suddenly morph into a Stanley Cup contender or operate at their level best every game, or even show the ability to beat a potentially great team like the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins on most nights. But the Bruins continue to tease at their highest potential ceiling when their backs are against the wall, or when they have more movers and shakers than passengers.
It wasn’t perfect by any means with a first period that featured some pretty big gaffes, but the Bruins rode that out and exerted their will in the final 40 minutes in a 4-3 win over the Penguins at TD Garden. The signature victory completed a two-game winning streak headed into the NHL All-Star break and left the Bruins with a good feeling as they ready for a weekend of rest and recharging the batteries.
Whether it was David Backes cruising around and throwing some heavy hits with his big body before menacing Phil Kessel or Colin Miller dropping the gloves and tuning up Scott Wilson, the Bruins were finally giving the home crowd what they wanted this season.
“I think if you look at the overall effort in that first period, a couple scrums there and people were battling and fighting and that’s the Bruins way of playing hockey,” said Tuukka Rask. “It’s good to see Colin Miller getting in there and showing some emotion. So overall [it was a] great effort after that first period and that’s what we need. The season is going to wind down and the games are going to get tougher and teams are going to get tougher so you need to play with that edge.”
But it more than a throwback performance to the Big Bad Bruins teams of Boston past. It was about the Bruins doing what they need to do in order to be successful and haven’t accomplished on enough occasions so far this season. They finished plays around the net by sending bodies to the front with Riley Nash, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron all scoring in and around the blue paint area. They harassed Sidney Crosby in the defensive zone and kept the Penguins star without a single shot on net while clobbering him whenever he got close to the Boston net.
The Bruins also showed the unyielding backbone they were missing in the four-game losing streak, particularly in the pathetic 5-1 loss to the same Penguins team in Pittsburgh last week. They could have packed things up after falling down by a couple of goals in the first period on Thursday night, but it sure looked like the fragile Bruins team from the previous week had been replaced by a more battle-hardened group.
“We’ve hit our stride in these last two games, we’ve got to bottle this up and be able to rekindle these feelings of what it takes to win and do all the little things and put that back on the ice when we get back together on Tuesday,” said Backes. “It’s one of those things where we had a decision to make in here after the first. We were down 2-0.
“We either don’t show up for the rest of the game, and you get what you put in, or we make a push and bind together, stick together and play our hearts out, and we chose the latter, and you saw the result, and we get two points out of this game. That’s the choice we need to make more often.”
It’s good that the Bruins recognize that they haven’t played like they did on Thursday night nearly enough this season, but it was enough to push some of the uncomfortable situations hanging over the organization’s head.
The Bruins had their scouting staff gathered in Boston on Thursday night to go over their approach to the trade winds that are beginning to blow, but the last few wins keep the Black and Gold out of stark desperation mode. The wins also squelched the chatter around Claude Julien’s job security for at least the time being, and that’s something the Bruins players wanted to accomplish in no uncertain terms on Thursday night.
“The speculation [about Claude Julien] is driven by the media. They don’t have the sources that they may claim,” said Marchand. “You know, that’s not going to happen if they do their jobs. Claude isn’t the issue. You fire the coach, what do you do? It’s not going to change anything. Claude’s one of the best coaches of the game, and that’s not the answer for this group. Again, it’s driven by the media, and we’re not concerned about that in the room, we don’t think that’s going to happen, and we’re not thinking about that for a second. So, you know, you can put that to bed and let it go now, because that’s not in this room.”
Okay, so there’s all the good stuff from the two-game binge ahead of All-Star weekend.
The downside is still there, however.
The Penguins weren’t exactly at full strength while missing Evgeni Malkin on Thursday night. The Bruins needed two goals from Marchand in each of the two wins over Detroit and Pittsburgh to close things out. That’s not exactly a sustainable model of success for the Black and Gold as they need to continue finding different offensive sources in the final 30 games of the regular season.
The simple reality for the Bruins is that they’ve played more games than any other team in the Eastern Conference and they are just barely hanging onto a spot in the playoff structure going into the break. They’re going to need to play exceedingly well in February and March if they want to be a postseason team while continuing to develop their young players. Everybody knows that is a balancing act with a tremendous degree of difficulty.
“We talked about [the last win], trying to build from it and move forward and do the same thing tonight. I thought we did that, so, I think you have to build from the past two games. The way that we played [against Pittsburgh], the character that we showed, but also the physicality and toughness also was part of the game,” said Patrice Bergeron. “I thought gave us lots of energy and everyone was involved. It was great. I think you have to [find ways to replicate it]. You have to realize that’s what gives you success and that’s what makes you win hockey games is to be engaged and emotionally attached to it.”
So, the Bruins got a couple of wins and pushed off some of the tough questions for another day after flexing their muscles on Thursday night against the Penguins. But there’s going to need to be a lot more where that came from down the stretch of this season if they want to completely eliminate the undesirable consequences that come with falling short.