Every hockey team has a handful of gut-check games throughout the season when their mettle is tested.
For the Bruins Saturday afternoons showdown with the Nashville Predators was one of those kinds of games. Two teams playing a heavy brand of hockey with playoff quality rosters went head-to-head.
The Bs were coming off their most humbling hockey game in nearly four years so to say they were motivated would have been fair, and to say that the Bs were a little pissed off would have been deadly accurate. So they charged into Saturdays challenge against Pekka Rinne and the Predators with vigor and came away with an impressive rebound 4-3 shootout win over Nashville at TD Garden.
It wasnt easy as Rinne dominated much of the game with 38 saves and the Bruins found themselves losing with only a few minutes on the clock in the third period. But the Bruins stayed within their game plan, refused to lose their composure and relied on each player to do his job on the 20-man game roster.
We thought we deserved better: we played well, we had a lot of chances, and we had to find a way. I think thats what we talked about before the game, it was to play for 60 minutes and to not let up. We did that, said Patrice Bergeron, who scored the teams first goal and capped off the shootout scoring to clinch the game. They scored on their chances, their opportunities, but we came back and we found the big goals.
It was Bergeron and Brad Marchand that set the tone early for the Bs when it appeared things were about to go off the tracks with a too many men on the ice penalty in the first period. Marchand hunted down the puck like a hound until he was attacking the heart of the Preds defense shorthanded.
He beat both Shea Weber and Ryan Suter to the puck in the corner of the offensive zone, curled back toward the middle of the ice and dropped a perfect pass for Bergeron. The center stepped into the puck and fired off an overpowering one-timer that got the Bruins on the board first, and served notice that the Bs meant business.
While Bergeron finished the play, it was Marchands energy and refusal to be denied that set the dogged tone for Bostons afternoon.
That was a prime example of what we were looking for in Saturdays game. We talked about after the first that we needed to put the puck behind their Ds, said Claude Julien. Working through, getting it back, and dropping it off to Bergie, it was the kind of effort that our team looks for and needs if it wants to be one of the better teams in the league.
The game ended Bostons two-game losing streak on home, erased the bitter taste of the blowout loss to the Sabres and saw nearly every single key player for the Black and Gold come through with a big performance. Bergeron, Marchand, Johnny Boychuk, Rich Peverley and Tyler Seguin were again outstanding, Milan Lucic was the best player on the ice for either team and Zdeno Chara was solid despite suffering a right hand injury during the third period that caused him some discomfort.
As a team, the Bruins saw a 60-minute effort finally materialize, and Julien could only pick apart a short five minute lull at the end of the second period. Other than that the Bruins dominated a game where they out-shot the Predators by a 41-22 margin through sixty minutes of regulation, overtime and the shootout.
It appears the back to basics message in hard-working practices over the previous two days did the trick for a scuffling Bruins bunch.
What we told our players before the game, that it would be a shame if we wasted all that good effort in the last two days and not come out with the same thing this afternoon. I liked our game, said Julien. Not what the score was, the game was a good one from our end. I thought our work ethic, our commitment, maybe for, Id say, maybe for four or five minutes in the second period, near the end, they kind of seemed to pick up the momentum . . . but other than that, I thought we played a real solid 60-minute game.
Now the challenge for the Bruins is to build on that effort and recreate it at least a few more times to get another winning streak going.
It was the same challenge that faced the Bs after their solid win in Washington last week, and will remain until they can break out of their win one, lose one mediocre run of the last six weeks.