TORONTO – It was back to normal for the Bruins, or at least back to the winning formula that got them so many victories in October.
They got an early lead as they’ve done in 14 of their 19 games this season, they got excellent goaltending and stalwart defense around the net and they watched their best offensive players take over as Brad Marchand twice to lead the way to a 4-2 win over the Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena on Friday night.
Bruce Cassidy wasn’t tossing any rosy bouquets his players way afterward and admitted the coaching staff “tweaked” the top-line guys between the second and third periods prior to Marchand’s two-goal outburst in the third
“There are times you can tweak [Marchand] a little bit. Sometimes that line can go well and then they overpass a little,” said Cassidy. “We just challenged them a bit. Are we tired of losing or do we want to get playing the right way? I thought they responded really well.”
But there was no question with Cassidy or anybody else that it felt like his players were back on the right track after Friday night, and that’s a far cry from the feeling in the Bruins dressing room after recent losses to Montreal, Detroit or Florida among others.
“We weren’t perfect by any means,” said Cassidy. “But we defended the lead when we had to. I don’t think there were any really hairy moments out there. If there were, it wasn’t because we did anything stupid. It was because they made a play and that’s going to happen.”
Certainly, it wasn’t perfect by any means. It featured the second period swoon that infiltrates the B’s game from time to time, and there wasn’t much in the way of scoring outside the top two lines where Marchand and Charlie Coyle provided the offense before Zdeno Chara’s empty-net goal clinched things.
But it was a big stage for both teams in the midst of losing streaks with it also being the Hockey Hall of Fame Game honoring the 2019 HOF class. The B's have taken five out of six points from the rival Leafs in three early-season meetings with just one final regular-season showdown at TD Garden in mid-March left on the docket. All of that combined with their four-game losing streak elevated the importance Friday night for the Black and Gold and it was an encouraging sign that they rose to the occasion after the recent slide to their game.
“That was an example of how we want to play,” said Tuukka Rask, who stopped 29 of 31 shots in his best performance this month. “The second period they kind of had the momentum more than we did, but overall I thought we played a solid game. We defended well.”
Really, it’s all about the defense and goaltending getting back on track for the Bruins. Then, everything else tends to take care of itself given the quality of their roster. Chara and Charlie McAvoy played like a true shutdown pair combining to block a whopping 12 shots and there was a noticeable attention to detail in restoring the defensive layers to their game.
Certainly, it was a far sight better than the porous group that allowed 15 goals in their four-game losing streak and sprung leaks in 5-on-5 and on the penalty kill while watching Rask struggle.
All of that reversed itself on Friday night and provided ample evidence that the Bruins are quickly climbing out of their early November mini-funk without really losing any ground.
“I thought we played a much better, much tighter game. We took a lot of pride in our details and made some strong plays. In the third, I thought we played on our toes right from the very first shift and I thought we really controlled that period,” said Chara, which was in stark contrast to the third-period implosion against Florida earlier in the week. “Until that point, it was even with both teams battling hard.”
It doesn’t get any easier on Saturday night with the Washington Capitals coming to TD Garden given the way the Caps have owned the Bruins over the years. It might be difficult to gauge if the Bruins are truly out of their slump given the way they look at times against big, strong and dazzlingly skilled Washington, a team that always has their number.
It sure looked as if the doldrums were over for the Black and Gold after hitting rock bottom with the third-period collapse against the Panthers just a few days prior and it was all about getting back to basics for the Bruins.
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