Bruins get back to their blueprint in win over Leafs: 'That was an example of how we want to play'

Bruins get back to their blueprint in win over Leafs: 'That was an example of how we want to play'

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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Bruins mired in losing streak: 'I don't think we've sucked'

Bruins mired in losing streak: 'I don't think we've sucked'

TAMPA BAY – The Bruins have dropped five games in a row for the first time this season, including four straight regulation losses, as their lead in the Atlantic Division has shrunk to single digits for the first time in weeks.

The latest setback was a 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on Thursday night that gives them losses in three of the first four games on a road trip ending this weekend against the Florida Panthers. The Lightning scored a pair of power play goals and once again, it looked like the B’s just didn’t have enough to get over the hump in the third period after they’d come up just a little short against Washington the previous night.

The offense has slowed with just 20 goals over the last nine games since blowing up for eight scores at the Bell Centre, and the power play has been a shadow of its former self while injuries forced the Bruins to tinker with the personnel. The penalty kill was the problem against the Lightning with Tampa Bay scoring on two of their three power play opportunities. Meanwhile, the B’s are getting very little offense from anybody aside from their top line once again.

The Bruins have enough veterans that they aren’t going to hit the panic button particularly given where they are in the standings, but some results are becoming necessary soon before it spirals out of control.

“It sucks to lose. We hate to lose here. But we’ve played decent. You’re not going to win them all. Obviously, you’re not going to go 80-3 or whatever it was that [Brett] Ritchie said,” said Tuukka Rask, who allowed three goals on 31 shots in defeat. “You don’t want to lose too many games in a row and you’ve got to put a stop to it. It’s been a tough road trip, but we’ve got one more game left and hopefully we can finish it off on a high note.

“We have experience and we’ve been through a lot. We recognize when we suck and when we don’t. I don’t think we’ve sucked. It’s just a matter of getting a couple of bounces, getting a lead and then playing with it. For the most part it’s just playing the right way and then you lose some of these tight games.”

The good news is that the Bruins have played much better against better opponents in Washington and Tampa Bay over the last couple of games after playing down to competition like Ottawa and Chicago in the games prior to that. But the losses aren’t going to turn into wins until they execute with a little more precision in certain instances where penalties, special teams play and a lack of secondary offense hurt them in a big way.

“We gave up two goals tonight where we’d won neutral zone face-offs. Harmless kind of plays where the puck doesn’t get in, we turn it over and then we take penalties against a potent power play,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We didn’t help ourselves in those situations. These are instances where guys need to be better, make the right play and execute.

“Even late in the game we have a chance to tie it up on a backdoor pass and we don’t execute. The power play was disappointing. We don’t execute. Some of it is that we’re playing to what we’re capable of, or what we think we’re capable of.”

Given that Florida is one of the teams most closely chasing them in the division and their Atlantic lead has almost been halved over the course of this current road trip, one would expect the Bruins are going to dig deep for a winning effort against the Panthers on Saturday. If not, then this continues to become the worst losing streak the B’s have experienced in a couple of seasons where they’ve previously managed to steer clear of the extended losing stretches.

Tim Thomas tears up while discussing hockey related brain injuries >>>

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Penalty kill kills Bruins against the Lightning as B's drop fifth straight game

Penalty kill kills Bruins against the Lightning as B's drop fifth straight game

GOLD STAR: Steve Stamkos has really powered the Lightning this season and he was the No. 1 factor for them in their win over the Bruins. It was Stamkos who evened things up in the second period when he was left wide open in the slot area on the PP and wristed one under Tuukka Rask’s glove to get the Bolts on the board. Then he scored the game-winner in the third period after turnovers from John Moore and Patrice Bergeron in the defensive zone as he fired one from the high slot that Tuukka Rask managed to get a glancing piece of before it passed him.

Stamkos finished with two goals and a plus-1 rating in 17:07 of ice time to go along with six shot attempts and three hits for the Tampa captain.

BLACK EYE: The Bruins penalty kill was atrocious allowing Tampa two power play goals in three chances, and really not even being that competitive about it in the special teams battle. Stamkos got a wide open look all alone in the slot with time and space to snap a wrist shot past Tuukka Rask for the first power play goal and the Bruins PK was running around on the second Tampa power play possession before Nikita Kucherov fed Brayden Point in front for the goal through traffic.

Meanwhile, the Bruins went 0-for-3 on their own power play and once again lost the special teams battle after dominating that battleground earlier in the season.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins were in good shape for most of the game until more than midway through the third period when breakdowns in their own end doomed them. It was John Moore and Patrice Bergeron that lost battles and didn’t clear pucks before Steve Stamkos gathered it in and rifled home the game-winner from the high slot on a blast that Tuukka Rask couldn’t quite get a clean glove save on in the moment.

The Stamkos goal gave Tampa Bay a 3-1 lead in the third period that was cut into when Moore picked up a goal later on, but for the second night in a row, the B’s didn’t have quite enough to get over the hump against a quality opponent.

HONORABLE MENTION: Maybe he could have squeezed off a shot in the third period when he had a clear look at the net, but Charlie McAvoy was one of the few Bruins players generating offense with the game on the line in the final 20 minutes. He was taking pucks hard to the net, drawing penalties and making things happen when it appeared the legs were tiring for other members of the Black and Gold.

McAvoy finished with three shots on net, five hits while soaking up a team-high 27:41 of ice time for the Bruins. He picked up an assist on the Patrice Bergeron goal in the first period as well and had one of his better games for the B’s as of late. That’s a good sign that things are turning around for him after a slow start and a recent inconsistent stretch.

BY THE NUMBERS: 8 – the number of points lead in the Atlantic Division for the Bruins, the first time since Nov. 26 that it was in single digits after a Bruins loss and Sabres win on Thursday night.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “We hate to lose, but we’re not going to go 80-3 or whatever it was that (Brett) Ritchie said.” –Tuukka Rask, talking about five losses in a row and poking fun at a Ritchie quote from Washington a few days ago where he killed some basic math. 

Tim Thomas tears up while discussing hockey related brain injuries >>>

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