SOUTH BEND, Indiana – The Bruins have seemingly been in flux all season with injuries, underperformance and a roster that will probably need an improvement or two before it’s all said and done this season. To their credit they’ve scrapped and battled for points even in the darkest days when Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron were both out of the lineup, and managed to stay in a playoff position through all of it.
Now things have finally come together at the midpoint of the regular season, and maybe, just maybe, Boston’s come-from-behind 4-2 Winter Classic win over the Chicago Blackhawks at Notre Dame can be a springboard to bigger and better things.
Certainly there will be bigger regular season games in the second half against teams in their own division, but the Winter Classic is the kind of big game stage that should make the Bruins realize they’re a hockey team that’s capable of more.
“You want to win those games on the big stage. I know it was just a regular season game, but the meaning is different when you’re playing in front of 76,000 people and on national TV,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We know what’s at stake in those games. You want to make the most of it. It was a great feeling in the locker room and I thought the guys responded great to it.”
As it was, the Winter Classic wasn’t a perfect game by the Bruins against the Blackhawks even if they did look pretty perfect entering the stadium in “Peaky Blinders” attire prior to puck drop.
It was far from perfect when considering the second period.
The B’s weren’t good for nearly the entirety of the second period as Chicago outshot them by a 16-10 margin and titled the ice in their favor with a couple of misfires, Tuukka Rask and a post or two, saving the Bruins from a deeper hole.
But there was also plenty to like about the come-from-behind win where the Bruins pulled away in the third period with a pair of goals. The power play was productive and once again highly supported an even strength Bruins attack that really hasn’t been at its best this season. All three members of the Perfection Line scored a goal in the victory with Brad Marchand finally getting in on the act with an empty netter in the final minute of the game.
Tuukka Rask was strong with 36 saves and exhibited the kind of big game confidence and coolness between the pipes that hasn’t always been there on big stages like that of the Winter Classic. The Bruins got a game-winning goal from fourth line center Sean Kuraly after his energy line pounded the Blackhawks physically with a punishing shift in the attack zone. They’ll need more of that from their bottom-9 forwards if they’re going to do anything of note this season, and they certainly needed it against the middling Blackhawks on Tuesday to get the outdoor win.
But most of all it was about the Bruins battling through some adversity early in the game when it was uncertain things were going to go their way. The B’s stuck with the game plan, kept playing hard and eventually found their way to finishing up strong with a solid two points after a month of hype leading up to the NHL’s centerpiece midseason event.
“It’s only one game and at the end of the day every game is different,” said Brad Marchand. “But there was a lot of excitement going into this one. We’ve had two big wins in each of our last two games and the majority of us [on the roster] are healthy now. So hopefully we can just keep rolling.”
That’s probably the biggest point for the Bruins. Chara and Bergeron are back and have played a few games to knock off the rust, Jake DeBrusk is healthy and playing at a high level and Kevan Miller is back playing physical hockey in the defensive zone. The Bruins will finally get to see how good they can be with a full, healthy roster, and they may just enjoy riding the momentum of the Winter Classic for a while knowing their big game cred might just serve them well in the postseason.
Certainly the B’s will be hoping to create some distance between them and the Canadiens, Sabres, and Islanders in the Eastern Conference standings as it looks like there’s going to competition for the wild card spots.
Now it’s on the Black and Gold not to waste whatever good energy they built up with a Winter Classic win that was bigger than the two points. It remains to be seen just how much bigger it can be now that the sojourn to Notre Dame is directly in the rear view mirror.
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