BOSTON – With the Bruins ascending to true contender status the past couple of months, things have certainly changed for the Black and Gold. Most of it is for the better, with the B’s pushing up in the standings while sitting just five points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
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Still, that also means the other 30 NHL teams are going to ramp up their effort against a team that’s been trouncing opponents on a regular basis lately. Boston isn’t going to sneak up on anyone anymore and teams are going to throw their best at the Bruins as New Jersey did on Tuesday night in a tight 3-2 Boston win at TD Garden.
The Bruins gave up the first goal of the game for the sixth time in a row and Tuukka Rask needed to essentially steal the two points with his 37 saves. The B's recognized a couple of things in the aftermath: They certainly didn’t play their best against a pretty good Devils outfit even without the injured Taylor Hall, and they’d better start preparing for opponents to throw everything they’ve got at them.
That started with a 20-shot barrage at Rask from the Devils in the opening 20 minutes and concluded with some Grade-A chances to tie things up in the third period that was once again foiled by the B’s goaltender.
“I would assume that when you’re going well that teams want to bring their A-game. They’re gunning for you, and our guys are getting used to it. They want to make sure that they’re out there and proving that they can play against a very good hockey team,” said B’s coach Bruce Cassidy. “I think more [on Tuesday night] their start was they lost a home game [on Monday], so the natural thing to do was let’s not turn down shots a lot of the times.
“We would probably do the same thing with our group. If we’re not scoring, make sure we get an ugly one, usually the philosophy. I don’t know if that was the directive, but I have to believe it was. “
It only makes sense given that the B’s are 22-3-4 in their last 29 games dating to when Rask was benched. They've since gone well beyond a hot streak and into an ascension to one of the NHL’s deepest, most well-rounded teams. They are scoring 3.3 goals per game and again notched three goals against the Devils on an off night with the NHL’s best forward line (Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak) carrying the burden, and they are the NHL’s best defense allowing just 2.4 goals per game.
The 5-on-3 advantage midway through the second period is when the Bruins seized control and Patrice Bergeron scored his 20th goal of the season from his usual spot right in the slot area manning the bumper position.
“It is his bread and butter. He scored the majority of his goals from there. Great chemistry with Marsh. They were killing five-on-three two high and one low a little bit," Cassidy said. "Usually, you see two are low and one high lot of times. There were some opportunities low; we got one across to [David Krejci], just missed, and Bergy [Patrice Bergeron] made the appropriate read as they were covering low and kind of went against the grain…good timing play and a great shot. It doesn’t surprise me from there; he tends to be able to hit it and hit it well. I’ve said this before; he is out there with [assistant coach] Jay [Pandolfo] pretty much every day working from that spot, moving into the puck whether it is five-on-four, five-on-three situations, so good for him.”
The Bruins were the first team in the NHL this season to boast three 20-goal scorers with Bergeron’s power-play strike, and were joined later in the evening by Dallas with Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alex Radulov also turning the trick.
The Bruins rank seventh in the NHL on the power play and have the third-best penalty kill in the league as well. They took full advantage of some excessive officiating when Miles Wood was slapped with a double-minor penalty for taking a few retaliatory shots at Riley Nash. But that’s what good teams do. They take advantage when an opponent opens the door for them, and the Bruins stepped through when that chance arose against Jersey.
That’s what they’ll have to continue to do, knowing they’re going to receive the other team’s best punch just as they did against an urgent Jersey team while extending their point streak to 17 games.
“I think so,” said Nash, when asked if “teams are starting to get up to play the Bruins” at this point. “At the same time we just have to match that intensity and we knew that they were going to come out with a little something extra…but you have to match that.
“I think a lot of times we have gotten off to good starts, so I don’t think it’s something to be all too concerned about. But at the same time, it’s got to be addressed right away. I guess you find out next game if it’s a routine, or a habit or not. We knew that they were going to be desperate, but you got to match that.”
The Bruins probably don’t have to wait until their next game - Thursday in Ottawa - to find out. They’re no longer just a nice little underdog story or a team on the rise.
They’re piling up points with no discernible weakness on their roster and other teams are going to girding up to play the Black and Gold juggernaut. It will be up to the Bruins to be ready to handle all comers in what’s sure to be an intense second half of the season.