BOSTON – As wrong as things had looked during their first three-game regulation losing streak in three months, things looked right for the Bruins when they finally had a chance to take a breath on home ice.
The Bruins got off to a much better start, tightened up their defense and saw their best players show up in spectacular fashion in a 2-1 overtime win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at TD Garden.
That’s the same Blue Jackets group that dropped seven goals on the Black and Gold earlier this week in Columbus, but instead was bottled up by the B’s much more effectively this time around. That’s a return to the status quo for the Black and Gold, and a heaving sigh of relief that Boston was able to get things back on track before the train really got derailed a month before the postseason.
In other words, it was reassuring to the Bruins to see that they weren’t in a tailspin similar to the one that’s going on with their likely first-round playoff opponent, the Maple Leafs, right now in Toronto.
“[It was an effort] just to simplify our game and go back to taking care, it sounds cliché, but taking care of the house,” said Patrice Bergeron. “I thought it was much better that way given the outside and most of the night. Obviously they are going to get some chances and they have some good players, but you know I thought most of the night we were able to give them the outside and really collapse them low, and really help our defensemen.
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“[It was a] tight game all along, but I thought we stuck with it. We made some good plays. I thought defensively we were very sound. [There are] lots of good things to take out of this game for sure.”
Certainly first and foremost it was the defensive effort from the B’s after allowing so many goals on the disastrous three-game road trip. The only big blemish was a John Moore breakdown in the first period where he lost containment against Matt Duchene, and allowed the speedy center to spin off him for a wide open chance at the front of the net.
But otherwise the Bruins were in lockdown while holding the Blue Jackets to just 15 shots in the first two periods, and total of 25 shots on net through 60 minutes of regulation and overtime. It was good, hard-nosed defense that kept Columbus away from the front of the net and limited the Blue Jackets top scorers like Artemi Panarin to a ghost-like presence.
“We addressed [the defense] going into Winnipeg. The score didn’t show it in Winnipeg, four goals against. I thought our team d-zone coverage was much better. Rush coverage was a problem, so we talked about that a little more,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I think our guys knew that was the best way…the easiest way to get back on track is to keep the puck out of your net.
“We were able to do that. We’d like to score more, obviously. I thought we had some good looks.
[David] Krejci’s line had some real good looks, just couldn’t cash in, but eventually we got the one we needed.”
That was the other encouraging part of the win, and the banishment of some of the bad habits that the Bruins had picked up recently. Rather than dig themselves a hole in the first period as they’d consistently been doing recently, the Bruins scored in the first few minutes of the game on a trademark power-play goal from Patrice Bergeron in the bumper spot. The Moore breakdown late in the first period obviously evened things up, but the B’s never trailed in the game after constantly chasing in the previous three games.
That’s a key return to form for the Bruins after a few weeks of slow starts, and a mandatory focus ahead of next month’s playoffs.
“[It was] a little bit better, getting on the PP a little early helps so I thought we had a good game,” said Brad Marchand. “We played hard. They’re a good team and they’re fighting for their lives. Yeah, it was a good game for us.”
BRUINS 2, BLUE JACKETS 1
Marchand, himself, was the third and final component of encouraging news in Saturday night’s win. Well, Marchand and Bergeron that is. Both star B’s players scored with Marchand once again playing the overtime hero with a strike and then the Connor McGregor strut to celebrate with the MMA fighter in the house on Irish Appreciation Night. But it was both No. 63 and No. 37 that looked energized and dominant throughout the game, and appeared to have their good skating legs like they sometimes didn’t on the slog through Pittsburgh, Columbus and Winnipeg.
The last play in 3-on-3 OT was just dominant, dogged work by the duo with Bergeron circling, drawing in the defense and then feeding to a wide open Marchand for the tough angle one-timer that he’s finished off so many times for the Black and Gold. It was easy to picture that same kind of scenario playing over and over again in the playoffs just as it did in Saturday night’s reminder of how good the Bruins have been in the second half of the season.
“It goes to that chemistry. We know where each other is going to be on the ice mostly at all times. I knew he was going to try and open up on that one, and I tried to find him,” said Bergeron. “You could tell that I think that they were a little bit tired, and that’s what happens in overtime. It’s not easy when your shift gets extended and it’s only 3 on 3 so things are opened up. We found a way and we got the bounce, so we’ll take it.”
The Bruins will definitely take it, and they’ll take all the encouraging signs from a needed win after their triumphant return to home ice. Now the trick will be maintaining this level of play for the next few weeks until the real season gets going for the Black and Gold in mid-April.
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