By Jon Fucile
BOSTON, MA – Through most of the first period in Tuesday night’s game against New Jersey the Boston Bruins looked like a prematurely defeated team, a team wilting yet again under playoff like pressure against a hungry and desperate New Jersey Devils team. Eleven seconds into their first penalty kill, Bruins defenders left Ilya Kovalchuk all alone near Tim Thomas for an easy goal and the Bruins were down 1-0 and half way through the period they had mustered just one shot. Bruins fans began to settle in for what looked to be a long, frustrating night.
Unfortunately for New Jersey, that Kovalchuk tally awoke a sleeping giant and the Bruins suddenly found their game.
New Jersey was a team scratching and clawing for every victory, trying to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. This was a playoff game for the Devils and Boston did not have an answer for their attack for much of the first. Kovalchuk’s goal punched the Bruins in the mouth and they knew they had to respond.
“I think after the Toronto game, it was a bit of a wake up call. But also, we knew the effort was going to be there today. We addressed the thing we needed to address in practice. I think we did a good job in responding tonight,” said Shawn Thornton.
On a night where Tim Thomas moved into fifth place on the Bruins all time wins list, Zdeno Chara scored his 400th career point and Milan Lucic scored 30 goals for the first time in his career and became the first Bruin to do so since Phil Kessel, Boston punctuated everything with a decisive 4-1 victory at a time when they needed it most.
Boston, at least temporarily, answered many questions that had crept up while losing six of seven games and getting outplayed badly almost every time they took the ice over that span. The Bruins had wilted under pressure at almost every turn this season and had begun to show numerous cracks before answering the bell against the Devils.
Claude Julien and his Bruins have been less than stellar at home this season, Tim Thomas had suddenly looked human, the powerplay looked intent on setting new lows and Boston as a whole played some uninspired, emotionless hockey. Against New Jersey Thomas kept the Bruins in the game while facing 16 shots in the first period alone, Chara scored the game winning goal on the powerplay and Boston continued to apply pressure the rest of the game to seal the victory. Boston put forth exactly the type of effort they will need heading down the stretch going into the playoffs.
“Yeah, I think it’s important that we basically play the way we’re supposed to as far as being a stingy team, being a hard team to play against. So bringing your work ethic to the rink and trying to outwork the other team every night,” said Julien. “So I think that’s basically what the message was and obviously, besides the first 15 minutes, I thought our team responded well.”
Getting Tim Thomas back on track was perhaps the most critical aspect for the Bruins, as their savior of a goaltender had looked fatigued and average recently. All season Thomas made the big, impossible saves when the team needed them most but during his late season slump those big moments were few and far between. Against a furious New Jersey attack, however, Thomas once again showed why he is the Bruins MVP and a serious Vezina candidate.
“I mean, we needed it. The team needed it. We needed a strong effort, and we came up with it,” said Thomas.
“We need to build off it and make sure we continue on and we need to do the same things that gave us success tonight. New Jersey’s been hot. They’ve been playing some really good hockey. So getting the win isn’t easy against them.”
The question now for these Bruins is whether or not they can maintain that effort over the long haul. Boston’s display tonight showed once again that when the Bruins are on their game they can compete with any team in the league. However, the lingering issue for Boston all season has been maintaining that effort and desire when it matters most.
Boston has a huge test coming up Thursday against their hated rivals from Montreal. Regular season games do not come more pressure pack than Thurday’s tilt against the Canadiens. Montreal is chasing Boston for the Northeast Division lead and the Canadiens have clearly been in the Bruins heads while winning four of their five meetings so far this season. Can the Bruins rise to the occasion again against Montreal and display the same skill, grit and desire they showed against New Jersey?
Their dominating victory against the Devils was a step in the right direction for the Bruins if they want to be true Stanley Cup contenders but they will need to bring that same game against Montreal before they can say they are back to playing Bruins hockey.