After being swept by the Hurricanes last season, the Bruins battled through a wide-open game, with David Krejci scoring from the left doorstep for the go-ahead goal with 1:50 remaining in a 5-3 win at PNC Arena on Monday night.
In a 48-game season that puts a premium on a fast start, the Bruins are 4-0-1.
"We learned from last year when we had a pretty bad start," Krejci said. "This year we were ready to go. It's a short season and it's important to get points early in the season. We've got nine out of 10 (points). That's pretty good."
On a night when the Bruins found the net with skillful plays, they saved the best for the game-winner. After Nathan Horton's near miss in close, Dougie Hamilton gathered the puck and sent it through the slot to Krejci for the easy finish. For Hamilton, it capped an evening of good news. He was told prior to the game that he will remain with Boston, rather than return to Niagara of the Ontario Hockey League.
"I figured I had already taken enough shots that didn't score," said Hamilton, describing the game-winner. "I saw (Krejci) before I looked at the net and made the decision right away."
"He's got great vision and passing ability," said Krejci. "I wasn't sure if he would pass it to me or not but I got myself ready and he made a great play. He made it easy on me."
Despite a strong start, the Bruins let a 3-1 second-period lead slip away. Jeff Skinner and Eric Staal scored 50 seconds apart late in the period, putting the Bruins on their heels. Boston coach Claude Julien didn't let his team off the hook.
"Those two goals late in the second, we got caught standing still," said Julien, who now has the third-most coaching wins in Bruins history with 233. "Our D got caught moving the wrong way.
"But I came in after the second period and I said, 'Guys, last time I looked it was a 3-3 hockey game, so we can't hang our heads and drag that into the third.’"
Boston had plenty of jump to start the game. Zdeno Chara put his offensive skills on display with two smart plays that put Carolina in a 2-0 hole after six-plus minutes. First, Chara fired a diagonal pass from the left point to Brad Marchand in right circle for a short-handed goal, then lifted a wrister from the blue line through traffic that found the top shelf.
"Just because you have a big shot doesn't mean you have to use it," said Chara, who finished the night with a goal and two assists. "On the first play, I saw Brad being wide open there so I tried to get it to him as quick as I could. The second one, I was just trying to find a lane to put the puck in the net. Some nights it's going to work, other night's it's tough to put those pucks through."
The two teams traded chances for most of the second period, but the Bruins put their perfect short-handed unit on display three times, including a stretch of 3:44 consecutively. With seven more penalty kills, Boston has now killed all 24 chances this season.
"It's a huge part of our game," said Chara, who logged team highs in short-handed ice time (6:20) and total minutes (26:02). "We take pride in it. Sometimes we take too many penalties, but that's how it goes in a game. We just have to keep working hard and killing 'em off when we need them."
When Nathan Horton circled through the neutral zone and beat two Hurricanes along the boards for his second goal of the season, it looked like the Bruins had seized control of the game. That's when Skinner extended his goal-scoring streak to four games and Staal scored his fourth in the last three games. Suddenly, the game was back to even.
"In the second, we were starting to pick up," said Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller. "But we were just unable to sustain it in the third. It was close towards the end but we knew it was going to be a tough battle and you have to fight."
The Hurricanes, who were coming off a sweep of back-to-back games with Buffalo, had defensive breakdowns on three of the first four Boston goals.
"I think it was a lesson in just playing 60 minutes solid," said Muller. "We had our moments where we didn't execute - didn't move the puck like we have the last couple games. It just got us hemmed in."
For the Bruins, the win erases a bad memory, going winless a year ago against a team the failed to make the playoffs.
"We still remember what happened last year when they took four games from us," said Horton. "They really play us hard, and we knew that coming in. We were expecting a tight game, and it was for the whole game."