WILMINGTON, Mass. -- Their 8-0 rout of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday might have been the perfect way for the Boston Bruins to leave a mark on their home rink before departing for their last lengthy road trip of the season.
That victory, paired with a dramatic shootout win against Philadelphia two days earlier, gave the Bruins just their second two-game winning streak since early January. Now the Bruins are back on top of the Northeast Division, after they'd been kicked out for one day early last week by Ottawa.
"I feel like something's turned and it's a good feeling," said goaltender Tim Thomas, who was in net for both victories and recorded his fifth shutout of the season Monday. "Even before the game (Monday), I felt that way, I could just feel it in the locker room."
Despite the positive vibes, the Bruins weren't celebrating Tuesday. Although they held an optional practice here at Ristuccia Arena with just handful of player participating, the rest of the players got in their off-ice workouts in preparation for a journey to San Jose on Wednesday.
The Bruins will start their trip against the Sharks on Thursday and follow with games at Los Angeles and Anaheim over the weekend. The tightness of the Western Conference playoff race should make for some intense games, and Boston won't be able to revert to the form they showed when they lost four straight before this current winning stretch if they intend on returning to Boston on a positive note.
"I think it's just maintaining what we've done here the last couple games," said coach Claude Julien. "Our last road trip wasn't a very good one. We certainly have to make sure we get a better one out of this one. When you look at the teams that you're playing, right now to me, the best one probably is Anaheim, who's out of the playoffs. And the other two are right there knocking on the door. So I think we're going into a territory where there's a lot of desperation. So we're going to have, certainly, some good challenges. But to me, if we play the way we have the last couple games, it's a good challenge for us."
When they got back from their losing road trip last week, the Bruins held a rare late-afternoon practice to get their legs moving and break a sweat before the matinee with Philadelphia. The emphasis not only was on pushing the pace, but also being better in the defensive zone and supporting the puck in all situations. That extra work seems to have paid off.
"I think more consistency in our game," said defenseman Johnny Boychuk about the biggest difference between the Bruins' play in the losses and the victories. "We seem to be doing the little things right and giving us more chances to win."
The Bruins also are healthier now and their lineup has become more stability. Andrew Ference, Adam McQuaid and Daniel Paille all have played a few games after missing time. The Bruins have reunited last season's playoff defense pairs with Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg leading the way and Ference and Boychuk forming the second duo. Newcomer Greg Zanon has started to adjust to the Bruins' system to form a third pair with Adam McQuaid.
Boston's goaltending depth, which was damaged by an injury to Tuukka Rask earlier this month, might be coming around. Marty Turco's Bruins debut last week in Tampa Bay was a disaster, as he allowed four goals on 12 shots over two stints in the game. He's been putting in some extra work in practices since then and should be better adjusted to NHL shooters by now. There might be a chance for him to spell Thomas in one of the upcoming games.
"There’s no doubt, when he's been facing the kind of shots he's been facing now and extra week, he gets better," said Julien.
Rich Peverley, who has been out since mid-February with a knee injury, also might get back into Boston's lineup in California. That would provide the Bruins with almost their entire projected lineup, minus Nathan Horton, who still is not skating as he battles post-concussion syndrome.
The Bruins learned the hard way how difficult it is to dig out of a hole when a team is losing and falling behind every night. Based on better play, and especially better starts, they've found an approach that should work for them in the Golden State and not be too hard to duplicate going forward.
"No it's not hard, it's much better than it would be going the other way, so now we just got to keep playing the same way if you start changing your game and looking for some key plays, that's when you go out and make mistakes and that's what you don't want to do," said captain Zdeno Chara. "I don't think it's hard because it's much better to be on this side of the game than the other and we need that right now so we just got to keep doing the right thing."