On Saturday at TD Garden, the B’s lived up to that credo with a decisive 5-1 win over Carolina to extend their winning streak to eight games.
Boston got off to a strong start, taking a 1-0 lead into the first intermission and pushing it to 2-0 in the second, but it was in the third period that they showed what it really means to play Bruins hockey. After Carolina’s Alexander Semin made it 2-1 with a wristshot that deflected off the stick of Johnny Boychuk, the B’s amped up and fired back with three unanswered goals.
Goaltender Chad Johnson made 29 saves to remain unbeaten at TD Garden.
“It seems like we’re playing at our highest level throughout the season so far, and it seems to have gotten better since the start of February,” forward Milan Lucic said after the game. “We’ve just got to not get too high, not get too low and stay even keeled and just stay focused on what we need to do to keep our game sharp.”
“The coaching staff has done a good job of keeping us energized and giving us our rest when we need it, and like I said, we’re just having fun looking forward to every game that’s ahead of us.”
This marks the first time since November 2011 the B’s have been able to win eight straight, and on Saturday, the first line was to thank. Lucic struck in the first for his 21st goal of the season, extending his point streak to four games, and Jarome Iginla found the back of the net twice, once in the second and once in the third. David Krejci had three assists on the day.
“Especially in the last 20 games or whatever, each line is finding ways on different nights to put a lot of pressure on the other team,” Iginla said after the game. “We have a very balanced attack all the way through – different guys, different lines, our D-men jumping up on the play.”
“We’ve been able to get that zone time and be good offensively, but also still defensively. So things are going well and it’s a fun roll that we’re on as a group, but nobody is complacent.”
The Lucic-Krejci-Iginla line, which combined for eight points on the day, has personified precisely the type of physicality and compete level the Bruins have needed in order to win eight straight.
To set up the first goal of the game, Krejci fired a pass to Lucic from his knees after getting tripped in the slot. On Iginla’s first strike, Lucic won a battle behind the net and sent the puck out front, and Iginla fired it top-shelf on Cam Ward’s glove side to give Boston a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
“They have a great chemistry with each other, and they have been great to join,” Iginla said of his linemates. “And Krejci can pass it anywhere, you know he has his sauce, and he can shoot, he can score. And Looch competes and works as hard as anybody, and he’s fast. You know, we’ve been building chemistry throughout the year, and it’s been fun as a group.”
Julien said he’s been impressed this season with the growth and maturity of both Lucic and Krejci.
“I told David that the other day — I said, 'This is as consistent as I’ve seen you since you’ve been here,’” Julien said. “And that’s all part of growing as a player, maturity, understanding his role. At the same time, he’s wearing a letter this year, so he’s got some responsibilities.”
“And Looch has come back this year and has played the way he finished last year. We can’t forget these are still young players. They are in their twenties and they’re young players so there’s always room for them to grow, and I think that’s what we’re all seeing here is growth in some of those players.”
The Bruins have been emphasizing the need for more physicality ever since their last loss to Washington before the win streak, back on March 1 - and they do that in a variety of ways. Lucic finished with five hits, defenseman Dougie Hamilton registered a thundering open-ice hit on Jeff Skinner in the third period, and Johnny Boychuk registered four hits on the day.
Boychuk did, however, take one big hit of his own midway through the third period. He had a quick trip down to the tunnel to the training room, but he came right back out — only to take a slapshot off the same leg almost immediately.
"It’s not just me, it’s our whole team, it’s our whole persona," said Boychuk. "You know you want to get back out there and do whatever it takes to win and it’s not just me; it’s the whole team."
The Bruins’ uptick in physicality coincided with a strong third-period push by the Hurricanes, and one of the biggest goals of the day came off the stick of Chris Kelly with about seven minutes remaining.
After the Hurricanes pulled within one, Kelly won a battle along the boards in Boston’s offensive zone and sent the puck to Dougie Hamilton at the point. He found David Krejci on the left side of the net, and Krejci put it in front for Kelly, who hammered it home to give Boston a much-needed 3-1 win, as well as a momentum shift.
“I think we can be pretty intimidating when all four lines are rolling, and forechecking hard, and hitting, it puts the other team on their heels,” said defenseman Dougie Hamilton. “I guess our team’s pretty good at that. When we play hard and hit and move our feet, I think we’re pretty good.”
Now that the Bruins have won eight straight and haven’t suffered a regulation loss since March 1, there is some talk of peaking too early, but inside the room, there is no doubt that this team has what it takes so sustain this level of play - and physicality.
“We [don’t] talk about the streak — we just talk about game by game, and it just seems to give us a better feeling and a better focus,” Julien said. “So that’s the way you don’t get content or comfortable and you keep plugging away.”