By the end of an eventual 2-1 win over Carolina at TD Garden, they could confidently say that those goals had been accomplished.
“It’s a win, and it’s definitely a step in the right direction,” said forward Patrice Bergeron. “There’s some things that we do have to keep working on and managing the pucks, especially in our zone, and making it a little easier on us. But that being said, I thought we got scored against right away, early on and we stuck with it and scored two big goals in the first to come back on top and get the lead, and we kept it. So it’s definitely some positive.”
The game didn’t start out precisely the way the B’s wanted it to. Though they did reestablish the physicality that had been missing during their two-game skid against Toronto and Montreal, registering 13 hits in the first 12 minutes of play, the Bruins weren’t as tight defensively as they wanted to be. Seven minutes into the game, a turnover inside the red line led to a barrage of scoring chances for the Hurricanes, and one of them — a Justin Faulk shot from the right circle — was tipped in front and found the back of the net.
But unlike the games in Canada, the Bruins didn’t allow themselves to get down and out after one mistake. They didn’t give up or give in.
Less than a minute after allowing the Hurricanes to get on the board, the B’s found themselves facing a 5-on-3, with Reilly Smith in the box for goalie interference and Adam McQuaid joining him 16 seconds later for hooking.
At that point, it was time for the B's to show the character they are accustomed to showing in the face of challenges — and they did. They fought back, and they fought back hard, killing off both penalties, then getting back the goal they allowed, then tacking on another before the first intermission.
“It definitely wasn’t perfect, but offensively, that’s what we need,” said forward Daniel Paille. “We can always score more goals. Defensively, we’ve still got some work to do, but on the other hand, we had some other guys play well. That 5-on-3 at the beginning of the game was big, especially down 1-0, and Tuukka [Rask] tonight was solid for us and was able to really help us out.”
Rookie Seth Griffith tied the game with about five minutes remaining in the period, capitalizing on a miscue by Andrej Sekera, who tried to send a pass across the crease to Justin Faulk. Griffith got his stick on the puck in front of the net, and it deflected past Cam Ward.
“We obviously didn’t start too great,” Griffith said. “We’ve got to stop letting other teams get those early leads on us because some games it kills us, and tonight, luckily enough, just working hard on the forecheck. Anything can happen in those situations, and just hit off a couple skates and luckily enough it went in.”
Then, with just 50 seconds left in the frame, Bergeron put the Bruins ahead for good. Brad Marchand took the puck down the wing and around the net, then found Bergeron in the right circle. Bergeron fired and beat Ward gloveside.
“We’ve been playing together for so long that after a while, we know and we read off each other well,” Bergeron said of Marchand. “On that play, I knew he was going to come around the net, so instead of coming in and getting caught too low, I tried to stay a little higher and wait for him to get out from behind the net. I was lucky enough to get a great pass from him and had a great screen from Reilly [Smith] as well. He was in front, so it was a great play by all of us.”
The assist marked the 100th of Marchand’s NHL career.
“He’s one of those guys that he’s relentless on the puck, is always on it and always finding ways to get through guys and make moves," Bergeron said. "He’s very deceptive with that, and he’s definitely hard to defend. He uses his vision to deceive guys.”
Tuukka Rask — coming off a tough outing against Toronto in which he was pulled in the second period after allowing three goals — finished Saturday’s game with precisely the type of bounce-back win he wanted, making 33 saves on 34 shots en route to his ninth win of the season.
“You always have to feel confident about your game,” Rask said. “You aren’t going to say, ‘I’m going to have a bad game tomorrow.’ I thought that I played a solid 60 minutes today, I saw the puck pretty well, and I thought we defended pretty good. Although I don’t think it was the most entertaining game to watch — it was pretty slow at times, there — but it was a good win.”
After getting away from their game during the road trip, the Bruins were intent on showing their trademark physicality versus the Hurricanes, and they did just that, registering a total of 30 hits.
“I think it’s probably the most important part about going into today’s game, was upping our compete level and emotional level and all that, and our physical play,” said Milan Lucic. “So it was a good start getting back on track as far as those things went, so we’ve got to keep that on a high level in order for us to keep winning hockey games.
“Like I said, we’re a team that thrives off playing with high emotions and controlled emotions, and we need that night in, night out to have success.”
After struggling through two nightmarish second periods against Toronto and Montreal -- when they allowed a total of seven goals -- they made it a point to be particularly tight in that frame on Saturday. They outshot the Hurricanes 14-4 in the frame, they limited the mistakes and it paid off.
“It was good,” Bergeron said. “Everything was a step in the right direction. The second was one of them as well. It wasn’t perfect, but it’s definitely better. It’s definitely something we can build from and keep working on, but that being said, we’ve been able to keep the lead and that’s something that you can definitely build from.”
The Bruins looked a bit different on Saturday than they did earlier in the week — for one, defenseman Matt Bartkowski slotted in after serving as the healthy scratch for over two weeks, and for another, all of the defensive pairings were different than they were on Thursday. During the first period, Julien also did some experimenting with his lines, employing Milan Lucic on Chris Kelly’s line as well as Carl Soderberg’s.
After the two first-period goals, it was clear that something was clicking for this team that hadn’t been clicking in Canada.
“We only gave up one goal tonight, and the goaltender played great, and those guys — from my point of view, anyway — seemed to handle it well,” Julien said of the defensive switches. “[Adam] McQuaid and [Dennis] Seidenberg had the big Eric Staal to deal with, and I thought they did a good job against that line. The other guys did a good job as well, just moving the puck and getting a little bit of a flow to our game.”
Still, though, the Bruins are not quite where they want to be and know there is plenty of work left to do with a tough week ahead and games against St. Louis, Columbus and Montreal looming.
“Obviously, there’s probably some things we’ve got to clean up as far as X’s and O’s go, but I think the important thing about today’s game was that emotional level and that compete level, and it was there for the better parts of the game,” Lucic said.
The Bruins took steps in the right direction on Saturday, and nobody denied that. This was the kind of win that felt good. It was hard, but it was rewarding because the B’s had to fight for it.
After allowing 11 goals in two games to divisional opponents, Boston knew it had to step up its defensive game. It knew it had to focus. It knew that when the final horn sounded on Saturday, there could be no excuses: The Bruins needed two points, and they got them.
“Obviously a step in the right direction," Julien said. "I thought we were overall better. The second period was better. Certainly not where we want to be yet, but when you’ve gone through what you’ve gone through the last two games, I don’t think you’re just going to turn the page and all of a sudden be what you were. So we’ve got to build ourselves back up there, and today was a good start.”