They got into Brooklyn very, very early Sunday morning following an emotionally draining loss in Montreal. They were embarking on their second game in less than 24 hours.
But they needed two points on Sunday. They needed them badly. So it was simple: They set out to get them.
“It’s a great two points, especially after a tough road trip like we just had,” said forward Patrice Bergeron after a 2-1 win over the Islanders at Barclays Center. “It was important for us to show up this afternoon and bring out a solid effort, being composed and not just bringing a good start of the game, but kind of sustaining that for the full 60, no matter what was happening on the ice. I thought we did a good job of that.”
Before Sunday’s game, Head Coach Claude Julien said facetiously, “We’re allowed to win tight games.” The Bruins weren’t able to do that on Saturday night in Montreal. They played a strong all-around game through 58 minutes but couldn’t hold on through the final two.
They were intent on making sure that didn’t happen again on Sunday. They were intent on heading home with two points and redeeming this road trip, and they got started in the first period.
For the seventh straight game, Boston’s power play came up big. Fifteen seconds into a Bruins man advantage, the Islanders committed a delay of game penalty, awarding the Bruins 1 minute and 45 seconds of 5-on-3 time. Bergeron started the scoring play in the high slot, passing to Krejci down low on the left side.
Krejci went across the crease to Ryan Spooner, who tapped it in back door to give Boston a 1-0 lead with seven minutes left in the frame.
“It was a 5-on-3, so you’re trying to take advantage of the space you have,” Bergeron said. “At first, it seemed like we were a little static and not much was happening, so I was trying to make something happen. So I created some space and some room, and it was a great pass by Krech to go to Spooner.”
Late in the period, when Bergeron went to the box for a hook, Boston’s penalty kill was tasked with holding the lead for the first of seven times that evening. It was a tall task for a PK that ranks last in the league, and an even taller task with Bergeron — one of the team’s best penalty killers — in the box.
But the PK came through, generating some much-needed confidence for this group, which surrendered two power-play goals to the Canadiens one night earlier.
“We talked about bringing a solid effort tonight,” Bergeron said. “I thought [Saturday] was, for the most part, a good effort, but then at the end, if you don’t get the result, it means nothing. So we had to bring a solid effort but also more composure to our game, and not getting rattled or whatnot killing penalties or being stuck in your zone.”
In the second period, Julien deployed some adjusted line combinations. He tried Spooner with Zac Rinaldo and Max Talbot. He tried Joonas Kemppainen with Brad Marchand and Jimmy Hayes. But it was his combination of Bergeron with Marchand and Hayes that came through.
With just under six minutes remaining in the frame, Bergeron — with his line finishing a long shift of sustained zone pressure — let a wrister fly from just inside the offensive blue line. Marchand, who started the game on the third line with Spooner and Hayes, provided the screen in front to help give Boston the 2-0 lead.
“Anytime you switch it up, I think just a couple things go into it,” Marchand said. “We haven’t been producing the same way last few games, and I think they want to try to spark it a bit, and then same thing — I know my game hasn’t been great the last couple of games, so I think they’re trying to prove something, and I understand that and it’s part of the game.”
The third period was a test of Boston’s will. In the third, the Islanders turned it up to full tilt. They pressed, and the Bruins — particularly Rask — responded. Rask finished the night with 36 saves and made one particularly stellar stop on a streaking Cal Clutterback, coming in on a partial breakaway.
“I was good today,” Rask admitted postgame. “Yeah, I felt really good. One of the best I’ve felt in a long time, so hopefully I feel like that every game, see the puck like that.”
And it wasn’t easy for him, especially in the third. The Bruins committed a whopping six penalties in the final 15 minutes of play, and aside from one 5-on-3 goal allowed on a blistering one-timer by Johnny Boychuk, Boston’s penalty kill held one of the league’s best power play teams at bay.
“In a way, we didn’t make it easy on ourselves again,” Rask said. “We got a lot of penalties, especially in the last period. They just kept coming and coming, but we stuck with it, and it paid off. So it’s a great character win today.”
The Bruins had to dig deep for a lot of things on Sunday. They had to dig deep for energy, for focus, and in some ways, for confidence, particularly in short-handed situations. Ever since losing Chris Kelly — one of their most reliable killers and most vocal leaders — to a long-term injury on Tuesday, they have struggled in that regard.
On Sunday, for the first time since Kelly’s injury, they were composed. They were strong at both ends of the ice. They were good.
“Even after [New York] scored, our guys stayed focused and we did the things that we had to do,” Julien said. “ Again, it’s about trying to maintain your game throughout the 60 minutes, and I thought we did a better job of that tonight.”
Sunday’s game carried plenty of significance for a team that was in desperate need of two points. The players understood that, and they did what they had to do in order to head back to Boston with a renewed confidence.
“We had to dig deep,” Marchand said. “Two [games] in two [nights], and tough travel [Saturday] night — we got in really late — and a 5 o’clock game is not always easy. But guys did a really good job of bearing down and not complicating things tonight. We really simplified the game and played the way we’re supposed to, and that’s when we’re at our best. Got to give the guys a lot of credit tonight.”
The last time the Bruins played in this building, back on Oct. 23, they earned their first true character win of the season. On Sunday night, they got their second.
“It’s huge,” Rask said. “We’ve had these tight games and then we haven’t been able to either win them or tie the game. So it’s good that we stuck with it, killed some penalties and really battled hard, and it paid off.
“So it’s a good sign, and hopefully it builds our character.”