They are getting set to face the Lightning in Tampa Bay on Saturday night for the second leg of their first back-to-back of the season. Game time is 7:00 p.m. ET (NESN, 98.5 The Sports Hub).
The last time the Bruins faced the Lightning on Oct. 12, the 6-3 loss capped off an 0-3 start.
Those three games saw them give up 16 goals and score seven. Since then, they have put up 29 goals and allowed 14, gaining more and more confidence at both ends of the ice. They have allowed just one goal in their past two games — with the 3-1 win in Florida and 6-0 shutout of Arizona at TD Garden, both featuring Tuukka Rask between the pipes.
The Bruins are playing with pace, working hard and looking like a team findings its groove.
What exactly caused the turnaround? Each Bruin answers similarly.
“Simplifying the game. Simplifying the game,” Captain Zdeno Chara said following the B’s victory over the Panthers on Friday night. “I think that was a key for us. We simplified the game.”
“We started playing with a lot more — just, basic hockey — and out of that, we were able to turn things around. And obviously working really hard every day in practices, that kind of carried over to the games — and our power play has been outstanding.”
The Bruins’ man advantage has notched a goal in six of their nine games, and enters Saturday night still atop the League, converting on 11 of their 31 opportunities (35.5 percent). They put up two in Friday’s win, with each unit scoring.
“Well, I don’t know if they’ve lost since we played them and they’re playing really, really well,” Lightning Head Coach Jon Cooper said pregame on Saturday. The Bolts held an optional skate, while the Bruins did not hold a morning skate, having flown it late Friday from Sunrise.
“The one thing that’s really impressed me is their special teams — their power play has been off the charts this year,” Cooper added.
The last time the teams faced each other, the Bruins jumped out to a 2-0 lead with power play tallies, before allowing three unanswered goals from Tampa Bay. Boston would add another power play goal before the end of the night, but fell 6-3 due to severe defensive lapses.
“It’s a rare game when you give up three power play goals and still end up winning the game, which we did,” said Cooper.
“I thought we caught Tuukka on a tough night. He had been going through a little rough stretch there. Clearly he’s found his game, he’s one of the best goalies in the world, so that’s a pretty good combination when a team’s playing with some confidence and they’re winning on the road… so this will be a tough test for us.”
The Bruins are 4-0-0 on the road and one of only three teams who have yet to lose in regulation in opponents’ arenas (Washington and Los Angeles are both 3-0-0).
The road is where Boston found its game after its 0-3 start, picking up wins in Colorado and Arizona, before continuing their “simple” style of play.
“We tried to play very simple hockey and not do anything too fancy out there,” Rask said of the team’s recent efforts. “Put pucks in deep and try to grind it out and it’s been working for us.”
“I think you have to realize that sometimes it’s not fun to do that, but at the same time that’s what gives us success right now and every time we get away from it, that’s when we get in trouble, when we’re risking plays” said Patrice Bergeron. “I feel like when we do simplify or put the puck deep or just skate and go forward instead of always coming back, we get a better result.”
That’s exactly what the Bruins have been getting — results.
The Bolts, on the other hand, are not. They head into Saturday night 0-2-1 in their past three games with just one goal for, picking up losses to Colorado (2-1), St. Louis (2-0) and Chicago (1-0, OT). Their six goals scored against the Bruins on Oct. 12 are a season high (they have scored four on three occasions).
“They’re doing everything we’re asking them, they’re working their tails off,” Cooper said of his team. “We’re not giving up a ton of scoring chances in these games. Just, for whatever reason, pucks are bouncing right now at the other end of the ice.”
Backstopped by Ben Bishop’s solid play in goal, the Bruins will have their work cut out for them, despite Tampa Bay’s recent struggles. They’ll also have to continue to stay strong defensively, with the Bolts poised for a breakout game.
“When we play our system and we trust ourselves, the other team doesn’t get much offensively,” said Torey Krug. “ We take care of the puck and all of a sudden, the offense falls for us because we’re so stingy defensively, so bottle that up — I keep using that phrase over and over again — but we’ve got to keep doing that.”
“The one things about the Bruins that we’ve had troubles with them in the past is they play really hard, and they’re hard to play against and when they get a lead on you, it’s hard to come back from,” Cooper said. “Claude does a great job with their team and I’ve just respected the way they’ve play forever. We have to be on it tonight, because they’re on top of you all the time.”
Lineup Question Marks for Matchup vs. Bolts
Joonas Kemppainen, Tyler Randell, Zach Trotman and Jonas Gustavsson all skated with Assistant Coach Doug Jarvis on Saturday morning. Kempainnen missed Friday’s game with an undisclosed injury he’s been nursing since the end of Tuesday’s game against Arizona.
If he’s ready to go against Tampa Bay, Randell or Zac Rinaldo will be the healthy scratch.
On the back end, the Bruins have been solid. Bruins Head Coach Claude Juilen hinted Friday morning that Zach Trotman has earned a night in the lineup sometime soon — he has been a healthy scratch since the season opener against Winnipeg — but it would be surprising to see him switch up a defense that has allowed just one goal in two games.
“I think right now, it¹s a situation where he’s getting close, and there¹s been a couple of close calls, but this is what it is,” said Julien.
When left shot Joe Morrow was ill, callup Tommy Cross filled in for him. This week, Kevan Miller’s status was in question, but he was ready to go for Friday’s game.
“What I like about [Trotman], he’s got a good attitude — he’s been positive and he’s been working hard, and that makes me feel a lot more confident when the time comes that he’ll be ready to go.”
Between the pipes, Rask could get the back-to-back, or Jonas Gustavsson could get the start.
There will be more clarity with lineup questions when Julien speaks with reporters in Tampa at 5:50 p.m. ET. Players will address media at 4:30 p.m.
For the Lightning, Bishop looks to get the start in goal. Tyler Johnson (undisclosed) is likely ready to go, while Jonathan Drouin (lower body) and Cedric Paquette (ankle) are probably out.
Projected Lineup vs. Tampa Bay
Brad Marchand—Patrice Bergeron—Brett Connolly
Loui Eriksson—David Krejci—David Pastrnak
Matt Beleskey—Ryan Spooner—Jimmy Hayes
Zac Rinaldo*—Chris Kelly—Tyler Randell
Zdeno Chara—Kevan Miller
Torey Krug—Adam McQuaid
Joe Morrow—Colin Miller
Goalies: Tuukka Rask, Jonas Gustavsson
Projected Scratches: Zach Trotman, Joonas Kemppainen
*If Kemppainen is ready to return, Rinaldo or Randell will likely be scratched. — The Bruins are 5-0-1 in their past six games and are coming off a 3-1 win against the Florida Panthers in Sunrise on Friday night.