The only thing that will matter is that they won those hard-fought, grind-it-out games, and that is precisely what they did at the Air Canada Centre on Monday night.
The Bruins surrendered a 2-0 lead and a 3-2 lead, and they fought through six penalties for an eventual 4-3 shootout win over Toronto, marking their third straight win and their second win over the Maple Leafs in three nights.
“It really didn’t matter how you win as long as you get the win, and they’re not all going to be pretty,” said forward Brad Marchand, who scored twice, including once shorthanded. “We’ve got to learn to win games like this, and we did that tonight, so we have to be happy.”
When the Bruins faced James Reimer two nights ago at TD Garden, they felt as though they didn’t test him enough, breaking through for the first time with less than five minutes remaining in regulation.
They didn’t make that mistake again on Monday night. This time around, they got the offense going much earlier.
Boston went to the penalty kill just 4 1/2 minutes into the first period as Brett Connolly went off for tripping. Following a clear, Marchand pursued the puck behind the Maple Leafs net and stripped Reimer, then passed to Patrice Bergeron in the slot. Reimer deflected Bergeron’s attempt in front, and Marchand batted it out of midair and into the net to give Boston a 1-0 lead.
“I think it’s just the hand-eye coordination that we’ve had throughout the years,” Marchand said with a smile. “I think it’s kind of natural now. You miss more than you get, so luckily, that one went in.”
The Bruins needed contributions from all over the lineup to win on Monday, and they got precisely that. Later in the first frame, Zac Rinaldo struck for his first goal as a member of the Bruins. Goaltender Tuukka Rask pushed the puck up the boards to Dennis Seidenberg, who fed Rinaldo. Rinaldo fired a wrister from the right circle that just snuck in between Reimer’s glove and the post.
“It felt really good to kind of get that monkey off my back, get the first one out of the way so I can concentrate on getting the next one,” Rinaldo said. “But good pass from Seids, a little chip off the boards and I just shot and hope that it went in. It went in.
“It gives a little more confidence in the coach to put us out there in different scenarios on the ice.”
The Maple Leafs, however, made the second period all about them.
During a 62-second span midway through the second period, following two consecutive failed power plays by the Bruins, the Maple Leafs tied the game. Joffrey Lupul struck on a delayed penalty, and Leo Komarov jammed in a long-range bid by James Van Riemsdyk to tie it.
The Bruins fought back in the period. Marchand jammed in his own rebound to give Boston the 3-2 lead with 5:20 left in the frame, but less than two minutes later, the Leafs struck again, as Tyler Bozak made Rask pay for leaving a rebound out in the crease.
Then, the PK stepped up, and it stepped up big.
Adam McQuaid was assessed a four-minute double-minor for hooking and roughing to close out the second and begin the third. About 40 seconds into that kill, Marchand joined him in the box following a questionable holding call on P.A. Parenteau. Parenteau also went to the box for tripping, but still, Boston was without one of its best penalty killers for two minutes of a four-minute kill.
The Bruins, however, got it done. They kept the Leafs at bay then, and again midway through the third, when Zdeno Chara and Zach Trotman were sent to the box along with Toronto’s Nazem Kadri.
“We’re trying to block shots, really pay attention to little details, and try to do everything you can in the second and third effort to keep the puck out of the net,” said forward David Krejci. “And Tuukks has been playing really well lately, and [Jonas Gustavsson] as well when he’s in the net. They always say the goalie has to be the best PKer, and they have been.”
The PK accomplished its most critical task in the midst of 3-on-3 overtime, when Bergeron was whistled for holding. The PK forced the shootout, and there, Krejci was able to capitalize in the third round.
“[There’s] more confidence, and I think guys are reading off each other a lot better,” Julien said of the improved penalty kill. “There’s a commitment to getting pucks out, there’s a commitment to blocking shots and there’s a commitment not to run around. So I think again, guys are starting to read off each other a little bit better, and because of that, the confidence is starting to come back.”
Though he did allow three second-period goals, Rask, as Rinaldo put it, stood on his head for the Bruins — particularly in the third period and in overtime. He saved the game in the waning seconds of extra time, stopping a bid from long range with the pad and then flashing the glove at lightning speed to rob Van Riemsdyk with the rebound at the top of the crease.
“It’s just one of those — you react,” Rask said. “The puck somehow got to that side; I think the original save was blocker side, and then it was just there, and you just react. Sometimes you get them, sometimes you don’t. Now I end up getting it, and it obviously looks great.”
Rask needed to be there at the most opportune time. So did the penalty kill. So did the fourth line. So did the marquee players, like Krejci, who came through with the game-winner in the shootout.
It wasn’t a pretty win. There was far too much back and forth for the Bruins’ liking, and the full 60-minute focus was not quite there, but it was a win. It was two points. It was another victory on the road, where the Bruins have been so strong this season.
It was a game in which the Bruins had to continue to withstand, continue to push back, continue to fight even if the opponent was fighting just as hard; those were the games this team struggled to win earlier this season, and on Monday, they got the job done.
The win was all that mattered, and the Bruins got that.
“Overall, I don’t think we played that great — first period was good; second, we really didn’t push the pace that much,” Rask said. “And then in the third, we gave them some chances there 5-on-5, but we stuck with it, and it paid off again.
“So it’s a good character win.”
But the work is not done. The trip isn’t over.
Perhaps Rinaldo put it best.
“We need to build on it,” he said, “and this game means nothing if we don’t win in Detroit.”