BOSTON - The Bruins did not have a normal pregame routine on Thursday afternoon.
Following two consecutive losses that didn't quite sit well with the Black & Gold, coach Bruce Cassidy felt that he needed to deliver his message a bit differently. It was time for Boston to get back to its roots.
"We did have a different day today, we had a different meeting on some things we needed to do better as a group," said Cassidy. "It wasn't necessarily a challenge, it was a reset on supporting one another all over the ice…we addressed the group about a little bit of our mentality.
"We feel we're winners in that locker room, but you have to prepare to win, you have to compete to win and go through the process of winning. I thought today was a good first step to getting back to who we are."
It was, indeed. Boston responded with a strong all-around team effort against the surging Pittsburgh Penguins, delivering a statement 4-1 victory in front of the TD Garden crowd, highlighted by four different Black & Gold goal scorers and a stellar 29-save performance from Jaroslav Halak.
"You're facing a team that's been playing good hockey, and it's a big challenge," said Patrice Bergeron, who notched his 20th goal of the season - marking the 11th such campaign of his career - to put Boston up, 3-1, at 3:19 of the third period. "I thought we responded well…it's about getting better as a team…I thought that the way we competed, the mindset we had all night, was great to see."
Video: Bergeron, Halak, lead Bruins to 4-1 win vs. Penguins
Given the way Boston's last two games transpired - blowing a three-goal, second-period lead in Philadelphia on Monday and seeing Tuukka Rask go down with a concussion after a questionable blow to the head in a 3-0 loss in Columbus on Tuesday - the Bruins easily could have continued their spiral after a rough start against the Pens.
Just 24 seconds into the contest, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby launched a slapper from the left circle that sailed by Halak's glove and inside the post to put Pittsburgh up, 1-0. Boston, however, showed some of the fortitude and resilience that defined them during last season's run to the Stanley Cup Final, as they pushed back for four unanswered goals.
"We have to remind ourselves that we are grateful to be around this group, privileged to wear the sweater - some of these things that you get away from a little bit - and all of sudden realize, 'Hey, let's get back to it,'" said Cassidy. "We've got a good group in here; we've got a chance again. We're a good team. Let's play like it. Let's get back at it…when we play together and we're on the same page, we've got a good chance to win.
"We're not going to win every one, but we have a good chance, and do it for 60 minutes. Play through the bumps. And that's on us to reinforce a lot of that message, so we did more of that today, and we'll see where it leads us."
After outside questions arose regarding their response - or lack thereof - to Rask's injury during Tuesday's loss in Columbus, the Bruins clearly wanted to send a physical message. Boston's fourth line of Sean Kuraly, Chris Wagner, and Joakim Nordstrom - who stepped in front of Jusso Riikola slapper during a second period PK and briefly left the game - set the tone in that department.
But it was Torey Krug who had the Garden crowd buzzing late in the second period. After a scrum developed in front of the Bruins bench following a questionable hit on Matt Grzelcyk, Krug tangled with Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist.
The officials stepped in before the two could drop the gloves, sending them off with matching roughing penalties. But as soon as the two exited the box, they reengaged and Krug delivered a hefty right to Hornqvist's nose, before taking him down to the ice.
"It wasn't about going out there and trying to run them out of the rink, by any means," said Krug. "Look at the roster, we don't have that group anymore, but we talked about sticking together and competing harder and just sacrificing a little more.
"That doesn't mean putting a guy through the glass, but it means going to the corner and having the willingness to get hit or to hit someone else and come out with the puck. I think that desperation was lost there for a few games.
"Hopefully this was a step in the right direction and we can grasp that concept again, and that's been part of our DNA for years."
Video: Locker Room Raw: Torey Krug
The Bruins also got some solid offensive contributions from a bottom six that received a bit of a jolt on Thursday morning with the return of Karson Kuhlman, who had not played in Boston since mid-October after a broken right tibia. The winger took the spot of Brett Ritchie, who was waived on Wednesday and sent to Providence, and made an immediate impact.
Kuhlman picked up the primary assists on Boston's first two goals - from Kuraly and Par Lindholm, who was playing in place of the injured David Krejci - which came just 2:13 apart midway through the first period to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead.
"He can get up, get motoring, get on pucks, get on defense, win some races," said Cassidy. "Tonight, he obviously chipped in a little bit of offense, good for him. We expect some level of offense and to get it right away is a nice win. It's nice to have that production. Drives the net on the Kuraly goal - something else we've talked about, getting inside a little more.
"Big or small, we need that. Against good teams, you have to be able to do that. All in all, Kuhly, nice night for what he brings and we're happy to have him back. He's a nice player for us."
Boston also received outstanding goaltending from Halak, including a remarkable sequence in the closing seconds of the second period when the netminder stopped four consecutive shorthanded attempts from the Penguins as they searched for the equalizer late in the frame.
"We don't win the game, probably, without it," said Krug. "Those were four or five saves that we needed. He's been there for us all year, so for him to do it again I'm sure he feels good about his game. It pushed us in the right direction because we were able to come in the third period and extend the lead. If he doesn't make any of those saves, then that's a different complexion of a game."
After the last two games, it was quite the different complexion for the Bruins. And one they hope to roll forward.
"I thought we were hard to play against in terms of solid defending," said Cassidy. "I thought we stuck together physically, tried to play the body when we were supposed to and stuck up for one another if anything happened. Dropped the mitts once, because sometimes that's going to happen. So, good response."
Video: PIT@BOS: Halak stones Penguins with consecutive stops