The Bruins capped off their first back-to-back of the season with 3-1 wins over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday and the Florida Panthers on Friday.
They are now 6-0-1 in their past seven games, including a 5-0-0 record on the road to stay undefeated in opponents’ buildings.
“I really feel good about this win for different reasons,” Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said from Amalie Arena in Tampa on Saturday night. “ It was our first test of back-to-backs, against a team that was waiting for us here and a team that’s a good hockey club.”
“We just seemed to keep getting better all the time and I thought our forecheck, our determination, our battles, and everything seemed to be there,” Julien said. “The decision-making was really good, putting pucks in and not turning those pucks over that much, got great goaltending again, so I thought it was a really good effort.”
With the game knotted at 1-1 entering the third period, Brett Connolly broke the tie with a power play fire to give Boston a 2-1 lead. It marked his fourth goal of the season, with all of the goals coming in four of his past five games.
Boston had a 5-on-3 opportunity for 13 seconds and Connolly made it count, scoring with three seconds left on the two-man advantage. After Brad Marchand won a faceoff, good movement led to Krejci, Chara and Marchand executing tic-tac-toe passing to set up Connolly at the bottom of the left circle.
“We’re feeling good right now, we’re confident and that goes a long way,” said Connolly, who celebrated the goal in emphatic fashion in front of his former team’s fans.
“I wanted to have a good game, I wanted to play hard and most importantly I wanted us to get a win, and I thought we played a pretty good road game,” he said. “[We’re] playing really well right now and it’s a fun time to be playing.”
“Obviously to see that one go in, it felt good — at the time of the game too, to go up by a goal in the third period, it’s obviously a good feeling and against your old team, it makes it that much better, so it was good to see that one go in.”
Marchand added an empty-netter with 1:16 to go to seal the 3-1 win.
Jonas Gustavsson followed up Tuukka Rask’s strong outing against the Panthers with steady play between the pipes, making 21 saves.
“He got tested,” said Julien, who remembered a shot in the second period that Gustavsson stopped with his blocker blindly through a screen.
“Somehow he got his blocker out there and made the save — we thought for sure it was going in — so he made some real big saves and even at the end when they pushed hard, he made himself big and gave us a real good win here.”
“When both goalies are playing like that, it’s a lot of confidence on the bench,” said Jimmy Hayes. “Because you know if you make a mistake, that he’s going to be there to bail you out and we try to limit those mistakes. It’s nice to have a nice backbone back there.”
The only goal allowed by Gustavsson came on a Lightning power play in the first period, when Nikita Kucherov put home a bang-bang play stick side. Gustavsson didn’t have much of a chance, after Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop caught the Bruins’ penalty kill out of position with a heads up play up the ice to start the rush.
Tampa Bay continued its pressure following the goal, but Gustavsson stood tall and Marchand generated bids on Bishop at the other end. He also came up with tremendous saves on the penalty kill for the rest of the night, with Boston going 4-for-5 on the PK.
“We played a really good road game I feel like, so for me, obviously you’ve got to come up and make big saves, but the guys helped me a lot too,” said Gustavsson, who is now 3-0-0 this season, with all of his starts coming on the road.
Despite trailing for the first time in three games, the Bruins didn’t get too far away from their game.
“We’re just keeping it simple,” said Gustavsson. “We’re playing really simple, not trying to make too many fancy moves and we’re making those moves when it’s time to make those moves and other than that, we’re just playing a solid road game.”
“Not giving them too much and making them turn over the puck and then we have our speed and we’re going to use that, so we’ve just been sticking with our game plan and battling really hard, that’s why I feel like we’ve been having a lot of success.”
Matt Beleskey showcased that battling when he tied the game at 1-1 with 3:07 left in the first off a hard-working goal. Hayes did the work behind the goal to get the puck up to Colin Miller, who fired with Chris Kelly providing traffic. Beleskey outworked his man in the hash marks, lifted his stick, got to the loose puck and fired in the rebound on the turnaround shot.
“Well there was that, and then I think it was in the second period as well, he was doing the same thing down low, just battling and being determined,” said Julien. “And those are the guys we all now that the Bruins like — guys that are gritty, that will do whatever it takes to retrieve a puck and try and score a goal, so I thought again that was his best game with us, bar none.”
“That’s how I have to play,” said Beleskey, who now has two goals as a Bruin. “I’ve got to move my feet like that, get in on the forecheck and when I am, good things happen.”
It goes without saying the Bruins have rebounded significantly from their 0-3 start.
“We needed to grow as a team,” said Julien. “You don’t get much of a chance in the preseason because you have so many different guys in the lineup so we had to grow as a group and although we lost those first three games, I could see some good signs coming.”
“It was up to us to go on that road trip in Colorado and Phoenix and really show that, so I think it took off from there and right now, our guys are really feeling good about not only themselves, but who they play with. We’ve moved guys around and they don’t care, they just want to play and be part of this group.”
Julien moved around personnel throughout Saturday’s game, focusing on matching the Bruins’ experience with Tampa Bay’s experience. Kelly was on the ice with Beleskey and Hayes when Beleskey scored, and he only spent two shifts there.
For the third period, Julien mostly rolled out three lines, including Kelly with David Krejci and Loui Eriksson. Beleskey and Hayes were centered by Joonas Kemppainen, who made his return to the lineup after missing Friday’s game with an undisclosed injury. Connolly, Marchand and Patrice Bergeron stayed together as a line.
Ryan Spooner, David Pastrnak and Zac Rinaldo had limited minutes, especially in the third.
“Both teams there in that third were basically playing with three lines, but it was just more about trying to balance experience against experience to give us a better chance to win,” said Julien.
The Bruins now have two days without a game, before hosting the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night, and then heading out on a three-game road trip.
While they have one home win and five on the road to start the season, their strong play suggests that this trend will continue, whether they’re playing in the comforts of home or the comforts of the road.
“Now we’re used to each other, a couple of road trips together brings the team together and I think right now we’re playing a good system,” said Beleskey. “And we’re getting great goaltending.”
“There’s a lot of confidence in this team right now and we’re just playing a simple game, playing that North-South style — we’re getting pucks in, we’re winning battles, we’re being heavy and that’s going to be the identity of our team,” said Hayes. “Those first couple of games we were being cute and not so aggressive, and now we’re being quick in transition and we’re trying to keep it simple.”