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Bruins Staying the Course Amidst Adversity

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins

BOSTON - As the Bruins were set to host the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night at TD Garden, they were winners of three straight and four of their last five games.

But the wins didn't come easily.

The Black and Gold needed overtime to get the job done against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night, in a game where the team and their coach felt they had to fight through average puck movement on their part.

Two games before that, in Buffalo, the team fought with the same issues, but pulled out the win in extra time. Brad Marchand had both overtime winners.

After facing inconsistency to start the season and working to find their identity as a team, they've now been consistently finding ways to win - and that's a fine identity to have, especially when battling through injuries to Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, Torey Krug and Kevan Miller.

"Well, we're finding ways to win hockey games," President Cam Neely said on his weekly call-in with 98.5 The Sports Hub on Thursday afternoon. "We've got to kind of keep our head above water here. And the work ethic's there - it may not be pretty all the time, but we're finding ways to get points."

That quality has been part of the Spoked-B's MO for years. It was something they were missing earlier in the season.

"We’re trying to get back to it," said Reilly Smith. "It’s a tough start, and it seemed like last year, no matter any time we were in that situation, we kind of always came out [on top]."

"We’ve got to keep it going in the right direction, because it’s still so early in the season and things can go South pretty quickly. We have to do a better job playing a full 60 minutes and I don’t think [Florida] was our best effort."

"We showed a lot of character, just sticking with it and trying to find ways to get our game going and I appreciated that from our players," Head Coach Claude Julien had said following the Bruins' 2-1 OT win over Florida on Tuesday.

In the wake of the injuries, the Bruins have fallen back on their system. In simplifying their game, and being forced to pick up the slack without key players, they've found more results.

"You've got arguably your best offensive forward out, and your best defenseman out - those are big holes to fill," Chris Kelly acknowledged on Tuesday morning, though Krejci's status for Thursday night's game was still uncertain at the time. "But I think our guys have done a great job collectively as a group, filling that void."

"You need to stick to the system and trust the system," Kelly added. "You know, hockey's such a unique sport, such a team sport that you could have your best players out and if you've got a good group and a good system put in place, and the team's willing to buy in, the [personnel] losses aren't as noticeable."

In doing so, the Bruins played a much tighter game defensively amidst their three game winning streak. Their loss right before the win streak, 4-3 to the Minnesota Wild on October 28, was filled with a third period collapse that saw them allow three goals in the final 20 minutes.

Since then, they've settled into their game, focused on "protecting the house," and gained some confidence back in the process.

Tuukka Rask noticed a big difference in their play.

"I don't mind when we give up the odd two-on-one, and three-on-two because that’s what we practice for and we should be taking care of those - but we really tighten up that in front of the net and it helps us," said Rask.

Against Florida, the Bruins didn't always break the puck out cleanly or make quick tape-to-tape passes and that started a domino effect for their puck management all night, but they still focused on playing their team game, and playing tight around the net.

"Those are always tough games when you can’t get anything going there," said Rask. "But [against the Panthers] I liked it because we didn’t give up too many chances. We didn’t create a lot, but we still played a tight defense for the most part, blocked a lot of shots."

"And even though the breakout wasn’t as clean as we wanted, we stuck with it and went on as five-man units, and at the end of the day, we won. Those are really good things to see."

For the Bruins, puck management will be key if they want to keep stringing together wins.

"We’re a team that when we’re cohesive and we work well together on the forecheck, having layers, being at the right places, we turn pucks over on the breakouts where we should be," said Julien. "When we get those good first passes those things help us, too. It’s just about that. It’s about making good decisions, too."

"There are times in the game where we get caught on long shifts because we’ve got the long change and we think we still have some gas in our tank and that gas seems to evaporate when it’s time to backcheck, right? We just have to make sure we make some good decisions here."

"It’s about making some good decisions, being tuned in. Being tuned in for 60 minutes is what coaches are always looking for, right? Whether they get it or not is another thing, but you always try to push as much as you can to get the guys to stay focused for hopefully the whole game."

Dougie Hamilton and his teammates are on board with that mindset.

"It's a five-man unit, offensively and defensively," said Hamilton. "So you can't use rely on the D for everything defensively, you need the forwards to come back and backcheck hard, and it's the same thing for the forwards, it's not them all offensively - it's the D moving the puck and when we're not moving the puck well, they're struggling."

"So it's a five-man unit everywhere on the ice."

By focusing on that, the Bruins will continue grinding out results, whether they're 'pretty' wins or not.

"At the end of the night, you want to make sure that your team is getting better," Julien said. "And when [those injured] guys come back, you'd like to think its more of a bonus and makes your team that much better."

"We've just got to stay the course right now. Some nights are a little tougher than others still, but like I said [after Florida], we managed to find a way to win and I thought that showed great character on our part."

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