Combined with the impending trade deadline coming up on March 2, there was a cloud hanging over the Coyotes heading into this one, whether they wanted it there or not.
"I haven’t really - to be honest with you - I haven’t looked at their record of eight straight losses more than I’ve looked at ours, saying this is an important game, as important as [Saturday's] was to win," Head Coach Claude Julien had said an hour before puck drop.
"We really have been taking a focus on our team, not just who we play, but how well we play. That’s the main thing right now."
The Bruins came out of a fairly stress-free night with a 4-1 win over Arizona and two straight wins for the first time in a month, having earned a 3-2 overtime win on Friday night in New Jersey.
Boston needed to take care of business, and they made it easy on themselves, for once, to push for the full 60 minutes, in all three zones.
Milan Lucic put the Bruins on the board just 2:40 in, taking advantage of a harmless David Pastrnak dump-in that jumped over goalie Mike Smith's stick. Lucic banked the puck off of Smith's skate and in for his 13th of the season.
"One thing that we say often is that we really try to prepare ourselves right now," said Julien. "I said to the guys before the game, ‘It’s not who we play, it’s how we play that matters right now, from here until the end,’ and that’s the approach we have to take."
"We can’t afford to not be prepared for games like this just because of their record right now or what they’ve been going through. I think it’s important if we want to be in those playoff spots that we are a team that’s ready to play on a nightly basis, and we’ve got to gain as many points as we can. So I think there’s a lot of reasons for us not to take these kind of situations lightly, and I think our guys responded well."
The Bruins' win put them four points back the Florida Panthers, who picked up a win over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday. The Black and Gold are still in the second Wild Card spot for a playoff position.
They have now won three of their past four games and have felt their game trending in the right direction since St. Louis, despite the lopsided result there. They gave themselves a boost at the end of that tough road trip with their 6-2 win in Chicago.
"We had a couple meetings on that road trip because things weren’t going well. We were just trying to get back to playing better hockey, even if the results weren’t there," said Reilly Smith. "It seems like that’s kind of gotten us out of that rut."
The Bruins have gotten themselves back to playing fairly well in all three zones, forechecking hard, making quick transitions up ice and supporting each other.
"It’s becoming the second nature - we always talk about it…I was watching the game last night on TV and you can really see the difference when we move the puck D-to-D and up and have a quick transition game and that’s what’s been lacking lot of times," said Tuukka Rask, who was back between the pipes on Saturday for the win, making 31 saves, after missing Friday's game with illness.
"It wasn’t the hardest game, obviously you only have 30 hours to get all your energy, and fluids back and you don’t feel 100 percent out there but, then again, when you don’t feel like that, you just try to focus on the right things," said Rask. "I felt like I didn’t do anything extra out there today I was just trying to stay and be in the right position."
In goal for 19 of the Bruins' past 20 games, he's seen the adjustments in the team's play.
"We're just fore-checking, we're back checking, closing on them quickly and all the little things that matter, we're doing. Its tough, but we know that we have to keep doing it," said Rask.
He nearly earned a shutout before Martin Erat picked a Shane Doan shot out of the air and deflected it through the five-hole midway through the third.
At that point, though, the Bruins had already built themselves a 4-0 lead.
Brad Marchand put home a slick setup from Reilly Smith and Patrice Bergeron to make it 2-0 in the first period, and Bergeron followed that up early in the second to tie Marchand for the team lead with 18 goals on the season.
With David Krejci sidelined for the past four games, and for at least four to six weeks, Bergeron has been relied upon more, which is saying a lot, given how much Julien relies on him throughout the entire season. As always, he has stepped up.
With a goal and assist on Saturday, Bergeron gave himself nine points in his past nine games with four goals and five assists.
"Patrice is always a great player. I mean we always talk about him, because of what he brings – he brings the same effort night in and night out," said Julien. "He brings the same commitment to the game and the game plan night in and night out. So that’s what makes him such a good player."
"At the same time, he steps up, like you said, in the absence of David Krejci by being the guy that you really lean on from start to finish."
"But having said that, you have to give credit to a guy like [Ryan] Spooner who’s come in and stepped in and made a difference too in our lineup as far as being able to bring some offense, producing, that kind of stuff has been refreshing, because when you lose a guy like David Krejci, you lose a good portion of your offense as well."
The trio of Spooner, David Pastrnak and Lucic has provided spark, especially in the past two games, even if the defensive awareness isn't as strong.
"By playing together more and more, it seems like they’re finding each other. I know they talk a lot on the bench – they get back and they talk about situations, so to me, basically it should be getting better all the time if they continue to take that approach," said Julien.
"I think has really done a good job of stepping in with two young guys and kind of being the father figure, if you want to put it that way, and making sure that these guys feel comfortable out there and capable of playing their game."
In addition to Spooner and Pastrnak, a young player like Brian Ferlin (who played in his fifth NHL game on Saturday) has helped form a fourth line with Chris Kelly and Jordan Caron that is forechecking hard and buzzing every shift.
"When young guys come into the lineup, you hope that they bring some sort of excitement and obviously young legs, skating legs and stuff like that," said Lucic. "I think all three of them have been good for us."
Zdeno Chara and his booming one-timer on the power play gave the Bruins 4-0 insurance in the second period of the eventual 4-1 win. The Captain was one of five Bruins with a two-point night. He's liked the way the team's game has been trending for a while.
"We put a lot of emphasis on finishing really strong, despite how we started this month," said Chara. "The way we started, I thought we battled back pretty hard to be at that .500 level. Now we have to just continue to play like we did last four or five games."
"Now we have something close to 20 games, and we know where we’re at. It’s going to be a fight until the end. A lot of teams are going to be fighting for those last spots and we've just got to continue to play like we have the last four or five games."
"Our game is going in the right direction," echoed Lucic. "And I think that’s what we need to keep our focus on - it's our compete level and our commitment to playing the game plan that will keep giving us success."
The Bruins have a four-day layoff before hosting the Calgary Flames on Thursday night at TD Garden.
By that point, Monday's trade deadline will have passed.
"You try to put all that in the back of your head, you try not to think about it too much just because it’s stuff you can’t control," said Smith. "You want to stick together with the group that you’re with, but things happen and things are out of your control."
"I think we did a good job playing for each other in the last five or six games and try to keep this squad together."