One month later, it is safe to say the Bruins have lived up to that challenge.
“I think that what’s given us success in this month is that we’re focusing on our game more than the other team’s game,” Lucic said on Saturday night, in the final few hours of January 2015. “All in all, I think the focus is on what we need to do, in our game and our system, in order to get success.
“You stick to your game plan and you play your game plan the way it should be played, it’ll give you success.”
During the month of January, the Bruins suffered just a single regulation loss. They climbed from four games over .500 to 11. They have gone from the outside of the playoff picture to sixth place in the Eastern Conference. They have taken down the likes of Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, the New York Rangers and the New York Islanders.
And on Saturday night, the month culminated with a 3-1 win over the reigning Stanley Cup champion L.A. Kings.
“When it takes an empty-net goal to seal the deal, and when you’ve got a tie game with about seven minutes left, it gives you a pretty good indication of what it was all about,” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. “Two big, strong teams – I think we battled for every inch of the ice we had to get tonight, and we had to earn it.
“It was nice to see our team compete for that whole 60 minutes and stay on top of their game. These are the kind of games I think everybody gets up for, including coaches. Those are fun games to coach, they’re fun games to play in, and I’m sure the fans enjoyed watching it as well.”
Saturday night’s game was expected to be a goaltenders’ duel. It was expected to be a heavy, physical game without a lot of offensive fireworks, and it lived up to that billing. But the Bruins began to generate more chances at the end of the first period, and it culminated in a near-goal by Brad Marchand as time expired, but alas, his snipe crossed the goal line just after the clock struck 0.
At the end of the second, though, he would notch one that did count.
At the end of a shift, Marchand battled for the puck at the half wall and stayed on the ice after linemates Patrice Bergeron and Loui Eriksson had already come off. Chara came up with the puck at the corner and went back up the wall to Marchand, who walked into the left circle and wristed in a shot that Jonathan Quick never saw, thanks to a screen by Gregory Campbell.
The goal gave the B’s a 1-0 lead with 2:40 left in the frame.
“Any time you’re in a battle, and it ends up in a goal, you always feel good about yourself and about your teammates,” Marchand said. “You know you did your job, so it was nice that we all put in the work, and it ended up in a goal.”
The Kings fought back, though, notching the game-tying goal with seven minutes remaining in regulation. Tuukka Rask lost his shutout when Jordan Nolan ripped a shot from the left-side boards and it hit the crossbar, then landed in the net behind Rask.
From there, it was a new game, and once again, the Bruins proved to be up for the challenge ahead of them.
“I think when you’re not winning and you see those kinds of goals go in, it is discouraging and you can feel it — but when [the Kings] scored that goal and I looked up at the clock and there were seven minutes left, all I could hear from the guys was, ‘Let’s go get it back, let’s not waste any time here,’” Julien said. “There was some determination — and it paid off.”
About a minute and a half after Nolan’s equalizer, the Bruins roared back. Carl Soderberg put the puck on net from the offensive blue line, and Chris Kelly — screening in front — deflected it in, where the puck hit the back bar of the goal and popped right up.
There was no immediate goal horn. There was no red light flashing behind the net. But after the referees reviewed the play, they determined that it was a good goal, and the Bruins had regained their lead with 5:24 left in regulation.
“There’s areas in our game that we need to build on; if you look at the teams in front of us, they keep winning, so we have no choice but to continue to play well and try to get points to try to catch them, or at least keep up with them,” Kelly said. “Every point is big for us. I know it’s the end of January; it’s not really been like that in the past, when you’re looking at the standings where every point is huge. But we kind of put ourselves in that situation early on in the season.
“It’s good to see us battling to get points.”
Marchand capped off the scoring with an empty-netter with 16.7 seconds remaining.
Perhaps the largest factor in the Bruins’ successful month of January showed up to play again on Saturday. Rask, two days after facing a season-high 45 shots in a win over the Islanders, was stellar once again, stopping 28 of 29 shots.
“He definitely was our best player in January,” Lucic said. “Last game, and here tonight, he definitely stepped his game up to the level that he’s capable of playing at. So he’s a huge part of our team — probably the most important part of our team, with his ability and his competitiveness. We’re grateful to have a guy like that between the pipes.”
Frequently in the last few weeks, the Bruins’ resilience has been tested. They have fallen behind early in games and they have fought back to win. They have gone ahead early, only to see leads evaporate, but then they have come back to claim the victory.
Saturday marked another test of their resilience, and once again, the Bruins withstood that test.
So as Rask stood in front of his stall after the game, wearing his Patriots-issued “Do Your Job” tuque, he could confidently say that he, and all of his teammates, had done theirs.
“It’s been happening a few games now, where we get scored on in a tight game and we just don’t change a thing,” Rask said. “We keep going, and today was a great example. Early in the year, we get scored on and then it took us five, 10 minutes to get back in the game.
“Now, it’s different, so that’s good. Like old times.”
As they have proven over the last month or so, there are few challenges the Bruins aren’t up to facing head-on.
“We knew how important this month was to get ourselves back into the picture, and we did just that,” Lucic said. “Winning eight out of 12 games and getting much-needed points and moving up the standings — it’s a great January, and we’re happy [with] the way that we played, and the mindset has to be that we need to carry this on to February.
“We’ve got to bring our best night in, night out, and play our best when it matters the most.”