Heading into Friday night, they were coming off two losses — one in regulation, one in overtime — against two of the toughest teams in the Eastern Conference.
They knew, therefore, that on Friday against Winnipeg, they desperately needed to get off to a good start and garner two points before they hit the road.
“We talked a lot about it,” said defenseman Dougie Hamilton. “For a while there, it was pretty frustrating, and the coaches definitely weren't too happy with us. We really didn't show up.”
So when regulation expired and the Bruins found themselves in the same position they were in just a few days ago against Pittsburgh, they knew they couldn’t let the same story rewrite itself. This time, they would claim two points instead of one.
In the end, it was Hamilton who sent the Bruins home with a win on Friday night, taking a feed from Carl Soderberg and streaking into the slot before beating Michael Hutchinson top shelf to seal the 2-1 win.
“There was a play before that where I probably could have gotten the puck, too, and I didn't call for it,” Hamilton said. “I made sure to call for it on that one. I knew my man was changing, and Carl made a great pass, and I think [it was] just a hard knuckle puck.
“Obviously, it felt pretty good. I don't know if I ever scored an overtime goal before, so a pretty — pretty good feeling, and a pretty good feeling to get the win after the start that we had.”
Hutchinson certainly didn’t make Boston’s job easy on Friday night. He was unbeatable through the first 43 minutes and five seconds of the game and finished with 36 saves on 38 shots.
The 24-year-old netminder, who was selected by the Bruins in the third round of the 2008 draft, impressed his former club.
“He’s a good goalie,” said B’s backstop Tuukka task. “I really didn’t see a lot of him when he was in our organization, but guys are saying he’s a pretty good goalie. He finally found a place and he’s been taking advantage of that, so I’m happy for him.”
In the end, though, it was Rask who stole the show. After allowing the first goal of the game on a power play to Dustin Byfuglien with just under four minutes remaining in the first period, Rask was perfect. He helped to thwart the Jets on four breakaways. He was impenetrable on Boston’s final three penalty kills, including a four-minute penalty kill after Brad Marchand was issued a high-sticking double-minor with 3:30 left in the game.
“Tuukka’s one of the best goalies, if not the best goalie, in the league,” said forward Reilly Smith. “Sometimes we rely on him too much, but he does a good job handling the pressure that’s put on him.”
After the game, the Bruins put simply: Without Rask, they would not be heading off on the road with those all-important two points.
“He’s been good,” Julien said. “But you know what? You need that goaltender to be that good when you’re in the situation that you’re in. He’s expected to be that good, and he’s responding well.”
The way Rask sees it, he simply did his job. He kept the puck out of the net because if he didn’t, Hutchinson certainly would.
“It’s one of those games,” he said. “It’s a one-goal game, and every save matters at that point. We’re down by one, so my main focus is just hoping that we’re going to get that goal, and if we don’t, I’m just going to try to shut the door and keep it tight.
“I’m not matching the other goalie. I’m just trying to make a save and keep it tight, and a lot of times, it is the other goalie [that] makes a save and you know you have to make one because the opportunities are going to come. He played a great game.”
After the Bruins allowed the first goal of the game, they shored up defensively and, at the other end, drove the net and got their chances. Soderberg almost evened the score in the second period on a wraparound attempt that met the post instead of the back of the net. Later in the period, Milan Lucic found a streaking Brad Marchand in the slot, but Hutchinson stopped him.
In the next period, though, Lucic would get the job done.
Just over three minutes into the frame, Lucic — playing on a line with Soderberg and Loui Eriksson — cut up the middle and dished to Soderberg on the left. As Lucic crashed the net, Soderberg put the puck right in front, and Lucic tipped it past Hutchinson for the equalizer.
Soderberg finished the night with two assists.
“We worked on that this week – going D-to-D and up, and that’s what we did,” Soderberg said. “Looch skated to the middle and left the puck for me, and I drove the net. So that’s how we scored.”
Given the rampant injuries the Bruins have dealt with over the last several weeks — particularly to Lucic’s longtime linemate, David Krejci — the chemistry that is beginning to develop between the bruising winger and his new center is an undeniable positive.
“It’s been good because it gives us another option when we need it, and when we’re going to need it down the road,” Julien said. “So it’s nice to know that if at some point I want to move certain guys around, he could be a good fit on that line.
“Certainly, it’s been, again a good fit for him — a big centerman who skates and has good chemistry with his right winger... He keeps scoring goals driving the net, so I hope he continues to do that because it’s been important goals for us these last couple of games.”
Playing in his second career NHL game, David Pastrnak led the Bruins in shots, landing seven on net and helping to manufacture a series of opportunities for linemates Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
“They are great hockey players, so I enjoyed it,” Pastrnak said. “But it was just two games, you know? So yeah it was good. I enjoyed it and I tried to do my best.”
Julien was impressed with what he saw from Pastrnak throughout the first month-plus of the season in Providence, and he has been impressed with what he has seen from the 18-year-old rookie during his short stint in Boston as well.
“He’s got speed, he’s got energy, he makes plays,” Julien said. “I mean, he was throwing pucks at the net – we talk about throwing pucks at the net. [He] had some good chances, but also he made some plays.
“Defensively, I haven’t seen him be a real huge liability, so he’s done a good job of improving himself. The coaches have done a great job in Providence of helping him grow in that area, and that’s why I’m able to use him from start to finish. So I like the dynamic of his game, and he’s an exciting player to watch.”
An obviously difficult task awaits the Bruins on the West Coast. In the Ducks, Kings, Sharks and Coyotes, they will face some of the top competition the Western Conference has to offer.
But at this stage, the Bruins aren’t intimidated by a challenge. They certainly aren’t scared of adversity. They have proven to be able to play the kind of hard-nosed, grind-it-out hockey it takes to win games against tough teams.
Moving forward, though, the Bruins understand that they can’t wait until the third period to get the engines running at full speed. They need more — and they need it for a full 60 minutes.
“I don’t think we expect to go out there and dominate a game from start to finish with our lineup right now,” Julien said. “It is what it is, and we understand that we have to grind it out. What we have to understand is that if we’re going to grind it out, we have to be ready from the get go because it’s tough enough as it is.
“You play with fire when you have a team the way we have right now, with a lot of guys filling in for other guys, [thinking] that we can just play a period and win a hockey game here — so that’s where the issue is. We need to be better and understand that we have to play closer to a 60-minute game than we did tonight.”