But that being said, Sunday’s dominating 6-2 win over Chicago was the right way to end it.
“Obviously, we struggled during this road trip, but it was a good, convincing win,” said Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli, addressing the media after Sunday’s game. “Again, it's not up to where we should have been on the overall road trip, but if you look back to the last period of the Edmonton game [on Feb. 18], I think our legs and hands are coming around. I liked the way we skated with the puck in the St. Louis game [on Feb. 20], and [in Chicago], too — so some promising signs.”
The Bruins may have only earned four points of a possible 10 during the road trip, but during the course of the last 11 days, they progressed. They started to build in the right direction. As Claude Julien and many of the players have contended, particularly in Friday’s loss to St. Louis — when they held the Blues to a mere 15 shots — they were doing some good things.
On Sunday, all of the good things they were doing built toward a crescendo, and in the end, they had a convincing victory over one of the Western Conference’s best teams to show for it.
“I know that the score last game was really disappointing, yet I felt that our team had worked hard, played well, and besides not scoring — and the other way around, the kind of goals that went in — makes a big difference in the psyche,” said Head Coach Claude Julien. “But you had 15 shots only allowed against St. Louis. You could see things stating to come around, and [Sunday] was about being confident and showing your confidence.
“I thought we had a good first, but then, near the end, our emotions started getting the better of us again, and we had to settle our team down. A couple of penalties there at the beginning, but our penalty kill did a great job, and our 5-on-5, I thought we did a great job.”
Obviously, though, the Bruins would be remiss to say they are out of the woods. They are far from it, actually: Both Florida and now Philadelphia are lurking close behind in the standings and are making a push for the eighth and final spot in the postseason.
But on Sunday, the Bruins did their job and put a marginal bit of distance between themselves and their competition.
“As I said, I've seen some promising signs in the last little bit, and again, we still have to be better, but that character piece is always good to see,” Chiarelli said. “And we blocked a lot of shots, and so there's some good things out there.”
As Julien alluded to, Boston’s psyche has been tested over the last week and a half. Things weren’t going their way, and they still had to come to the rink every day ready to work, ready to find solutions, ready to build on the positives that were perhaps sometimes difficult to see. They had to fight mental fatigue as well as physical fatigue.
Sunday’s win clearly gave that collective team psyche a boost — though Chiarelli insisted that he, and the team, must be cautious to see Sunday for what it was: one win.
“You have to be careful as a manager to not overreact, one way or the other — when you're losing, but see promising signs, or you're winning, but don't see promising signs, or you're winning and you see promising signs,” Chiarelli said. “So [a win] just gives you maybe not a completely different outlook. But there's still issues with this team that we have to work through if we want to make the playoffs and have a good run.
“So a win like this is good for the team, good for the confidence — I mean, you see a guy like [Reilly Smith], he was flying our there — and once the confidence gets going, you see [Zdeno Chara], he's skating a lot better. I mean, you just get the confidence going, and things change. So you know, it doesn't give you a different outlook, but it maybe tempers you a bit.”
Confidence has been a bit transient for this team this season. Sometimes, it has been there in droves; sometimes, it seems to be completely absent. During this road trip, when things weren’t going well, the Bruins held tight to whatever semblance of confidence they could. On Sunday, when the bounces started to go their way, it came back full force, and it was obvious.
The Bruins didn’t necessarily change the way they played. They stuck with what worked, they kept pushing and they got rewarded. Finally.
“I think that you've got to create your own confidence and believe in yourself,” Chara said. “It's not always easy; it's challenging. It’s a long season. You've just got to stick with it and keep pushing. Eventually, everything's going to go back to the way it should be.
“For a lot of guys [on Sunday], it was a great example that we couldn't really get anything going on the whole road trip — it was kind of a little bit frustrating, a little bit disappointing — but [Sunday] was just a great example that we played the same way as we did against other teams on this road trip, and obviously just a way better result. Moe goals for, and a lot less against.”
Not everyone returned from the 11-day road trip unscathed. Defenseman Kevan Miller went down with a dislocated right shoulder during a 4-3 overtime loss to Calgary on Feb. 17. Earlier in the season, he missed 12 games after dislocating the same shoulder, and on Saturday, the Bruins announced that he would undergo season-ending surgery.
Additionally, center David Krejci suffered an undisclosed injury during the second period of Friday night’s loss to St. Louis. He did not return to the game and did not play on Sunday against the Blackhawks. Julien said Krejci would be evaluated by the team’s doctors once he returned to Boston.
The latest injuries have caused even more speculation that perhaps a trade could be looming, but Chiarelli said on Sunday that he will continue to be patient, as he has been all season.
“There's a number of trades I could have made,” he said. “But as a manager, you look to what's for the betterment of the organization — short-term, medium-term and long-term — and you've got to weigh the balance. Probably every other manager could say that, too, but I'm not going to make a costly trade for the sake of making a trade.”
Chiarelli still expects the team, as it is currently constructed, to continue pushing for a playoff spot, but that being said, he does expect better performances than he saw over the last five games.
“We're expected to perform — as a team, as a coaching staff, as a management staff — and that's the reality of it,” he said. “So if we don't succeed — if we don't perform as the level that's expected to us — then as has been reported, there will be changes.
“I’m going to always work hard and try and improve the team, and we've got some good pieces, so hopefully we'll get better, and meet expectations.”
Young Guns Shining
The injuries, of course, created opportunities for a couple of young Providence mainstays. First-year pro Brian Ferlin received his first NHL recall on Feb. 19 and played on the fourth line alongside Gregory Campbell and Jordan Caron on Friday and on Sunday.
Ryan Spooner, who began the 2014-15 season on Boston’s roster, was recalled on Saturday and replaced Krejci in the lineup, centering Milan Lucic and David Pastrnak.
“Brian had a slow start in Providence — just getting used to the pro game, and come middle of January, he was really starting to turn the corner,” Chiarelli said. “Ryan Spooner's had a strong last few weekends. They both bring some enthusiasm, some speed. Brian Ferlin had eight hits [on Sunday]; he's finishing his checks and had a couple of good chances, made the real nice play — cycle play, puck protection play — on [Gregory Campbell’s] goal.
“Spoons made some good plays, and he got his nose dirty in the areas where we've always told him to, and transported the puck with speed. So yeah, good to see those things.”
Julien said that Ferlin’s comfort level — even after playing in just two NHL games — is obviously growing, and his work with the fourth line, particularly on Sunday, has been encouraging.
“They were doing well,” Julien said. “I could see Brian Ferlin getting more comfortable every game and getting strong along the walls — a smart player. And Jordy's just working hard — I know he's paid his dues time over and over again, but he's come in there and taken advantage of the opportunity, so that was good.”
The Bruins did not practice on Monday and will return to the ice on Tuesday morning in preparation for a visit from the Canucks.