They have talked ad naseum about desperation, about channeling frustration into positive energy, about treating every game from here on out like it’s Game 7.
In their last game, the Bruins were almost there. They almost got the result they wanted, only to lose it with less than a minute remaining.
On Saturday, though — against a team that entered the contest toting the NHL’s best record — all of the pieces finally came together, and the Bruins earned a 4-2 win over the Rangers at TD Garden.
“Sometimes, there’s natural ups and downs of a season,” Krug said. “Things aren’t always going to go your way, and for whatever reason, it seems like more times than not, it didn’t go our way, but that’s for someone who’s making excuses.
“This group in here isn’t going to sit around and sulk about what’s happened so far over 75 games. We’re going to go out here and finish the right way. I think we have seven or eight games left. We’re going to do it the right way. It’s just about making sure we take care of our game moving forward.”
Facing the Rangers, the Bruins knew they would have to have their skating legs going early. They knew that their five-on-five offensive struggles simply had to be fixed if they wanted a shot at putting the Rangers — who boast 24 road wins, the best mark in the NHL — on their heels. They knew that after several games in which they had failed to capitalize on abundant chances, their net-front presence had to be the best it has ever been.
Boston took care of all of those areas of concern bright and early. Just 1:39 into the first period, Milan Lucic put the B’s up 1-0 when the puck deflected off his skate and past Henrik Lundqvist, making his first start in net since sustaining a neck injury on Feb. 2. Though the play was originally ruled no-goal by the on-ice officials, the call was reversed and left Boston with a much-needed early lead.
“It happened so fast, and I know I tried to stop the puck with my foot and didn’t try to kick it,” Lucic said. “Thankfully, the call went our way and right now, we’ll take anything we get. Obviously, the play had to get reviewed in Toronto, and when they overturn a call like that, you know they are making a good call. So it’s just one of those plays that happened so quick, and I didn’t know if it was a goal or not, but thankfully, it went in.”
Lucic would double that about eight minutes later. Ryan Spooner took the puck up the middle of the ice and passed ahead to Krug, who had joined the rush. Krug dished to the left circle to Lucic before crashing the net, and Lucic’s blast beat Lundqvist blocker-side before he even saw it.
“Against certain teams, I think the opportunities are there more; this time, it was just a matter of capitalizing on it,” Krug said. “Sometimes those things don’t get noticed when the puck’s not going to the back of the net. It’s nice this time that it ended up a positive for our team.
“Certain matchups, the opportunities are there more. They’re a fast team, they like to move in transition and when you match it the other way, it creates opportunities to jump in the rush.”
With just over five minutes remaining in the frame, Carl Soderberg gave the Bruins their first three-goal first-period lead of the season when he pounced on a turnover by Rangers defenseman Matt Hunwick at center ice, controlled the puck, took it right down the middle and drew a slash but still managed to finish the play, getting Lundqvist to bite blocker-side again.
The goal was Soderberg’s second in his last 29 games, and it marked Boston’s third 5-on-5 goal in 15 minutes of ice time after they were unable to tally a single full-strength goal against Anaheim two nights earlier.
“We talked about it yesterday, and we talked about it again before the game today, that we need to get a better nose for the net,” said Head Coach Claude Julien. “We need better net-front presence, we need to stay there, we need to find those loose pucks, we need to drive to that area to score goals, especially five-on-five. It was a lot better today and allowed us to score some early goals, here.
“Even Looch’s second goal — you’ve got a middle drive there that opens a lane for him, and those are the things that you need. Going to the net makes it hard on the opposing teams, and we need a little bit more of that. If we can continue to do that, we’ll score some goals.”
Though the Bruins built a healthy shot advantage through the first half of the period, they needed Tuukka Rask to come up big as the frame came to a close, particularly with about 2 1/2 minutes remaining. Rask had to cut across the crease to stop New York’s Jesper Fast — who had pounced on a rebound in front — from burying an open net.
Then, things got interesting.
When the Bruins took the ice for the second period, it was Rask who posted up between the pipes. But just 10 seconds into the frame, Rask skated off to the tunnel, offering a brief explanation to his teammates, his coach and to backup goalie Niklas Svedberg.
After the game, Svedberg said he had no idea, even as he came down the tunnel for the second period, that he might be called upon.
“It’s all about trying to stay calm and focus on your game and get into the game as fast as possible,” Svedberg said. “The guys helped me out a lot in the beginning, gave me some time to work myself into the game, and I thought after that, we played a solid game throughout, and a I felt good, too, so good win for us.”
After the game, Head Coach Claude Julien attributed Rask’s exit to a possible case of dehydration.
“We just found out at the beginning of the second — he went in there, and when he came off, that’s why I went to him said, ‘Are you still having those symptoms?’” Julien said. “He said yeah, so I said, ‘Well, let’s get you out of here and put Sveddy in — who did a good job, by the way.”
Julien added that Rask will travel with the team as it heads to Carolina for tomorrow night’s game, and that Rask will be available to start.
Six minutes after Svedberg’s unexpected entrance, Reilly Smith gave him, and the rest of his teammates, some additional insurance with his first goal in 14 games. At the conclusion of an impressive shift, Smith started the rush with a pass to Krug, who took the puck to the net before passing to Eriksson on the left side. Eriksson couldn’t quite get a handle on the puck and Lundqvist stopped his bid, sending the puck right out in front for Smith to bury.
The Rangers got on the board with 3:11 left in the period, when Rick Nash took a feed off the rush from Chris Kreider and Svedberg couldn’t get a leg out to stop his backhander.
The goal marked Nash’s 40th of the season, but it was all Svedberg (16 saves on 18 shots) would allow until Hunwick struck with 23 ticks remaining on the clock, seconds after Goaltending Coach Bob Essensa appeared on the bench, dressed as the backup goalie.
“It’s never easy to come into the game like that, especially kind of unplanned,” defenseman Zdeno Chara said of Svedberg. “But he was ready. He was ready to play and step up. That’s what he did — he made some big saves. Obviously a great win for him.”
The Bruins know their work is not yet done. With the win, they pull two points ahead of the Senators for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, but the Senators — who technically have two games in hand — have the opportunity to erase that deficit when play the Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
As the Bruins have contended all along, though, they aren’t worried about what the Senators are or aren’t doing. After notching what was perhaps their most critical win of the season, they have simply moved on to the next task, which awaits them in Carolina at 5 p.m. on Sunday.
“If we were going to get ourselves in the position that we wanted to be in, [we had to take] that frustration out on the game and kind of just stay the course for 60 minutes and play the right way,” Lucic said. “Eventually, things were going to start going your way. We want to do everything we can to continue eliminating all the frustration out of our game and moving forward.
“We can get frustrated, but we’ve got to stay the course, no matter what the score is or anything like that. Whether we’re up or down, we’ve got to play the same way all the time, so that’s going to be one of the important things we’re going to need to carry over into tomorrow’s game.”
But the Bruins can head to Carolina with a renewed confidence. They will go into the second leg of this back-to-back knowing that — with seven games remaining on the docket — they do have what it takes, when the pressure is at its highest and their backs are truly against the wall.
“I think if we play the right way, that’s what you see,” Krug said. “Our system is a positive thing for this team, and when we’re playing the right way, there are layers, and guys are where they’re supposed to be, and everybody knows where everyone is.
“We’re forced to play good hockey right now, so it’s nice to get a result, for sure. We’ve got to bottle this up and use it tomorrow.”