Just two weeks later, after going 5-0-1, the Bruins find themselves not only in line for a postseason berth but tied for seventh place in the Eastern Conference with Washington.
“I think we believe in ourselves right now,” said center Patrice Bergeron following a 2-0 victory over Pittsburgh at Consol Energy Center on Saturday afternoon. “Since the trade deadline, I think it put a lot of guys at ease, kind of realizing that this is our team. The management — from up to Peter [Chiarelli] to Cam [Neely] and everyone down — they all believe in us, and we have to show them that we can do it.
“It’s about doing it every night. Right now, we all need to be leaders and step up and play big.”
On Saturday, facing a top-five team in the conference in the first game of a back-to-back, the Bruins did not expect their task to be easy. They expected a battle, even though the Penguins were without the services of Sidney Crosby — who was declared a scratch immediately before puck drop — and Evgeni Malkin, who missed the second and third periods after taking a hard hit from Chris Kelly along the boards in his first shift of the game.
It’s never easy at this time of year — no matter the opponent — which is perhaps what makes the Bruins’ recent run of success all the more remarkable.
Boston’s current five-game winning streak ties its longest of the season, and this time, they have done it without the services of David Krejci, who has been out since Feb. 20 with a partially torn MCL. In his absence, his linemates — teamed with Ryan Spooner — have carried the load, and it was no different on Saturday.
About halfway into the first period, on the first shift after a penalty kill, Julien sent Ryan Spooner, David Pastrnak and Milan Lucic onto the ice, and once again, he was rewarded. Pastrnak fed Lucic in the low slot, and Lucic wristed the puck past Penguins goaltender Thomas Greiss to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead for the 11th consecutive game.
“I think if you look at the last bunch of games, being able to get that first goal and establish the lead, it takes a lot of pressure off us,” Lucic said. “It allows us to go out there and play our game, and we’ve done a good job getting that first goal of the game, especially against a team like Pittsburgh that comes at you real hard and real strong, and tries to get that first one and build off that.
“Obviously, Tuukka [Rask] did a great job in the first five minutes there, weathering their storm and their push, and we were able to get that first one and play a good defensive game and get a big win here today.”
The goal extended Lucic’s point streak to four games, marking the continued resurgence of a player who struggled to put the puck in the back of the net during stretches of this season.
“It’s just not thinking about too, too much,” Lucic said. “[I’m] just trying to focus on kind of what my linemates are focusing on — just going out there, playing hard and having fun. Sometimes, you can overthink about how many goals and assists and points you want to end up with, and sometimes, that mindset gets you into trouble. You’re not doing the little things and the right things that get you the goals and assists and points.
“I just said to myself, forget about all that, and go out there and play, and do what you do, and hope that it can contribute to the team.”
The 11-game streak during which Boston has scored first marks the longest such streak for the Bruins since February 1990, when they scored first in 12 straight games.
“For us, I think it’s a lot easier to play obviously ahead, and not chasing,” said Rask, who finished the game with 30 saves and notched his third shutout of the year. “We’ve gotten some leads, but then we’ve struggled in some second periods lately, you know? And haven’t been really able to increase that lead the way we would like. Maybe that’s something we’ll have to be a little better at.”
Though captain Zdeno Chara capped off the scoring with an empty-netter with 38 seconds remaining, Lucic’s goal was all the offense the Bruins would need to get the job done, and it marked another sign of progress for a line featuring two rookies that has seemingly grown into one of the Bruins’ most potent offensive threats.
“I just think we’re having fun, and we’re doing a good job supporting one another,” Lucic said. “[We’re] three guys who are able to make plays. We seem to get in that right spot, and the puck is going in for us, and like I said, we’re just having fun and playing with that excitement, and it seems to be working for us so far.
“We’ve just got to make sure we can’t get cocky and get overconfident and stuff like that. We’ve just got to continue making plays and continue being strong on the puck and continue playing with the puck. That will keep giving us success.”
Saturday marked yet another strong defensive performance by the B’s, who have allowed just eight goals in their last five contests. The fact that the Penguins were without Malkin and Crosby did not diminish that effort, and Saturday was yet another stellar performance by Rask, who has posted a 0.976 save percentage in his last three starts.
“They were definitely missing two key, key parts of their offense, but they still have some great talent and some good skills and some hard workers on their team,” Bergeron said. “It was still a battle, it was a grind, but we stuck with it and played hard, and Tuukka made some huge saves for us.”
Now, as they prepare to face the Capitals in Washington on Sunday night, there is even more at stake than many people thought possible just a couple of weeks ago. With a win, the Bruins can leapfrog the Capitals in the conference standings.
“The funny part is, we didn’t even really realize that we were getting close to the teams above us because we were focusing on the teams catching up to us, and kind of separating ourselves from them,” Lucic said. “I think we’ve just got to keep taking care of business, and keep controlling our own destiny by winning hockey games.
“That will allow us to finish where we want to finish at the end of the year, when we look at the standings.”