BostonBruins.com - There were many question marks posed as the Bruins began the 2012-13 campaign. Would Nathan Horton - out since January 22, 2012 with post-concussion symptoms - be at 100 percent? Would Milan Lucic be able to kick into high gear after not playing overseas during the work stoppage?
Adam McQuaid, who had surgery during the stoppage to remove a blood clot - would he be just as physical? And then, of course, Tuukka Rask assuming No. 1 goaltender status in place of Tim Thomas.
In one game - albeit a 4-3 overtime loss to the New York Rangers on Wednesday night - these four B's all showcased their strong play this season - a representation of not only the dispelled notions of rust, uncertainty or a lack of earnest, but also their ability to change the momentum of games when performing at their best.
B's Battle Back to Get Point vs Rangers
Despite the 4-3 OT loss to NYR, there were some bright spots after the slow start. WATCH NOW ›
With the Black & Gold down 2-1 to the Blueshirts in the second period, it was Milan Lucic who knotted the game at two goals apiece. With the B's generating a 4-on-2, Lucic planted himself in front of Henrik Lundqvist and would not leave until he backhanded home his third rebound.
"Nobody can move him, he’s a monster," said Horton following Wednesday's game on Lucic's big body in front. "He’s got great hands, especially against these guys, they don’t give you too much. You want to get the rebounds. You can’t move him, so it’s a big goal."
Beginning even in warm ups, No. 17 had been wearing his focused "mean face," as B's bench boss Claude Julien labels it. No signs of rust there.
(Following the first game of the season, a 3-1 win over NYR on January 19, Coach had assessed Milan's play, in lieu of all the talk surrounding how "in shape" the forward was coming in to training camp. "The microscope was on him for a long time because he didn’t play and people thought that maybe he wasn’t in the best of shape," said Julien. "There was a lot of question marks on him, but I thought he played a solid game and, not only did he score that goal from driving the net, but physically and everything else.")
Prior to Lucic's timely goal Wednesday night, Coach had talked to media before the Bruins left Ristuccia to board the plane for New York City. He spoke about the B's finding their identity again, both as a team and individually, saying that "Milan has certainly understood that his physical presence is a big part of our success and our image."
In addition to the "monster" in front, another key cog in Boston's makeup that has dispelled all question marks surrounding his recovery is Nathan Horton, who has been playing a monstrous game of his own.
With the B's facing a one-goal deficit against the Rangers near the end of the third period Wednesday night, it was Horton who tied it up to force overtime and help get the B's the eventual point.
"He’s been playing real good ever since he’s come back. It’s always tough - it’s been just under a year since he played his last game in Philly at the end of January," said Lucic on his linemate, who had not scored since a 4-1 win over New Jersey on January 19, 2012.
"To see him come back and play the way that he has these last two, three game is great. For myself, being his linemate, it’s great having him back. I have a lot of fun playing with him."
"He’s more determined now. He came back in this year in phenomenal shape, he’s a beast right now," said Brad Marchand on Horton's athleticism and strength on the puck. "You really have to credit him for that."
And a healthy Horton was just as pleased to find the back of the net after such a long, difficult wait.
"Definitely [happy]. Not that I was thinking too much about it, but obviously it’s nice. Anybody would say it’s nice to get it out of the way," he said.
Not long after Horton's tying goal, it was the other end of the rink that saw some remarkable saves shift the momentum of the game. Tuukka Rask had been making highlight reel stops on the Rangers' dangerous top line of Brad Richards, Rick Nash and Marian Gaborik all night (though Gaborik eventually got the best of him), including some jaw-dropping saves on the penalty kill.
"Tuukka’s been good for us. He made some big saves that helped us get at least one point. He’s been really good," Coach said following Wednesday's game. "If anybody had doubts about Tuukka, hopefully there’s erased by now, because he’s been solid in every game he’s played."
Big-time goals and momentous saves help shift momentum in games, but neither provide quite the amount of spark that's lit when one of the Big Bad Bruins drops the gloves and engages in a heated exchange - like a healthy Adam McQuaid did with the Rangers' Brian Boyle when the team was trailing 2-0.
There had been reports this past summer that McQuaid was projected to be back on the ice in February after his blood clot surgery, before the defenseman showed up healthy at training camp in mid-January, ready - and willing - to take contact.
"There’s a lot of things that our guys have done to show that we’re still a team, we’re going to stick together," said Coach Julien on McQuaid's bout, which was started immediately by the defenseman after Boyle fired a shot after the whistle that hit No. 54's leg.
"Obviously getting a goal gives you a little momentum, but what Adam did, guys really get fired by having plays like that," said Horton.
"We have such great guys on our team, tough guys and guys that stick up for each other, guys that make everyone better. A play like McQuaid’s picks everyone up like it did."