They were close a couple of times. They have had leads during this young season, leads that looked insurmountable. They have come from behind but have been unable to finish the job.
On Friday night, though, in their first-ever game at the Barclays Center, they got it done.
Boston got off to a slow start but mounted a second-half comeback, scoring four unanswered goals in the final two frames to defeat New York 5-3 on Friday night.
“It’s good because it just shows that if we stick to the system and we continue to play the way that we want to, then we can come back from different scores within the game,” said defenseman Torey Krug. “If we just stick to it, it just proves that our system works.”
The Bruins knew it was important to set the tone early in this game, as the Islanders came in riding a four-game win streak. So they did just that: They came out firing.
Brett Connolly gave Boston a 1-0 lead midway through the first period, when he picked up the puck in the low slot, lifted it and fired it at the back of the net, gloveside.
It marked Connolly’s second goal in as many games, both of which he has spent on a line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron.
“I thought that playing with Marchy and Bergy has been good the last two games,” Connolly said. “I thought we were good tonight again. Those are two guys that hunt pucks very well. They give me very good opportunities to score, and tonight, they did again.”
Unfortunately, the good vibes didn’t last long. Later in the period, New York came back with two goals of its own in the span of about 80 seconds. With Marchand in the box for hooking, Loui Eriksson got a perfect shorthanded opportunity, but his backhander was turned away by Isles goalie Jaroslav Halak.
In transition, John Tavares made a bid from the right circle, and his rebound bounced out to the left side and hit Josh Bailey’s tape. The next second, it was in the net.
About a minute later, as Adam McQuaid and Matt Martin dropped the gloves in the right circle, the opportunistic Casey Cizikas took advantage of the chaos and beat Gustavsson to make it 2-1 Islanders.
But then, at the start of the next period, the Bruins woke up.
“I think for us as a team, it was a change in mentality,” Krug said. “They were winning a lot of races in the first, and we gave them a lot of time and space to gain speed through the neutral zone and get in on the forecheck. We came out in the second and changed our mentality and made sure we were the harder working team, and it worked for us.”
Joonas Kemppainen started the turnaround with 3:47 left in the period. The 27-year-old Finnish rookie caused a turnover inside the offensive blueline, threw the puck toward the middle for Ryan Spooner and was there waiting right in front to pick up Spooner’s rebound. He put it home to tie the game, earning his first NHL goal.
Kemppainen, who played professionally for the last nine seasons in Finland, impressed Boston’s coaching staff and management during his first NHL training camp, and over the course of his first month in the league, he has proven why they were right to take a chance on him.
“I think it was just a matter of him adjusting to North American hockey,” Julien said. “I think right from the get go, I think we saw a real good hockey sense that this guy has. He’s a smart player, he’s a strong player, and it’s his first time in North America. Tonight was, I think, a step forward for him, and feeling more comfortable, and adjusting.
“Definitely, that first goal makes you feel a lot better, and definitely more confident.”
The goal validated some second-half line changes by Julien, who moved Spooner down to play the wing on the fourth line, then shifted Chris Kelly to play center on the third line and moved Zac Rinaldo up to his left wing.
“That’s one of our strengths of our team,” Kelly said. “You have a lot of guys that can play a lot of different positions, and depending on the game and the time of the game and every situation, Claude was able to insert guys in and out at different positions, different line combinations. So that’s obviously a strength of our team, and it showed tonight.”
About two minutes after Kemppainen’s strike, David Pastrnak gave the Bruins the lead, capitalizing on a long stretch of sustained zone time by Boston. After Eriksson won a battle down low behind New York’s net, he sent the puck out in front for Pastrnak in the high slot. A patient Pastrnak settled the puck then snapped it past Halak for the 3-2 lead.
“We started to play a little harder — finish our checks and get more pucks deep, and get it deep and get it back for us,” Pastrnak said. “We got some opportunities, which we finished up with a goal.”
It was a strong period at both end of the ice for the Bruins, who held New York to a mere five shots in the frame.
“I thought our first period was one of those periods where we didn’t play hard enough in the D zone, and as a result of that, they managed to get a couple of goals on us,” Julien said. “But once we started playing harder and managed the puck better, we played less time in our own end, and obviously I thought — especially in the second period — we really put a lot of pressure on them and then spent most of the period in their end.
“You could see their D’s really get tired of defending, and we wanted to take advantage of that.”
This time around, the Bruins protected their lead in the third period. They added to it eight minutes into the frame, when Kemppainen caused another turnover right inside the offensive blueline, carried it in and dished to Spooner. Spooner drove the net, then went to backhand the puck back to Kemppainen across the crease, but instead, it deflected off the skates of two Islanders defenders and into the net.
The B’s didn’t let up in the other end, either. In total, they held the Islanders to eight total shots in the final 40 minutes of play, and that effort supported the performance of Jonas Gustavsson, who improved to 2-0 in Black & Gold on the eve of his 31st birthday.
The first period wasn’t exactly smooth, but Gustavsson held strong in net and gave his team the chance to win as the game progressed. And win they did.
“Obviously, when you’re down a goal during the game, you’ve just got to stick with it, believe in what you’re doing as an individual and as a team,” Gustavsson said. “I think we really came back strong in the second period and played really well and got the momentum back. Second and third period, guys played unbelievable.”
With 2 1/2 minutes remaining, David Krejci capped off Boston’s scoring with an empty netter, extending his point streak to seven games, before Thomas Hickey scored to pull the Islanders back within two. But that is as close as they would get.
On Friday, not only did the Bruins prove that when they stick to the system, good things happen, but they also proved that they can hold themselves accountable. They can recognize when they aren’t playing the way they should be playing, and they can make the adjustments necessary to win.
The Bruins may have started off the season 0-3, but suddenly, they have taken points from their last four games and are 3-0-1 during that stretch.
All indications are that they are starting to figure it out.
“Claude came [in] after the first period and obviously wasn’t happy with the way we were playing in the first, and I thought we took over the game in the second half of the game,” Connolly said. “We have points in the last four games. We had a tough start to the season, but we’re coming on here and we’re starting to play a little better and starting to figure out the system and each other’s tendencies.”
The next step, of course, is clear: finding a way to produce these same results at home.
“We need to play hard, we need to be aggressive, we need to play 60 minutes,” Julien said. “Hopefully, that’s a great example to build on. Now, we’ve got to bring that same game at home.
“We’ve been good on the road with our efforts, and we’ve got to be better at home. So we’ve got an opportunity there on Tuesday.”