But for all intents and purposes, it was.
The B’s knew they needed a win at home, particularly coming off a disappointing 6-4 loss to Columbus two nights earlier. Their last victory in this building had come on Feb. 6. They knew that all they had to do was play the way they play on the road — where they have had so much success this season — and that was all it would take.
Then, they went out and did just that against a team gnawing at their heels in the Eastern Conference standings.
“We came out hard, strong, we kept the shifts short, we were jumping all over the pucks, and that’s how we have to play every single night,” said forward David Krejci following Boston’s 5-1 win over Pittsburgh. “But mostly, we played a full 60 minutes, which is important in this league.”
In order to get the victory on Wednesday, the Bruins knew they would have to simplify. That’s what they do on the road. They stick to a simple gameplan, they never try to be too cute, they don’t try to put on a show.
And without trying, they did just that on Wednesday.
“It’s always big, especially after a tough loss last game, to come in and have a good start tonight,” said forward Brad Marchand. “[We had to] get that lead, and get the momentum from the crowd and kind of get our confidence under us. It was big, and definitely helped us through the game.”
To get the type of performance they wanted, the Bruins knew everyone had to contribute, up and down the lineup.
David Pastrnak wanted to be relied upon. And thus, he took it upon himself to provide all of Boston’s offense through two periods.
“He’s playing phenomenal right now, and that’s what we need from him,” Marchand said. “He did a great job stepping up tonight, and when he plays like that, it’s exciting, with his speed and skill and the opportunities he created. So it’s great to have him playing like that.”
Pastrnak drew a penalty shot late in the first period when he was taken down cutting to the net on a partial breakaway, and for the first time in his career, he made good on one, beating Marc-Andre Fleury gloveside to put the B’s up 1-0 with four minutes left in the period.
With the goal, Pastrnak became the youngest player in Bruins history to score on a penalty shot.
“All I tried to do was put the puck in the net,” Pastrnak said. “Then I had a little speed, and I had to stop because I didn’t think I would be able to make the shot from all the speed — so I stopped and shot it five-hole, and it went in.”
About three minutes into the second, Pastrnak doubled Boston’s lead, causing a turnover behind the Pittsburgh net, bringing it in front, holding, and then wrapping the puck around Fleury.
“It definitely gives you something in the game — you start feeling better, and that’s good for you,” he said. “But as long as we get two points, it doesn’t really matter because you know how the standings are tight, and every point is important for us. I’m very happy we stuck with our gameplan, and at the end of the game you can see it in the results.”
Head Coach Claude Julien was far from surprised to see a two-goal output from Pastrnak on Wednesday. In fact, he could see it coming. He expected it.
“He’s been good for a while — I don’t think it’s tonight,” Julien said. “I’ve liked his game now for probably the last three, four [games]. Again, he’s come off a major injury and he’s had to catch up with the rest of the guys, and it takes time. At the beginning he really looked like he was having a tough time, but right now he’s certainly shown that he’s getting better and feeling more and more confident.
“To me, tonight, he was the guy for all three periods that I thought skated really well for us.”
Fifty-five seconds after Pastrnak made it 2-0, Pittsburgh’s Tom Kuhnhackl scored, sliding toward the net and deflecting the puck in off his skate after Tuukka Rask bobbled a rebound. But that is the only offense the Pens would get, as Rask submitted a 41-for-42 performance in net.
“It’s a thing that when we keep playing within our game plan, so to say, good things will happen,” Rask said. “And today was a great example – we had the lead 2-1, make it 3-1, and we never change anything. The other team has to take chances, and then they make mistakes, and we capitalize on that. It’s very simple, but it hasn’t always been the case. Today, it paid off again, so it’s great.”
For the first two periods, the Bruins were engaged in a dogfight. Often, they were chasing the Penguins, who outshot the B’s in each period.
But in the third, the floodgates opened, starting with Jimmy Hayes’ 13th of the season, who took a perfect feed from a streaking Ryan Spooner and tipped it past Fleury.
With just over five minutes remaining, Landon Ferraro sealed the victory for the B’s, forcing a turnover just outside the offensive blueline and breaking away to the net before scoring high on Fleury. Marchand added a fifth goal — his 31st of the season — one minute later.
The Bruins had no expectation that Wednesday’s task would be easy. The surging Penguins entered the matchup just two points behind Boston in the standings. The implications loomed large for both sides.
But the B’s refused to let themselves fall behind.
“In the beginning, we were kind of tight a little bit — we were trying, but we were just not making plays,” Rask said. “We were kind of nervous, I guess, would be the right word. But in the third period, especially, I thought we managed the situation well, and even though they had a couple chances, we never panicked. We just capitalized on our own chances and that resulted in five goals, which is great.”
What the Bruins needed on Wednesday was a complete 60-minute effort. They needed to capitalize on a stellar performance from Rask and reward him with a late outburst. They needed to hold strong until the Penguins made mistakes and capitalize when those mistakes came.
And when all was said and done, they did just that.
“Anytime you win a game like that and you’re up by a few goals, it’s nice,” Marchand said. “I mean, especially with a team like that, where they can get a couple goals in a minute or two, and it’s a nail-biter down to the end — it was a big game for us to win, and definitely have to be happy with it.”