Coming off a disappointing effort against Toronto two nights earlier in which the Bruins felt they let two points get away, they couldn’t make the same mistake twice, especially against another divisional opponent.
So they put their workboots on and they got the job done.
“I think we played a pretty full 60,” said forward Brett Connolly following Friday’s brief practice at Ristuccia Arena. “I think we got down by a couple goals, but we obviously didn’t stray away from our gameplan. I thought for the most part, it was a good game, and we’re looking to do that again tomorrow.”
That was the key for the Bruins on Thursday: sticking with the gameplan. Refusing to deviate. Imposing their will on their opponent.
It wasn’t easy. The B’s fell behind 2-0 early in the second period, and they had to claw their way back before eventually taking two points, thanks to Ryan Spooner’s game-winner in the shootout.
But that victory took resolve. It took commitment, from the first minute to the final second of the shootout.
“Tight games that might come down to the third period, one-goal games — that’s the way it is down the stretch,” said forward Matt Beleskey. “I think the more games we play like that, the more we come out successful, the more confidence we’ll have.”
Confidence is big for this group. It seems to be something that comes in waves and then, at times, wavers. But following a come-from-behind victory over a formidable opponent — because that is what the Sabres are, regardless of what the standings say — the Bruins are riding the wave.
“That Buffalo team is a good team,” Beleskey said. “They beat Montreal the night before, came in and played hard. I think we stuck to our game plan and played a smart game, and it paid off.”
Now, the key for the B’s is maintaining it — everything. Maintaining the way they played on Thursday night, maintaining their current mindset, maintaining the belief in themselves.
And it needs to be a group effort.
“I think if the individual takes it upon himself to be consistent, to come in and play as best as they can every game, then it turns into a team situation,” said Head Coach Claude Julien. “You can’t have a real good team effort if you’ve got half the guys really working well, and the other half aren’t giving enough. So it starts with individuals, and it grows into a team thing, and that’s, again, an area there where I’m hoping that we can continue to get better at.”
The Bruins have played well against the Sabres thus far in 2015-16, taking two of three from them this season. They’ll have their fourth shot against Buffalo on Saturday night at TD Garden in the second leg of this home-and-home.
Once again, the Bruins have a simple mission: keep it going.
“I think we’ve played pretty well against Buffalo,” Connolly said. “They’re a good team. Their record doesn’t indicate the guys they have on their team. They were good last game; they were coming in on a back-to-back, and they played us very hard, and we’ve got to be ready for that again.
“It’s big points for both teams, and they’re obviously wanting to get back in the hunt. We’re kind of in a little bit of a logjam in the middle of the conference. So it’s a matter of sticking with it. I think if we stick with it, we’ll be fine.”
Marchand Playing Hero
Ryan Spooner may have netted two goals against Buffalo on Thursday, including the game-winner, but it was Brad Marchand who emerged as the hero with his coast-to-coast, through-the-legs game-tying goal at the very end of a big penalty kill three minutes into the third.
The goal certainly left his teammates grateful — and impressed.
“He’s fun to watch,” Beleskey said. “That goal last night was great. It was great to see that individual effort, and he’s got that ability to change things by himself. So it’s been fun to watch, and hopefully, he keeps scoring.”
Marchand has established quite a pace for himself, tallying eight goals in his last eight games and reaching 23 on the season, just five off his career high of 28.
Consistency is something he has strived for throughout his six-plus-year career, and it seems he is well on his way to achieving it, reaching the 20-goal mark for the fifth time.
“I think he’s just playing some of his best hockey right now,” Julien said. “I said that earlier — probably a month, a month and a half ago — is that I really feel that he looks a lot like the Brad Marchand we had in the first year or so. There’s a real determination in taking pucks to the net, and he’s playing hard. There’s less cheating.
“When I say, cheating, he’s really come back and done a better job of going up the ice with some help there, and because of that, he’s been able to have some better looks, better chances. But a lot of credit goes to him for how hard he’s battling. In my mind, [he’s] probably one of the best players, if not the best, on our team at being on those pucks in the offensive zone and being hard to take the puck away from.
“He’s slippery, he’s shifty, and so he has the puck on his stick quite a bit — probably the most on our team in the O-zone.”
Marchand proved as much with the nifty goal he scored on Thursday. But he’s been proving all year that he has the skill, the natural ability, to excel in this league. He has made it his mission, it seems, to keep proving it, game after game, season after season.
“I think I just want to be consistent, and play the right way every night,” he said. “I think that it’s more about, at this level, just being a consistent player and being able to bring your game each and every day, which isn’t an easy thing to do. But it’s something we all work towards.”
Often in the last year or so, Marchand has talked about wanting to do more. He wants to be a more prominent leader. Offensively and defensively, he wants to take the onus on himself to help this team succeed.
This year, more than ever, he seems to be fulfilling that objective.
“I think it’s something that we all want to take pride in, and we’re all trying to learn and grow and develop every day,” he said. “It is a role that I want to continue to work toward. It’s not going to come overnight, but it is something that I want to continue to learn. And we have a great leadership group to lead the way in the right direction; it’s easy to follow them.”
Certainly, the Bruins would not be where they are without Marchand. He currently leads the team in goals and came up with a huge momentum-changer when the B’s needed it most on Thursday night.
But the job isn’t over — not even close — and until it is, he will make sure that both he and every other player wearing black and gold continues to commit.
That, just as much as scoring goals, is part of the role he has assigned himself.
“We have to be aware of it every time we go into a game, and we have to acknowledge the fact that each and every guy has to play hard and really focus on winning those battles,” he said. “That’s contagious.”
No Change for McQuaid; Gustavsson Practices
On Friday, defenseman Adam McQuaid — who has been out since Jan. 5 with an undisclosed upper body injury — skated with his teammates for the second consecutive day, but there has been no change to his status, which remains day-to-day.
“Today, again, he stayed away from contact,” Julien said. “We’ll probably evaluate here sooner than later as far as taking the next step.”
It is clear, though, that whenever McQuaid is able to return to the lineup, he will be a welcome addition.
“I think he’s a real reliable guy,” Julien said. “When you talk about a solid defensive defenseman, he is that, and not only that — he gives us that toughness that we like from our group. We’ve missed that part of it.
“He’s a great shot-blocker. When he’s on his game, he actually moves the puck fairly well. He’s not a rusher, but he can be a good passer. His experience, his will to do whatever it takes to minimize the goals against, has always been a strength of his. And we know that this year, although we’re scoring more than expected, our goals against are probably a little higher than we’d like them to be right now.
“[In the] second half of the season, as you know, everything tightens up, so we’ve got to minimize our goals against. He’d be a good asset to have back.”
Like McQuaid, goaltender Jonas Gustavsson — who was removed from a Jan. 26 matchup against Anaheim for precautionary reasons due to an elevated heart rate — addressed the media on Thursday for the first time since his injury.
Gustavsson was cleared to resume full on-ice participation without any restrictions on Thursday after his final test results were reviewed by the Bruins’ medical staff, and he served as the backup that night. On Friday, he practiced with the team, as expected, and after practice, he echoed the fact that the issue that took him out of the Anaheim game no longer concerns him.
“I’m perfectly healthy, so I feel good out there,” he said. “I felt like I felt before that [Anaheim] game. Like I said before, it’s not really on my mind anymore. It’s over with. It’s dealt with. We had a few tests, and all the tests were good, so I’m healthy and I’m good to go.”
Gustavsson had minor surgeries in 2010 and 2011 to treat an abnormal heart rhythm.
“I’ve been dealing with this before,” he said on Friday. “I’ve been told by many, many good doctors in the past what it is, and I saw some really good doctors here now, too, and they’ve said the same thing. So I was pretty sure that I knew what it was, and they came to the conclusion that whatever I’ve been told in the past was the same thing.
“So I’m not worried about it, and I’m not thinking about it.”
Following Friday’s practice, Bruins GM Don Sweeney announced that forward Joonas Kemppainen had been assigned to Providence, marking his first assignment since signing with the Bruins as a free agent this past offseason.
Kemppainen, currently in the midst of his first NHL season, has appeared in 35 games with Boston, tallying one goal and two assists for three points. He spent the previous nine seasons playing professionally in Finland, where he totaled 62 goals and 99 assists for 161 points in 464 regular season games.
Kemppainen is slotted to play for the P-Bruins on Friday night against Albany.
There were five players who were not on the ice for Friday’s practice at Ristuccia: forwards Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Loui Eriksson, as well as defenseman Zdeno Chara.
Following the skate, Julien confirmed that none of their absences were injury-related.
Friday’s Practice Lineup
White Jerseys: David Pastrnak, Joonas Kemppainen, Brett Connolly
Gray Jerseys: Matt Beleskey, Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes
Red Jerseys: Zac Rinaldo, Max Talbot, Landon Ferraro, Tyler Randell
Defensemen: Zach Trotman, Colin Miller, Dennis Seidenberg, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Adam McQuaid, Joe Morrow
Goalies: Tuukka Rask, Jonas Gustavsson