Two points may seem insignificant. They’re not. For the Bruins, two points on Saturday night make all the difference in the world.
“That’s the difference between a successful and a really disappointing road trip,” said forward David Krejci as the Bruins gathered at Rogers Arena on Saturday morning. “So we were supposed to look at [getting] five out of six [points], but we’re not in that position right now. We can take four out of six — that would be really good.
“There’s a lot of work to be done before we get the four points.”
The Bruins were better on Friday night at Calgary than they were two nights prior at Edmonton. But still, they weren’t quite good enough. They provided their trademark comeback, in both the second and third periods, but they still spent too much time trading chances and not enough time executing their gameplan.
And they made key mistakes at the most critical times — specifically, with 1.2 seconds remaining in regulation, when they allowed the game-tying goal to Jiri Hudler.
“We obviously want to win, but most importantly, we have to play the right way,” Krejci said. “We didn’t do that the last two games. We have to get on the right gameplan — everybody has to buy in — and this is really important for us.”
The Bruins have been able to salvage a point in each of the first two games of this road trip, but Saturday’s matchup presents a significant opportunity for them. There is a big difference between heading home to Boston with four points and heading home to Boston with two, not just in the standings, but also in terms of the team’s mentality moving forward.
“I think that’s where we stand right now, is having to go back with four out of six and saying, ‘That’s a pretty successful trip,’ or if it’s two out of six, it’s a failure, in my mind,” said Head Coach Claude Julien. “So we need more than two points on this trip if we want to stay in the run, and if we want to continue to be a playoff team. I think these are the kind of games you’ve got to win.”
Though the Bruins return to Boston following this game, the schedule doesn’t get easier from here. They face Nashville at home on Monday, then travel to Montreal on Tuesday for a Wednesday night matchup against the Canadiens.
Boston is not a team that ever looks ahead or looks past an opponent, but the upcoming schedule — and the challenges it presents — have rendered these two points on Saturday night all the more critical.
“The West Coast road trip’s a tough one, so if you can get four out of six, at the end of the day, it’s somewhat of a successful trip,” said defenseman Zach Trotman. “So I think our focus right now is — more so than the outcome, even — is just playing a full game, playing our system, like we’ve been saying.
“At the end of the day, it’s not the other team’s game that matters; it’s our game, and if we come in and play the way we can, play our system, it’s going to take care of itself.”
Boston’s gameplan is usually relatively simple: Play a sound defensive game. Limit the opponent’s opportunities, and rely on that staunch defensive effort to lead to offensive opportunities.
In their last two games against Edmonton and Calgary, the Bruins did not adhere to the gameplan. There were 14 total goals in those two games combined, and instead of controlling the pace, the Bruins spent a lot of time chasing and trading chance for chance.
“That’s not our style of game,” Trotman said. “We’re a defense-first team, and if we play that way against teams like [Edmonton and Calgary], we’re still going to get our chances, and we’re going to limit theirs. It’s tough sometimes not to get sucked into that, but that’s what we need to do.”
The Bruins also need to trust their system. They need to believe in it. They have proven that it works, even against teams that typically do play that run-and-gun style, like the Red Wings and the Rangers.
They just need to trust it, they said, and resist the urge to trade chances and succumb to the opponent’s style of play.
“We obviously have to change our game,” Krejci said. “[Friday], we played kind of a run-and-gun game, and that’s not our style. So we have to pay attention to the little details, do exactly what we talk about, and go out there and just do it.
“Sometimes, you get carried away, and you forget what you’ve got to do. You have to keep your head in for a full 60 minutes, and if we do it tonight, we have a really good chance to get two points.”
The Bruins know the idea of a perfect game is just that — an idea. It doesn’t exist. Neither of the two teams that have beaten Boston over the last few days have played anything close to a perfect game, but still, they have been able to get the job done.
It’s because those teams exerted their will on Boston, and even when they made mistakes, they were able to recover quickly and respond.
“Mistakes happen,” Krejci said, “which is alright, but as long as you’re focused, your head’s into it, then those mistakes are going to be minimized.”
The Canucks don’t necessarily play the same game as an Edmonton or a Calgary. But although the Bruins may not be anticipating another run-and-gun style game on Saturday night, they know that there are still plenty of offensive threats to reckon with on Vancouver’s roster.
“They might have a little different team,” Krejci said, “but they still have lots of skill players up front, so we’re going to play good defensively and stay patient and hopefully, put some pucks in the net once we create our chances.”
The Bruins of today are a bit younger than they typically have been in the past, and they feature lots of new personnel, but still, they understand their system. They know it works. It is up to them to stick to it when they take the ice on Saturday.
“At the end of the day,” said forward Ryan Spooner, “we just have to play the game that we want. If we get pucks in deep, we have a third guy high, it should work to our advantage.”
Game No. 400 for Marchand
Forward Brad Marchand is expected to play in the 400th game of his NHL career on Saturday against Vancouver, an exciting milestone for a player who has become instrumental to the Bruins over the last several years.
"It’s obviously a nice milestone, and actually, one time, someone said to me that you’re a real NHLer when you’ve played 400 games," Marchand said on Friday. "So I guess that’s a nice milestone to hit, but hopefully there’s another 400 in store for me."
Bartkowski’s New Team
There was at least one familiar face in Vancouver’s dressing room on Saturday morning: that of defenseman Matt Bartkowski, who spent the last five seasons in Boston’s system.
Bartkowski joined the Canucks as a free agent on July 1 and thus far has enjoyed his time in Vancouver.
“[I’m] fitting in pretty well,” Bartkowski said following the Canucks’ optional skate on Saturday morning. “It’s a very accepting group, and they bring new guys in and young guys in really well, so it’s an easy group to fit into.”
Bartkowski has been a regular in Vancouver’s lineup this season, registering two goals — including his first in the NHL — and five assists for seven points in about 19 minutes of ice time per game.
He said he has been looking forward to this matchup in particular, but once the puck drops, he doesn’t expect it to be much different than any other game on the docket.
“On the ice, we’re all pretty professional,” he said. “Sure, a few jokes and chirps will go out, but it will be professional during the game.”
Bartkowski’s first priority on Saturday night, like the rest of his teammates, will be on getting two points. The Canucks have struggled of late, going 2-5-3 over their last 10 games, and they have struggled in particular to generate opportunities offensively.
“I think the more shots we get on net, the better,” said forward Bo Horvat. “We’ve got to start crashing the net a little bit more, and getting more pucks in there — getting pucks, too, from the point. I think if we do that, get guys going to the net, it’s going to be hard for their goaltender, and I think we’re going to have a lot more success.”
Bartkowski, for his part, isn’t necessarily thinking about generating more shots on net. He, like a tried and true Bruin, is focused on keeping the puck out of his own.
“I think we need to focus more on limiting other teams’ chances, especially because we’re not creating as much,” he said. “Even in the games we’ve won, we’ve had to score four, five goals, so you’re not going to be able to do that every night. We’ve got to learn how to win 2-1 and 1-0.
“I think defense is more important right now.”
Coming off the first leg of a back-to-back, the Bruins did not hold a full skate on Saturday morning, but still, there were more players on the ice than there have been during any other morning skate on this road trip.
Among them were forwards Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Hayes as well as defensemen Trotman and Dennis Seidenberg, leading to speculation that there could be some lineup changes against Vancouver.
“[There] could be,” Julien said. “I’m making some decisions there today, and that’s why there are a lot of players out there today, and we’ll see what we decide to go with. Some players needed, wanted, to skate — some players that didn’t play or didn’t have much ice time [Friday].
“So we’re going to make some roster decisions there tonight.”
Kevan Miller — who has taken warmups prior to the last two games but has not seen game action since suffering a concussion on Nov. 17 — also skated on Saturday morning. He remains a question mark heading into the final game of this trip.
Julien did not confirm a starting goaltender for Saturday night, though Jonas Gustavsson was the only netminder to skate in the morning.
Projected Lineup vs. Vancouver
Brad Marchand — Patrice Bergeron — Brett Connolly
Matt Beleskey — David Krejci — Loui Eriksson
Frank Vatrano — Ryan Spooner — Jimmy Hayes
Zac Rinaldo — Joonas Kemppainen — Landon Ferraro
Zdeno Chara — Zach Trotman
Dennis Seidenberg — Colin Miller
Torey Krug — Adam McQuaid
Starting Goaltender: Tuukka Rask // Backup: Jonas Gustavsson