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Rask, Spooner Lead Bruins to Pivotal 3-1 Victory Over Senators

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins

OTTAWA — On Tuesday morning, Tuukka Rask asked for one thing for his 28th birthday — or two, actually.

He asked for two points. And on Tuesday night, when all was said and done, he got them. It wasn’t always pretty, and it wasn’t easy, but he and the Bruins departed Ottawa with a 3-1 win that set the Senators seven points behind in the standings. And that, above all, was exactly what they needed to do.

“I think after the second period, I even mentioned it — I said, ‘You’re up 3-0, you can thank your goaltender,’” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. “It wasn’t for Tuukka, could’ve been a different outcome. But having said that, we won a big game. They don’t always have to be pretty at this point, but they have to be successful, and I think that’s the most important thing.”

The Bruins began Tuesday night’s game exactly the way they wanted to: They limited the scoring chances, they were defensively sound, they stuck to the system. In the second period — despite the fact that they allowed a whopping 21 shots on goal, all of which were turned away by a stellar Rask — they managed to put the Senators into a 3-1 hole from which they would not emerge.

And that, even on a night when they were not at their best, was all it took to get the job done: opportunistic offense and truly spectacular goaltending.

“Obviously, the most important thing is that we won the game and we got the two points in the standings,” said forward Milan Lucic. “But obviously, we probably gave up a lot more chances than we would have liked, as far as our defensive and team games go. Obviously, Tuukka stepped up and played a huge game for us, especially in that second period — I know we come out 3-0 heading into the third, but easily could be 3-3 or an even closer score.

“But at the end of the day, we found a way to win a hockey game where earlier in the year, maybe we were the better team and we didn’t get the result that we wanted. Obviously our team game has to get better with the chances that we gave up, but we still found a way to get those two points.”

After a first period in which neither team could generate very much sustained zone time, the Bruins wasted no time in the second. Forty-five seconds into the frame, Ottawa’s Marc Methot went to the box for hooking Reilly Smith, and just 17 seconds into the ensuing power play, Ryan Spooner struck for his second goal of the season, putting it in off the far post from the right circle.

The goal marked Boston’s fifth on its last 10 power plays, and it was a particularly special one for the Ottawa native that put it in the back of the net.

“I had a text, actually from about four of my friends, and they said, ‘You guys cannot win tonight. You need to let the Sens win. They need to catch you,’” Spooner said with a smile. “I was like, ’It’s not going to happen.’ So it was good.

“I’m just happy that we won, and it’s about all I can say. If we win, I’m just feeling good.”

Then, with 6:15 left in the frame, both Erik Karlsson and Gregory Campbell went to the box for hooking and embellishment, respectively, and as has been the case of late, Boston’s special teams took full advantage. During the 4-on-4, Loui Eriksson dumped the puck past Ottawa defenseman Cody Ceci, and — in alone on Anderson — waited for the goaltender to bite with a poke check before putting it past him to make it 2-0.

“It was kind of a battle for the puck there with the defenseman, and I was able to poke it through him,” Eriksson said. “Then [I] saw Anderson poke-check, too, and I was able to go around there.”

Still, Boston’s offense wasn’t done. About a minute and a half later, Lucic powered the puck down the right side and threw it in front of the net for Spooner, who tapped it in for his second goal of the game.

The assist marked the 200th of Lucic’s NHL career.

“[Spooner] was good tonight, and again, scoring that first goal was huge to give us that lead — great shot on his part,” Juilen said. “But I was just as impressed by his second goal, where he drove to the net hard and stopped. And Looch did a heck of a job on that, outmuscling the defenseman and getting that puck to him.

“But it was nice to see him score a couple of goals in his hometown, and we’re seeing him really turn the corner, and that’s what young players do — you’ve got to give them time. He’s had some stints with us, and he’s grown through it, and right now, he’s probably the best we’ve seen him.”

Offense was not the only thing that put Boston ahead in the second. Rask was outstanding in the frame, making 21 saves in that period alone and thwarting one furious Senators push after another to keep his team ahead.

“I thought the first period was our best period, and after that, didn’t play our best, but we ended up winning,” Rask said. “And that’s all we needed.”

Eight and a half minutes into the third, Ottawa rookie Matt Puempel ruined Rask’s shutout after a point shot went wide, deflected off the end boards and right onto his stick. He buried it for his first NHL goal to put the Senators on the board, but that was all Rask would allow on a night when he was simply feeling it.

“We’ve played a few solid games there in a row and been able to get the wins, so even though it wasn’t our best effort tonight, we got the win and it still builds up our confidence,” Rask said. “It wasn’t our best game, and we’re going to bounce back next game and play better.”

And that — for this team, right here, right now — is what it comes down to: confidence. It has been elusive at times during this season, but lately, it has been there — despite the adversity, despite the injuries that have seemingly plagued this team from Day 1. The confidence is back, and because of that, the Bruins are once again playing the way they expect themselves to play, and they are getting the results they expect to be getting.

“With the time of the year that it is, and seeing where we are in the standings, there’s no time to panic and play on your heels,” Lucic said. “When the other team scores a goal, you can’t get down and frustrated and stuff like that. We’ve been learning, and trying to find that all season long, and not trying to let a goal deflate us, or a good shift by the other team deflate us.”

The Bruins have proven, over the last couple of weeks, that they are no longer the team that is down and out as soon as their opponent puts up a fight. From here on out, it’s a fight to make it to the playoffs, but that doesn’t scare or intimidate the Bruins. They are willing to fight. They proved it as recently as Saturday, Lucic said, when they forced overtime against Philadelphia by scoring the tying goal with 15 seconds left in regulation.

And of course, they proved it again on Tuesday night.

“With [16] games left now, obviously we know we’re playing for our playoff lives, and it’s nice that we’ve been able to get seven of the last eight points,” Lucic said. “We want to do whatever we can to keep things rolling and keep things loose, and obviously play with confidence.

“I think if you look around the room, when we’re playing with that confidence, we can get things going in the right direction, and in the direction that we want it to go in.”

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