Heading into New Jersey’s Prudential Center on Friday night with two straight losses and five of their past six games having ended in defeat, the Black & Gold were tired of the results they had been getting.
Their simple road hockey would be a good start to turn their recent dip around. They own one of the League’s best road records.
A 4-1 victory over the Devils did the trick. Three Bruins picked up two-point nights with Ryan Spooner and Colin Miller each recording a goal and an assist, and Dennis Seidenberg earning two primary assists.
The win helped Boston jump New Jersey in the standings and take over the first Wild Card spot with 46 points and still two games in hand.
“We’re in a battle here with a lot of teams in our division and we’ve got some games in hand,” said Head Coach Claude Julien. “These are the kind of games you have to win when you’ve got games in hand to try and get back into that upper group and at the start of a road trip — I thought we played well.”
“We knew that we needed to be playing with more urgency and playing on our toes and it started with the forecheck,” said Captain Zdeno Chara. “Everybody has to be on the same page and I thought that for the most part, we did a good job and it’s a nice win.”
“It’s a good team that we played on the other side that worked hard and for sure, it was much harder than maybe the score showed.”
The ‘W’ marked Boston’s 3,000 regular season win since the team first started playing in 1924, becoming just the second NHL team to reach the milestone after Montreal.
“It’s always special,” said Julien. “When you look at 3,000, it means that the team’s been around for a while, so I’ve always been proud of being part of an Original Six team and this team here has done a lot of things in the past and we hope we can follow that up in the future.”
Frank Vatrano put the Bruins on the right track early, giving them a 1-0 lead just 2:02 into the opening frame. It marked their first lead in the past three games.
That was a start.
After Miller kept the puck in multiple times at the right point, the defenseman threaded an attempt from the point through traffic, with Vatrano picking up the loose change in front to fire it past Devils netminder Cory Schneider from the bottom of the left circle.
The goal served as Vatrano’s first since scoring a hat trick on Dec. 18 in Pittsburgh. All of his six goals and seven points this season have come in three road games.
“It was obviously good scoring that first goal and it was something that we talked about, starting games strong and getting on the scoreboard first and no looking back,” said Vatrano. “That’s what we did, and what we need to do here now on this road trip.”
Jonas Gustavsson suited up between the pipes, getting his first start since Dec. 26, with Boston playing its first leg of a back-to-back before heading to Ottawa to face the Senators on Saturday night.
The netminder had to shake off any rust and be sharp on a sequence of Devils’ pressure about five minutes into the first and then stay strong in the third when the Devils made their push. He ended the night with 19 saves on 20 shots.
“Everyone worked hard. It started with the forecheck,” Gustavsson said, echoing the Captain’s words. “I thought we had the puck a lot in their end and when they were in our end, they blocked a lot of shots, cleared rebounds and stuff like that, so I think the effort was really high and we battled really hard.”
Just as on Vatrano’s rebound goal, the Bruins again utilized the blueline in the second period, with Spooner firing in a long wrister from the high slot after working the puck out from the boards. Zach Trotman did a strong job keeping the puck in the zone. Seidenberg and Brett Connolly earned the assists on Spooner’s eventual game-winner that put Boston up 2-0.
When New Jersey’s Bobby Farnham made it a one-goal game midway through the second off a 2-on-1 rush, beating Gustavsson low stick side, the Bruins could have allowed the Devils back into the game.
But Boston followed that up with a strong penalty kill and received some luck when Jordin Tootoo rang one off the post.
Jimmy Hayes scored an important power-play goal with just 1:25 left in the second period to give the Bruins a 3-1 lead, with a perfect deflection off a Chara shot from the high slot.
“Those kind of things with good net-front presence allow you an opportunity to score some goals,” said Julien. “So give the guys credit — whether it’s [Matt] Beleskey [in front on Spooner’s goal] or Hayes on the power play, tipping that puck in. I can’t say enough about some of those guys, the job they did in front of the net.”
During the Bruins’ dip, they had been too passive in getting to the front of the net, and too passive on the forecheck. They took advantage of four practice days this week — and a decent outing on Tuesday against the Washington Capitals, the NHL’s top team — to get themselves back on track.
“I don’t think we get a lot of time like that throughout the season with that many days off and a couple days like that,” said Colin Miller. “So it was good. Anytime you can get a good practice and then get the guys rested, it will be beneficial for us on this road trip.”
Miller provided the Bruins with a three-goal cushion when he threaded in his third NHL goal at 6:33 into the final frame. Seidenberg teed him up with a D-to-D pass and he fired a one-timer past Schneider for the 4-1 lead.
“That was a key for us — all week we kind of talked about the D getting wristers just to the net and making sure we had the forwards there,” said Miller. “So I think a lot of our D did a great job. Trots [Zach Trotman] had a lot of shots, Zee, Seids, so, yeah, it was good.”
“I was hoping we could get that fourth goal so that we could have that three-goal cushion and allow me to kind of manage my bench a little better,” said Julien. “We play [Saturday] night in Ottawa, so the third was good, but the fourth was even better.”
With New Jersey’s “Relentless” slogan being flashed on the video board all night, the under-manned Devils certainly pushed, but weren’t able to come out on top, especially amidst a slew of injuries to key players like Mike Cammalleri and Patrik Elias.
The Bruins were dealing with their own injury troubles. They remain without David Krejci and Adam McQuaid, both sidelined with upper-body injuries.
They inserted David Pastrnak into his first game with Boston since Oct. 31 on Friday night, and they will get Brad Marchand back for Saturday’s matchup in Ottawa.
Amidst all else, what the Bruins need right now are points. They earned two on Friday night, and they’ll try for two more against the Sens.
“We’ve been missing out on a few points here lately,” said Gustavsson. “So it was good to start with a win here and get a couple points and hopefully we can get two more [on Saturday] and build off that.”