Plain and simple.
Patrice Bergeron scored just 1:18 into the game and the Black & Gold played with pace the rest of the night en route to a 4-2 win over one of the top teams in the West.
“The execution was great,” said Bergeron. “I thought from the first minute on, till the end of the game, we were on our toes, limiting their transition game and their speed.”
“I thought it was a solid effort from everyone.”
The league’s third ranked offense had no trouble scoring, with four goals coming from Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Loui Eriksson and Ryan Spooner.
Their defensive effort combined with that output to shut down the skills of the Blackhawks.
“For the most part, we played with pace and fast, and I thought it was probably an exciting game for the fans to watch,” said Torey Krug, who earned two primary assists on the night.
The victory gave the Bruins back-to-back wins at TD Garden for the first time since Dec. 16 and 20.
They kept their pace for the full 60 minutes.
The Blackhawks made an obvious push in the third period when they trailed by two goals, especially with an empty net for the final three minutes, but the Bruins held their ground and protected the house.
“They are a team that really gets some pretty good speed through the neutral zone and usually that’s where they do a lot of damage, so we did a great job of minimizing that,” said Head Coach Claude Julien, who tied Art Ross for the most all-time coaching wins in Bruins history.
“Whether it was forechecking and getting on them quick or coming back quickly and taking away their time and space, I thought our checking game was probably one of the best so far.”
Boston’s attention to details made the difference.
“I think tonight was probably, I’d say, one of our best games of the season in terms of that,” said Spooner. “The turnovers and stuff like that, we didn’t have a lot of them – maybe less than five, which was great to see – and as a whole, I don’t think we got hemmed in our end.”
While Chicago was on the second leg of a back-to-back, they are always a team that never gives up.
“They were playing with speed and they were playing physically and we couldn’t quite keep possession of the puck long enough to get anything going,” said Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. “They checked us well and we didn’t use our bodies.”
Toews, Patrick Kane and the Hawks caused the Bruins to have heightened awareness in all three zones.
“They were making it hard to play against,” said Toews. “And sometimes when you don’t match their speed and match their work ethic, it’s hard to play through that traffic [in front], so I think that’s probably the reason why we couldn’t get to the net.”
The Bruins’ defense, backed by Tuukka Rask and his 25 saves, wasn’t the only catalyst for the strong effort.
“Today was a great effort from everybody,” said Rask. “You know, we always say that when we play as good as we can, we can play against anybody and today was a great example of that.”
“Great job through the neutral zone and backchecking and coming back to our own zone – great job.”
The Bruins’ trade deadline acquisitions also contributed to the team effort.
Lee Stempniak picked up his first two points as a Bruin with assists on Marchand’s and Bergeron’s goals, while Liles had the primary assist on Eriksson’s deflection that gave the Bruins a three-goal cushion in the second period.
Stempniak’s first assist came on Bergeron’s goal at 1:18 into the game on the line’s first shift in just their second game playing together.
The next one came on an important go-ahead goal that made it 2-1 Bruins with 22 seconds left in the opening frame. Strong work along then boards saw Stempniak gain positioning and feed the puck out to center ice, where Marchand and Krug cruised into the zone.
“For me, it’s just trying to fit in and play my game,” said Stempniak. “I think that typically, points tend not to fall if you’re doing things well, but we’ve been matched up against other teams’ top line the last couple games, or one of their top lines, and you have to take a lot of pride in playing well both sides of the puck, and we’ve done that so far.”
“I think he’s a real smart player on both sides of the puck – confident offensively, defensively he’s really given us good stability there,” said Julien.
Spooner put the Bruins up 3-1 early in the second period, scoring just six seconds into a power play. Eriksson followed that up with his 24th of the season, when Liles jumped into the rush at the end of a penalty kill and sent the winger a slick saucer pass.
“You’d like to contribute and, you know, it’s a good group of guys, a really talented group, so for me it makes it easier,” said Liles. “You just try and make your reads and get the puck to the guys as quick as possible, and if there’s a chance to join, you join, and that’s really my focus.”
Chicago's Tomas Fleischmann made it a two-goal game with only 10 seconds left in the middle frame, but the Bruins took their 4-2 lead into third, and didn’t let up.
They earned Julien his 387th win behind the Bruins bench to tie Art Ross for the most regular season coaching wins in franchise history.
“The thing that comes to mind is humbling,” said a soft-spoken Julien. “It really is humbling because he’s an icon, he’s a legend.”
“I don’t have a trophy named after me,” he smiled. “Those are all things that there’s a big difference between Art Ross and myself — and the fact that I’ve avoided being fired for the last nine years helps get that many wins here — so, just feel fortunate and most of all obviously humbled by that achievement.”
“He’s one of those guys that always puts the team first,” said Bergeron. “But it’s well-deserved. He’s an amazing coach; I’ve been very fortunate to be under him for a lot of years and learning and he’s been very successful.”
The win — regardless of the milestone it brought with it for Julien — was an important one.
Boston will next host the Washington Capitals, the NHL’s best team, on Saturday night in another matchup against a team gunning for a run to the Stanley Cup.
“It was a good test for us,” said Julien. “There were a lot of reasons to really get excited about this game tonight and it showed in our play.”