Their last victory had come two weeks prior, with five losses in between.
Patrice Bergeron helped lift that weight with a tying goal on the power play in the second period. Zdeno Chara followed suit three and a half minutes later, and Matt Beleskey gave relief to his teammates when he powered home the empty-netter in the final minute for the 3-1 win at Air Canada Centre.
“We knew it was going to turn around eventually, but it had to be quickly,” Bergeron said postgame from Toronto on Saturday night. “And we’re happy it was today.”
“We were playing the way we want to play, and I think it was about just believing in ourselves a lot more and trusting our instincts.”
Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien had a sense on Saturday morning that his leaders would come to play, and lead the way. In addition to Bergeron’s and Chara’s goals, David Krejci picked up two assists. Beleskey assisted on Bergeron’s power-play tally before scoring his empty-net goal.
“It was important, you know,” said Julien. “We talk about our leadership being great leaders, and strong, and they showed that tonight.”
“When you’re going through these kind of situations, those are the guys that get you out of it, and they did a great job of that tonight.”
“Tonight, we had 20 leaders on the ice,” said Krejci. “It was just good to see. Guys were blocking shots. The first period was maybe a little bit nervous, but we came back in the second and third and you could see that we wanted to win — play with the puck, be on our toes and it was 20 leaders and just a great effort by everyone.”
The Bruins didn’t break out right away.
Early in the game, Krejci raced in on a breakaway and Frank Vatrano put two shots on Leafs netminder Jonathan Bernier, but Toronto struck first — a familiar feeling for the Bruins as of late.
The Leafs’ goal came at 3:05 left in the first period, with Ben Smith deflecting a Colin Greening turnaround shot from the right circle past Tuukka Rask short side.
“When you’re going through what you go through, it doesn’t just turn around like that,” said Julien. “I think our intentions were good at the start of the game, but we were really tight.”
“After the first, we talked about a couple things that we needed to do if we were going to turn this around. We needed to play with more energy and more confidence and just go out there and play, but do the right things — and it slowly came around.”
Most of the Bruins’ chances in the first period had been one-and-done scenarios in the offensive zone.
They needed to get their skating legs going for the second, and provide better puck support as a five-man unit — getting more than one player into battles and moving their feet to create mismatches.
The middle 20 minutes produced just that for the Bruins, and a 2-1 lead after the second came as a result.
Bergeron tied the game at 1-1 with his 29th of the season, on the power play, at 2:52 into the period.
The possession started when Bergeron won the faceoff in the offensive zone against Michael Grabner. Krejci had a give-and-go with Torey Krug out high, with Krug putting a low drive on net that was blocked down in front with Matt Beleskey providing the screen. Bergeron flew in, collapsed on the rebound and potted it over Bernier. Krug and Beleskey earned assists on the goal.
The tally came on the Bruins’ first man advantage of the night, and marked their first power play goal in 15 opportunities and six games.
“The way we competed,” Bergeron said of what they were able to re-establish in their game. “With our speed, using our speed, moving our legs, winning battles, and we’ve got to keep that going.”
Bergeron’s equalizer gave them life. They picked up speed, moved their feet and gained noticeably more confidence.
Zdeno Chara put the Bruins up 2-1 just 3:36 later during 4-on-4 action, with William Nylander and David Pastrnak in the box for minor penalties.
Krejci wheeled around the zone, fought off a check down low, maintained possession and got a shot off that Bernier got a piece of with his glove. Chara swooped in, skated atop the crease and backhanded in his 9th of the season (and first in 21 games) for the go-ahead.
“I think everybody needed to step up and obviously it’s our job to lead the way,” said Chara. “That’s just the way it is.”
“I mean, it’s our responsibility and accountability to lead this team, but I think that we had other players,” the Captain continued. “For example, Kevan Miller was unbelievably strong tonight. He was just a force. We had a number of guys who really elevated their game and that’s what you need from the team to have those step ups, and that was what probably earned us two points.
The Bruins were faced with a penalty in the second half of the period, but came up with a strong kill to maintain the momentum. They finished the period outshooting the Leafs 11-5.
They played with more urgency. It was the type of effort they needed to bring into the third period to close out the game. They needed to play smart, and get the next goal. It was a position they had not found themselves in quite some time.
The Black & Gold produced more chances in the third, with their best bid coming from Bergeron — and Bernier flashing his glove.
“After a while, you started seeing our old team of before, where we were working, we had layers coming back, we were pinching at the right time, but we always worked above the puck,” said Julien. “We had some great scoring chances and I think the only thing now is you hope you can get that scoring touch come back a little bit more.”
With Toronto pushing, and getting ready to send on an extra attacker, Beleskey came up with two huge blocks on Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner. In the final six minutes, Boston blocked six shots. The Leafs first pulled Bernier with more than four minutes left.
The Bruins even needed extra effort for the empty-netter. Loui Eriksson chased the puck into the corner, dug it out after a one-on-one battle and centered it for Beleskey, who made it a 3-1 game.
“Those two blocked shots were huge and they really ignited our bench and at the end of it, you’re happy he’s the one who gets that empty-netter,” said Julien. “Because he deserved it for the sacrifice he made during those two plays and the commitment to doing what needed to be done to help us win this hockey game.”
The Bruins would be lighter as they boarded the plane back to Boston. Winning will do that. Now, it’s about keeping that feeling going.
“It’s a big win mentally as well, but we know we have a lot of work ahead of us,” said Bergeron. “And it’s about taking it a game at a time. Now this one’s behind us and we’ve talked about moving on to the next task — and it’s Jersey now.”
A quick pit stop back in Boston will have the Bruins enjoying a day off on Sunday before hitting the road yet again on Monday for Tuesday’s matchup with the Devils in New Jersey.
“You look at what happened today — Detroit loses, so this is an opportunity for us to gain some points and it was an important game for us for that reason,” said Julien. “So, you know, whether it’s relief or satisfaction, happy that we got a win under our belt. That first one is always the toughest, so hopefully we build on that and we bring our game to New Jersey next game.”