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Bruins' climb up standings keyed by balanced scoring attack

Line of Nash, Heinen, Backes among those chipping in offense in supporting role

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

BOSTON -- Beyond the Boston Bruins' top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak, the names get a bit more obscure.

There are rookies and players still looking to find their footing in the NHL, some role players and, well, more rookies.

It's why the Bruins desperately have been seeking a more balanced attack, especially considering the continued absence of center David Krejci, who has been out since sustaining an upper-body injury Dec. 16.

As defenseman Zdeno Chara said, "You can't always rely on the same guys to score goals."

It's why the emergence of their current second line, featuring rookie left wing Danton Heinen, center Riley Nash and right wing David Backes, who returned to the lineup Nov. 29 after colon surgery Nov. 2, has been so crucial. It's part of why they've vaulted from also-rans in the Atlantic Division to tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs for second in the division, with two games in hand.

"All in all, as a group we've banded together," Nash said. "I don't think we were picked to be the best team in the League, but when a bunch of guys buy in and start doing the right things, you can see a lot of good things happen."

To get there the Bruins have been on a run, one that seems undimmed by the three-day Christmas break. After their commanding 5-1 win against the Ottawa Senators at TD Garden on Wednesday, the Bruins have won five straight games, eight of 10 (8-1-1), and 14 of 18 (14-3-1), a streak that began with a 2-1 win against the Los Angeles Kings in the second game of a back-to-back Nov. 16.

It is a stretch that lofted the Bruins into the upper-echelon of teams in the NHL, a place that they believed they ought to be, even if everyone else might not have.

"We know we have a good hockey team," Chara said. "We have good players. We know if we play a certain way, to our strength, then we are an effective team.

Video: OTT@BOS: Heinen buries Spooner's centering pass

"It's easy to get comfortable or complacent. It's hard to gain that confidence and that strong play every game we play and easy to lose it. So obviously we want to stay on top of that."

They'll try to stay on top of their game when they play the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN360, SNE, SNW, SNP, TVA Sports, NESN).

So why have the Bruins been winning so much the past six weeks? And how were they able to win a game against the Senators in which their top line didn't have a point?

"Balanced scoring, secondary scoring," coach Bruce Cassidy said. "It was something we were searching for."

It came from the second line Wednesday, with two goals and an assist from Nash, and a goal and an assist each from Heinen and Backes. There was an especially pretty effort when Nash beat Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson down the ice to score an unassisted goal at 1:25 of the second period to put the Bruins up 3-0.

"Nash's line has chipped in, I think, on a fairly regular basis," Cassidy said. "It's a big plus for us. It takes a load off those [top line] guys. They're going to want to score every night, it's how they play, and I think they had drive tonight, [Bergeron's] line. It just didn't go in for them, or maybe one too many passes."

Still, the Bruins won, putting five pucks past Senators goaltender Craig Anderson. They made their second line, and their third line [rookies Jake DeBrusk and Anders Bjork flanking center Ryan Spooner], work for them. Especially because the Nash line has been tasked not only with providing a scoring touch. It has been tasked with playing against one of the opponent's scoring lines, stopping them as much as they want to contribute themselves.

"They've been the workhorse for us all year," Nash said of the top line. "Those guys are all pretty talented players in their own right. Any time we can give them some support, not put the pressure on them. I know coming in that they probably want to score a goal or two every game, but some nights it's not going to happen.

Video: OTT@BOS: Nash snaps long shot over Anderson's glove

"Having [Krejci] out, that also puts a little bit of onus on that second and third line, whatever you want to call it. Just everybody, the bottom nine, banding together and helping out."

The hope is that nothing will stop them, not even the Capitals, not even nemesis and expected starting goaltender Braden Holtby, not even a team against whom they have lost 11 consecutive games (0-9-2). The plan is just to keep winning, to keep rising, to keep pace with the hottest team in the NHL, the division-leading Tampa Bay Lightning.

This is not a team that wants to be on the edge of qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, where it has been the last couple of seasons. As Nash said about losing to the Senators in the Eastern Conference First Round last season, "Everyone had a bitter feeling about what happened last year."

This is a team that wants to be doing exactly what it is doing, relying on its strengths, but also on its less heralded lines, as its rookies have caught up and its secondary scoring has woken up.

"We're just trying to play good hockey and win and keep climbing up," Cassidy said. "Whoever is up on the docket next, it's Washington, we've had our challenges with them. So we've got our hands full [tonight]."

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