An Auld-fashioned win
Stingy Bruins button up frustrated Blue Jackets
They score in only dribs and drabs, like a kitchen faucet dripping . . . ever . . . so . . . slowly . . . in the middle of the night, which won't make for much of a 2007-08 highlight reel when NESN gets around to editing "Spoked-B Fever!"
But for all their want of putting the puck in the net, the Bruins are winning, and last night they nursed one goal (the first of Jeremy Reich's career) into the final minute before finally rubbing out the Blue Jackets, 2-0, with the help of a Marco Sturm empty-netter and 32-for-32 goaltending by Alex Auld.
A solid win before 14,058 on Causeway Street, even if it came on a night in which coach Claude Julien said "we got outworked - and that's something we can't accept."
The victory, the fourth in five games for the revivalist Bruins, improved their record to 18-11-2-1. Following two frustrating seasons of playoff DNQs, they now have 39 points in 32 games, an impressive improve ment over last season when they stumbled along to only 76 points.
Reich knocked home the winning goal early in the first, his first NHL strike in eight seasons as a pro. The behemoth Auld, who looks like some Jurassic creature in pads and mask, was airtight once again, improving his record to 4-1 since being acquired from Phoenix Dec. 6.
And then there was the team-wide, front-to-back defense, which once more kept the opposition mostly on the edges and out of the best scoring areas. Julien's method is so complete, and his players so adherent to the defensive mind-set, that opposing teams soon will have to Google "Mapquest" directions to find the Boston net.
"To a man, right through the lineup, we stick to it all night," said Auld in praise of his defense. "That may sound simple, but you know, it's hard to do. It's so thorough . . . there aren't many chances . . . and from my point of view, that's fine."
Reich, with only a pair of assists to show for his first 60 NHL games, finally scored with 3:20 gone in the first period. And the goal stood up for the rest of the night, even though the Blue Jackets finished with a 32-18 shot advantage.
"It felt good, I'm not going to lie," said Reich, whose only other NHL chance prior to last season, when he joined Boston in the second half, was a nine-game stint with Columbus in 2003-04. "I had a few chances to score last year, and it finally went in for me tonight. Hopefully, it will continue to go in."
Linemate Petteri Nokelainen made a pair of nice passes on the goal, the first coming as the play generated up ice from deep in the Boston end. Nokelainen, moving into the neutral zone, made a velvety touch pass around the red line that kept the play going, then moved deep into the Columbus zone as Reich and Vladimir Sobotka raced down the sheet. Seconds later, Nokelainen reappeared to the right of the net, low in the circle, and he slid another pinpoint relay to the front for Reich to lift high into the net, over Fred Norrena, for the 1-0 lead.
"Good to get the win," said Nokelainen, who continues to show skills that might soon earn him more than fourth-line minutes, especially with the Bruins in need of creating more offense. "And good to get that first one for Reicher, too. He's been playing without a goal for a long time."
Earlier in the period, with only 2:18 gone, tough Bruins rookie Milan Lucic improved his image as a fierce enforcer, taking on Columbus's bundle of energy, Jared Boll, for a throwdown near the Boston bench. The two quickly grabbed onto each other's sweaters, and the belting began. No question in this one: Lucic was the winner, ultimately knocking Boll's helmet off, pulling his sweater over his head, and landing two or three heavy right hands. The last of the belts came as Boll, previously with 102 penalty minutes, crashed to the ice.
The bout, said Lucic, was a carryover from last season, when he met Boll in the Memorial Cup semifinals. In that matchup, Lucic scored an early win, with Boll slumping down on the first punch and grabbing hold of Lucic's leg on the way to the floor.
"Yeah, a quick one last time," recalled Lucic. "This was the rematch, and it was a good one for both of us. I knew he'd stand in there longer this time."
The Bruins narrowly escaped danger with 7:03 gone when Andrew Alberts overhandled a puck about 25 feet in front of Auld, only to have premier winger Rick Nash collect it and carry it down the slot. Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, trailing on the play, followed in for a doorstep jam, but the 6-foot-4-inch Auld shut the door.
The Jackets ran up a 15-2 shot advantage in the third, when the Bruins were too busy defending to think of creating offense. Sturm finally knocked home the empty-netter with 12 seconds to go to clinch it.
"We defended well," said Julien. "We defended too much. We stood around, content with defending."
Content. Not quite creative enough with the puck. But still winning.