Sports

Bruins off to fast start, just as they hoped

Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask (40) makes a save in the first period of their NHL hockey game against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden in New York, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, seen here making a save against the Rangers on Jan. 23, has been efficient, well-positioned, and ready to stop any follow-up chances. (AP)Credit: AP

The Bruins had a relatively generous reentry into NHL play. Three of their first four games were at TD Garden. There were no back-to-back matches. Their longest road trip was the brief flight to New York.

They buried the tape-to-tape pass.

The Bruins swiped 7 of 8 possible points, the first time they have pulled off that trick since 2000-01, when they also posted a 3-0-1 start.

Advertisement—Continue Reading Below

It is the type of charge off the line the Bruins wanted — and the start they expected.

In theory, the Bruins had the artillery for a successful opening sprint. During the lockout, 12 players saw action in Europe. Dougie Hamilton started the year in Niagara and played in the World Junior Championship. Chris Bourque was Providence’s leading scorer before his recall.

Hamilton, Bourque, and spare defenseman Aaron Johnson are the only first-year Bruins. They are the only players that have required a break-in period. The other 19 roster players were all at Rogers Arena in Vancouver in 2010-11 for the Cup-clinching win in Game 7. There is no advantage like familiarity.

“When you have that much time off, you kind of sit back and feel fortunate that you’re part of this group,” Milan Lucic said. “I think that’s what’s brought us off to this good start. We’re fortunate to be back together here and playing for each other.”

Tuukka Rask, given all four starts in goal, emerged from the four games with a 3-0-1 record, a 1.96 goals-against average, and a .925 save percentage. Rask has been excellent.

The Bruins turned to Rask late in regulation of last Wednesday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Rangers. Had Rask not denied Rick Nash and Marian Gaborik on a third-period rush, the Bruins wouldn’t have made it to overtime.

Rask has been poised and patient. When necessary, he has pulled out the acrobatics. But most of his saves have been straight out of Goaltending 101: efficient, well-positioned, and ready to stop any follow-up chances.

“I haven’t done anything too crazy out there,” Rask said. “Just trying to be myself and let the game come to me. I’ve been seeing the puck a lot. It’s been hitting me. I’m trying to stay calm and keep that going.”

Rask has had defensive help, especially on the penalty kill. The Bruins are 14 for 14 in shorthanded situations, including a pair of five-on-three opposing power plays. As usual, they’ve applied up-ice pressure to keep opponents from executing clean breakouts.

They’ve been just as active in their own zone. One of the mandates from the coaching staff has been to push the pace and not just collapse in the slot. The adjustment has paid off. Chris Kelly (2:45 of shorthanded ice time per game) and Patrice Bergeron (2:31) have been especially sharp.

“We took the decision of being a little more aggressive this year with that, and we started that a little bit last year,” said coach Claude Julien after Friday’s 4-2 win over the Islanders. “Our guys are pretty confident right now. Like anything else, confidence plays a really big role.

“Right now, we’ve got a group that’s proud not to have given up a goal yet. They’re going to try to make it last as long as they can.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise has been the smashmouth play of the No. 1 line. The Bruins weren’t sure how Lucic and Nathan Horton would look after their layoffs. It was the line that had the biggest variance in potential play. With sharp legs, the line, centered by David Krejci, could be among the league’s most dominant trios. If their skating was off, the line could have been an anchor.

Through four games, Krejci & Co. have been the team’s most consistent trio. Lucic set up Zdeno Chara’s game-winning goal Friday, with help from a Krejci screen. In the first period, Lucic tangled with Matt Carkner and dropped the defenseman with a straight right.

Krejci has three assists. Horton scored his first goal against the Rangers Wednesday.

“We didn’t quite know what to expect from him early on and how long it would take,” Julien said of Horton. “He’s been a real pleasant surprise. So has Milan.

“We talk about big bodies, and those big bodies sometimes take a little longer. But those guys have been great. David, who’s played since the beginning of the year, hasn’t missed a stride and has been a good player for that line. They’ve been great surprises.”

The Bruins don’t have all their tools sharp yet. Tyler Seguin has yet to score a goal. Rich Peverley hasn’t found the net, either, although he rang a wrister off the post Friday. Dennis Seidenberg, out for two games because of a lower-body injury, will need some time to regain his rhythm.

The Bruins also have yet to see Anton Khudobin in goal. Khudobin could make his season debut against Carolina Monday. The Bruins play New Jersey at home Tuesday to complete their first back-to-back set. The schedule will become tougher.

“It’s a point or two that really separates teams from making the playoffs and not,” Gregory Campbell said. “It’s often these games early in the season that you look back and say, ‘Geez, I wish we would have gotten that point.’

“It’s critical for us to really put a lot of importance on these games, especially with two days off here and going on the road.”

Share