Like a bunch of college kids cramming for exams at semester’s end, the Bruins returned to the books Sunday and scrubbed up on the tried-and-true defensive lessons they employed with such precision earlier this season, turning hard work and attention to detail into a 3-0 victory over the Panthers in a pre-playoff test at the Garden.
With the postseason to start next week (seeding and opponent to be determined), and their recent play in the pits (0-3-1), it was a good time for the Black-and-Gold to roll out the 60-minute refresher course.
“I thought we played well tonight,’’ said veteran center Chris Kelly. “We didn’t give up too much.’’
“Some emotion, some momentum,’’ added fellow pivot Patrice Bergeron, whose line squeezed off a total 15 shots. “Another step in the right direction —now we have to keep it going.’’
Jaromir Jagr, Dougie Hamilton, and Brad Marchand (empty-netter) scored the goals and Tuukka Rask, slightly off his A-game Saturday in a loss to Pittsburgh, submitted an airtight 28-save performance for his fourth shutout this season. The Bruin outshot the Panthers, 39-28, and out-thumped them, 33-20, and for the most part controlled the afternoon, especially over the final 40 minutes when the Bruins outshot the visitors, 32-18.
The Causeway matinee, which included a touching postgame ceremony that had the Bruins peeling off their sweaters as gifts to the brave first responders from the Marathon bombings, inched the Bruins back into first place in the Northeast Division. The Bruins and Canadiens likely will toggle back and forth over divisional boasting rights for the remainder of the week, with the Bruins now left with four games to go before wrapping up the lockout-shortened 48-game season.
“It’s always something we talk about,’’ said Bergeron, asked about the importance of overtaking the Habs for the top spot, which could mean a No. 2 seed in the playoffs. “It’s up for grabs . . . and we can’t forget that Toronto [in fifth place in the East] is right there, too.’’ The Maple Leafs on Saturday qualified for the postseason for the first time 2004.
Jagr, acquired at the trade deadline, connected for the opening goal with only 3:03 gone in the first after Florida’s Shawn Matthias lost contol of the puck at the top edge of the right wing faceoff circle. Jagr snatched it, cruised toward the right faceoff dot, then dotted the top right corner with his 16th of the season —his second since pulling on the Spoked-B sweater.
Jagr, 41, now has 681 career goals. It was actually the first time he took a shot and scored in a Boston uniform. His first, in his Boston debut, banged in off his skate, a shot fired by Brad Marchand. In his nine games with Boston, Old Man Rivr now stands 2-6—8.
Other than the Jagr goal, the Bruins did little offensively in the first period, although they carried the 1-0 lead into the intermission. Their underscoring ways of late must have been the topic of the intermission discussion in the dressing room because they came out with a much better effort in the second period, rolling up an impressive 21-11 shot advantage — three times the number of shots they squeezed off in the first 20 minutes.
“I asked our guys to move the puck better from the back end in the second period than they had in the first,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “We were too much east-west and we wanted more north-south. We adjusted and did a good job.’’
Of those 21 shots in the second, the only one to find the back of the net was fired by Hamilton, who was scratched [coach’s decision] on Saturday. Parked about 3 feet inside the blue line, above the right wing cirlce, Hamilton took a pass from Shawn Thornton and drilled in a hard low slapper for the 2-0 lead.
“I think it kind of opened up for me a little bit,’’ said Hamilton, who opted not to throw a pass over to defensive partner Zdeno Chara a split-second before he fired. “I didn’t even see it go in. I heard it hit the post and then come out . . . obviously, I’m pretty happy.’’
Marchand, who scored in the loss to Pittsburgh Saturday, swept in an empty-netter for his 18th goal this year with 1:22 to go.
The Bruins must close out the season with four games over the final six days, starting with tomorrow night’s visit to Philadelphia. They have the Lightning here Thursday, then visit the Capitals in DC Saturday before closing down the regular season Sunday night against Ottawa at the Garden.
Lots of work to do in a short time. Midnight oil, bags of chips, 5-hour Energy shots and an arm full of vulcanized Cliffs Notes. All in preparation of chasing Stanley one more time.
“It’s how hard you plan and what you get — and what you give them,’’ said Professor Julien. “I thought our guys did a pretty job defensively. I thought we were again a pretty physical team. We won a lot of battles. We had a lot of great chances.’’Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD.