BUFFALO -- Unable to roust an Erie County judge to issue a temporary restraining order, in hopes of preventing the NHL from shutting down this weekend for its annual All-Star Game, the Bruins begrudgingly went into the league's three-day lockdown riding high after extending their winning streak to five games with a 6-2 thumping of the Sabres last night at HSBC Arena.
If only the court system could move as quickly and with as much finesse as the Bruins did as a half-dozen scorers, led by P.J. Axelsson's goal and two assists, put together Boston's most proficient attack of the season -- six goals on an economical 21 shots.
Four other Bruins also had 2 points as they inched closer to the lead in the Eastern Conference and further distanced themselves from the pack of also-rans who won't qualify for the conference's eight postseason berths. Now with 69 points through 57 games, the Bruins only need to play slightly over .500 the rest of the way to finish with 100 points. Some five weeks after looking as if they would slip out of the playoff picture, suddenly they have reemerged as one of the elite teams in the East.
"This team's been tremendous the last two weeks," said Bruins winger Mike Knuble, whose goal 13:17 into the first period erased a 1-0 deficit and sent the Bruins on to their easiest 2 points of the season. "Sully [head coach Mike Sullivan] made the point in the morning skate that a win here would give us a 19-point lead [actually 17] over the ninth-place team in the conference, and that shows the improvement we've made."
The five wins equal the season high the Bruins strung together in January, back when they began their 180-degree turnaround that came soon after club owner Jeremy Jacobs banged the table for change and threatened significant roster moves.
But general manager Mike O'Connell ostensibly stood pat, other than his key move that brought in defenseman Jiri Slegr from Vancouver. Slegr and AHL call-up Shaone Morrisonn (first two-assist game last night) have provided a huge boost from the back end, shockingly noticeable here as the Bruins moved with ease, and sometimes even grace, out of their own end.
"It makes a big difference when you don't spend so much time in your own end," said the hard-working Axelsson, whose 1-2--3 gave him his first multiple-point game of the season. "When you're back there all the time, you're tired when you finally do get the puck, and then there's nothing you can do with it."
If you didn't know to the contrary, there were shifts here when the Bruins looked as if they had been granted a franchise shift to the wide-open Western Conference. They were quick on the transition, sharp on long passes, and they scored all but two of their goals in the 25- to 50-foot range. Can you say: supreme makeover?
"Not our normal grinding game," acknowledged Knuble. "But at the same time, I don't know if that's our strength, really. I don't know if anyone's ready to say that's our style -- the Eastern Conference isn't like that."
Knuble scored on a 25-foot half-slap from the slot, sent over the blue line by a Morrisonn feed. Pass, shoot, score. Captain Joe Thornton struck for the 2-1 lead early in the second, Morrisonn zinging a cross-ice feed on the transition. Jumbo walked over on the right side, deked around two defenders, and connected on a 25-foot wrister. Pass, shoot, score. Glen Murray ripped home a 50-foot slapper early in the third, directly off an Axelsson feed into the offensive zone. Nick Boynton walked into an Axelsson pass for a 35-foot strike to close the scoring with 1:08 left. Had he not headed for Pebble Beach, the suspicion would have been that Tom Brady was leading the Boston offense.
"We converted more off the rush," said Sullivan, who went for weeks with his club barely able to manage one or two goals a game. "More confidence might have something to do with it. When you win, it breeds an air of confidence throughout the team."
Boynton and Axelsson finished with garish plus-4s on the scoresheet. That's confidence. Along with Axelsson and Morrisonn, the other multiple-point getters were Thornton (1-1--2), Martin Lapointe (1-1--2), and newcomer Craig MacDonald (0-2--2). That's confidence.
"One of the big reasons we're having more success of late is that we've identified when we have a play at the blue line," said Brian Rolston, who chipped in with an assist on Lapointe's power-play goal. "If it's not a high-risk play, we're making that play now, and it's definitely put some flow into our game."