The newest addition to the Bruins' dressing room at TD Banknorth Garden was installed yesterday above the door, replacing the stuffed bear head that once made its home in the space.
After the 2006-07 Bruins fumbled away victories late in games, coach Claude Julien thought his players needed a constant reminder - one that reads, "Be Determined/Play To Win!!!"
"I really wanted to get them focused on being determined and playing to win, not going out there being afraid to lose," Julien said. "I wanted to get that out of their minds and focusing on what we need to do this year to succeed. A big part of this hockey club is to go out there and play to win no matter who you play against."
Last night, after the Sabres had turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-3 tie by the end of regulation, Julien's reminder might have been foremost in the players' thoughts. With 52.3 seconds remaining in overtime, the Bruins didn't sit back and wait for the shootout.
Instead, Marco Sturm batted an Aaron Ward knuckleball past goalie Ryan Miller, giving Boston a 4-3 win to kick off a nine-game stretch against Northeast Division opponents.
"We let them back in the game and it was a little disappointing," said Julien. "But finding a way to win is always something you can build on."
There was some scrambling on the winning play. Zdeno Chara, manning the left side of the defense, was en route to the bench to be replaced by Andrew Ference. Ward, the right-side defenseman, didn't have time to skate across the ice for a change.
That turned out to be fortunate for the Bruins.
Glen Metropolit, promoted to the third line and the first power-play unit be cause of the absence of Patrice Bergeron, won the puck along the left wall. Metropolit had two things in mind: shake his man, then buy some time for his teammates.
Metropolit accomplished his first task, creating some space for himself. He had Ference as an option at the left point, but didn't shovel the puck his way, fearing that a turnover would lead to a rush for the Sabres. Instead, Metropolit spotted Ward open at the right point and slid a cross-ice pass to the defenseman.
While Metropolit was stickhandling along the wall, Sturm was hovering down low. Once Metropolit hit Ward with a pass, Sturm did what Julien has been preaching all season.
He crashed the net.
"It's one of those ones where you've got to get in front," Ward said. "Sturmy got himself position. I think the biggest key is that you learn something from the two days of practice. You have to get guys in front of the net. Especially against Buffalo. When you get some fast guys and big guys in front of the net and obstruct them a little bit, then you're a lot better off."
As Ward one-timed a wobbler, Sturm posted up in the slot, raised his stick, and swatted at the puck, redirecting it past Miller. The play was reviewed, but it was determined that Sturm kept his stick low enough for a legal goal.
"It feels good," Sturm said. "We want to start good. We've got a lot of big games in our division coming up. It was a big point and we took it."
As the Bruins spilled onto the ice after Sturm's goal, Tim Thomas sprinted from his crease to join the celebration. Thomas had seen two third-period shots (a power-play one-timer by point man Brian Campbell and a front-of-the-net, man-advantage strike by forward Paul Gaustad) enter his net, and he wasn't ready to start thinking shootout with less than a minute remaining in overtime.
"Not yet," said Thomas. "It's more about bearing down and finishing OT. That's what I'm thinking about - making sure that they don't score a goal."
Thomas (27 saves), starting his third straight game, made several sparkling stops, none better than on Jason Pominville during a second-period Boston power play. After Chara failed to handle a bouncing puck at the blue line, Pominville took off for a clean breakaway that Thomas steered aside with his left arm, keeping Boston's 2-0 lead intact.
So it was unfortunate for Thomas that Campbell's blast found its way through traffic, then even more so when Gaustad, taking advantage of a scrambly penalty kill, dumped in a point-blank tying goal at 8:18 of the third.
But the Bruins didn't depend on Thomas to save their skins in overtime. Instead, they were the aggressors.
"Coach wants us to stay on the attack," said Marc Savard. "We have to keep attacking and we did that tonight."
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.