Bruins regain the old bounce
They pick up beat after a tough trip
WILMINGTON - Presence and jam, that's what coach Claude Julien said the Bruins had Tuesday night in their 6-1 victory over the Florida Panthers.
Rebounds, tips, and screens, those are the things that made the difference, said defenseman Andrew Ference.
After sloshing through a 1-3-1 road trip, the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins returned home and found what had been missing on the swing through the South: their game.
"Even in Tampa [a 4-3 loss Sunday], it was a little more emotion, a little more drive to the net, a little more traffic - those are little things that we all of a sudden were missing," Ference said after yesterday's practice at Ristuccia Arena. "[Tuesday] night it obviously paid off a lot better than in Tampa. You can't just turn the switch back on and get where we were; we were working hard."
Patrice Bergeron opened the scoring against the Panthers with a smart, skilled goal. Taking a wayward bounce off the boards in the Florida zone, he beat goalie Craig Anderson, the first time he had scored on a goalie since Nov. 21. (His first goal after missing 15 games with a concussion was an empty-netter Feb. 17.)
"I saw the replay this morning," Bergeron said. "I was really happy, it was nice, more nice than an empty net. I got the chance there, I got the puck [taking it from Florida defenseman Jay Bouwmeester], but I still have to do something with it and I felt like I did. I'm pretty happy about that."
Milan Lucic also got back to his strengths, throwing a game-high five hits and notching an assist on Aaron Ward's goal that made it 5-1.
"Since the San Jose game [Feb. 10], I think that's probably been the best I've played," Lucic said. "I don't think it's been all there the last five or six games. It's something we addressed. It's a long season, it's tough to bring our best every game - but that can't be an excuse. I know for myself I'm more successful at helping the team win when I do establish that physical presence."
The Bruins' offense also got more support from its defense. Mark Stuart scored his career-high fifth, jumping up behind Michael Ryder as he carried the puck down the ice to get himself into the right spot to knock in the rebound.
"From the beginning of the year, we've encouraged our D's to jump in and help out on the attack a little bit," said Julien. "That's one topic we didn't talk about much as far as the defensive responsibility when we were having trouble scoring goals - that's helping out and supporting the attack. We got away from that a little bit. With Zdeno [Chara's] goal [against Tampa], and Stuart's goal last night, you need that support from your back end. It's slowly coming back."
"For us to get involved it's like a little bit of sugar on top," said Ference. "Every couple of games you might have that one rush that's perfect - like Z in Tampa. It's an added bonus when you do. Driving the net, being in front of the net for rebounds and tips like [Byron] Bitz [Tuesday] night, stuff like that's going to be the foundation."
Now the Bruins will have to see if they can get their Ducks in a row. Anaheim, wedged into a group of four teams with 65 points each from seventh through 10th in the Western Conference, comes to town tonight for the teams' only matchup of the regular season.
"I don't think we have to look at the standings to identify whether this is a good team or not," said Julien. "Most of those guys were on that team that won the Stanley Cup . I think there's a knowledge there."
The Ducks also feature two of the league's most dangerous defensemen: Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer.
Bruins winger Shawn Thornton, who was on that Cup-winning Ducks team, said, "Scottie gets up and down the ice like nobody else in the league. Pronger's a big, smart defenseman that plays very physical. So two very different players and one of them's on the ice all the time."
They're both great players, they're both All-Stars. Scottie's got four Cups - it's not by accident."
Thornton said comparing the Ducks' duo with the Bruins' top blue liners, Chara and Dennis Wideman, was like putting apples next to oranges, but, he added, "I definitely wouldn't trade The Big Monster for anyone in the league. He's a treat to watch."
"Players hate playing against [Chara]," said Ference. "His stick is right where you're trying to do your stickhandling, or else he's hitting you. It's not very fun."
The Bruins are not scrambling to earn a playoff spot for the first time in several years. But many of their opponents are. "Other teams are upping their games because they're starting to look at the standings," said Ference. "It's a dogfight. It's easy to forget how desperate teams play when you're not feeling desperate [yourself]. There's probably danger in that." . . . The March 4 trade deadline is a week away. "It's normal that every player gets a little bit nervous at some point - am I going to be moving, am I going to be staying?" said Julien. "Obviously, our group here wants to stay together. We haven't talked about that stuff much and I haven't heard the players talking about it." . . . Chuck Kobasew was given the day off . . . Defenseman Matt Hunwick was back at practice after being sent down to play with Providence Tuesday night.
Barbara Matson can be reached at email@example.com.