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Bruins in right spirit

Chippy play best gift for holiday

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / December 25, 2010

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For the team that played punchout against the Thrashers Thursday night at TD Garden, Christmas, peace on earth, and good tidings to all came at an inopportune time. After the 4-1 throwdown against Atlanta, the last thing the surly Bruins needed was a three-day break to halt their momentum.

“We were struggling there for a couple games, but you have that during a season,’’ said Michael Ryder, who netted the game-winning power-play goal, after the victory. “I think it’s good we responded the way we did tonight. But still, when we come back from the break, we have to go on this road trip and we have to play the same way. We can’t let it go away. We have to remember what we did tonight.’’

For far too long, the Bruins played a version of no-contact, zero-anger hockey that ultimately resulted in a 3-0 embarrassment against Anaheim Monday night. To address his soft and slow team, coach Claude Julien opted for two grinding days of practice. First, to jack up the emotion. Second, to generate some speed and establish the forecheck. Third, to give his new lines some time to get familiar with each other.

Check, check, check.

Starting with the new first line of Milan Lucic, Marc Savard, and Nathan Horton, the Bruins got multiple scoring chances on Ondrej Pavelec from every trio. They put 36 shots on goal, using multiple looks — heavy cycle off the forecheck, quick-strike opportunities from rapid puck movement, bombs from the point — to create their offense.

While the first line didn’t see any of its work turn into goals, it produced enough scoring chances that Julien surely will give the trio more looks in the near future. And even though Brad Marchand (undisclosed injury), who’s missed the last two games, could return sometime during the upcoming five-game road trip, Daniel Paille has done everything to earn more ice time.

Thursday night, Paille, playing in only his 13th of 33 games, turned in his sharpest performance of 2010-11. Paille, replacing Marchand on the fourth line with Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton, logged two assists in 12:39 of ice time. On his second helper, Paille stretched the Atlanta formation with his speed and took a bank pass from Campbell off the left-side wall. Once Paille attacked the Thrashers and forced them to back off, the left wing connected with Thornton for the tough guy’s second goal of the night. Earlier in the shift, Paille had stepped in front of a Dustin Byfuglien shot.

“I thought that Dan played a real good game,’’ Julien said. “Especially on Thorny’s second goal, he makes a good block in our own end, he goes down the ice and makes a big play, and gives Thorny an opportunity to get a second goal.’’

But far and away, the most important component of the win was the Bruins’ ill temper. Following a conversation before the opening faceoff, Thornton convinced Eric Boulton to tangle. Then in the third, Freddy Meyer clipped Lucic with a high hit. Before Lucic got off the ice and turned for Meyer, Andrew Ference had shed his gloves and grabbed the defenseman from behind, starting a 10-man melee.

What irked the Bruins’ bosses the most about Monday’s loss to Anaheim was the players’ refusal to engage emotionally. There was barely a naughty word spoken or an ill-tempered look at the Ducks, much less an angry hit.

“I’m pretty sure we’re aware now that it’s how we have to play if we’re going to be successful,’’ Thornton said. “We saw spurts of it earlier in the year when we had everyone going. There was passion. Everyone was involved emotionally. That’s what we need if this team is going to be successful. We’re not built to float around out there. We’re built to play gritty hockey, which is what this town loves, too, so I’m sure we’re aware of it now, too.’’

The Bruins will need every jolt of emotion upon their return from the break. On Monday against the Panthers, the Bruins kick off a five-game swing that concludes Jan. 3 against Toronto at the Air Canada Centre. The trip will include a rematch against the Thrashers, who undoubtedly will be seeking retribution for the loss — and Lucic’s sucker punch on Meyer that earned the left wing a match penalty — next Thursday.

The Bruins very well could revert to their flatline ways. But Thursday night’s win proved that for at least one game, they learned their lesson.

“You learn a lot from the losses and from the tough times,’’ Ference said. “When you finally put it together and get a game where you take a step in the right direction, it definitely helps. But you’ve got to keep pushing for it.

“I think some of the trouble we got into last year was that we’d take those steps and have a really good game, then get back into the same funk. We didn’t carry that over into games. So if we learned our lessons from that, then, yeah, it can really help.’’

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com.

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