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On hockey

Lately, they’re giving opponents the business

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / March 4, 2011

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OK, this is getting to be fun, on both sides of the boards. Seven straight wins. The Bruins haven’t been this set-’em-up-and-knock-’em-down hot since the thick of the 2008-09 season, and as we know, six of the recent W’s came while they were away from Causeway Street, a travelin’ six-pack of victories they hadn’t carried home since 1972.

Last night’s 2-1 win over Tampa Bay, which tucked the Bruins neatly into second place in the Eastern Conference, two giant steps ahead of the Lightning, wasn’t what anyone would rate a dazzler. Actually, it was more of a grinder, similar in parts to Tuesday’s 1-0 win at Ottawa, with the Bruins at times struggling to find their offensive mojo and too often turning prime scoring chances into hit posts, a missed net or no shot at all (Nathan Horton with one particular moment frozen in time, watching from the slot, holding the puck, and holding, and holding, and holding . . . ).

Yet . . . still fun.

The one Boston team still in search of a championship these days just expects to win. It has that attitude, that certain something, the look and feel of a club that can hang in games when behind (like last night), stick to the game plan (like last night), not get frustrated (like last night), and do enough good things to outweigh the bad (like last night).

“I like the attitude right now,’’ said coach Claude Julien, who has watched his squad roll up the last five victories despite a power play that has gone a bankrupt 0 for 11. “We have a group of guys that seem to be very business-like people who want to accomplish things.’’

It’s a club, added Julien, that is willing to “go through the grind’’ and do so on a nightly basis. Willingness begets confidence and confidence begets points, even on nights when a team isn’t playing its best.

“You just have to make sure you hang on to that,’’ he said, “and with 18 games left this is a good time to build that kind of situation.’’

It only takes 5-10 minutes of listening to local talk radio to understand the psyche of Black and Gold fans right now. They are in seven W heaven. Like the Bruins owner, they want a trophy, a big one, and this run has Benny from Everett, Mike from Rehoboth, and Darlene from Chelsea convinced this could be the year. With Matt Cooke and the Penguins here tomorrow night, they’ll have the phone lines sizzling today.

Of course, these are the same barkers and dreamers who couldn’t wait to take on the Canadiens in the conference finals a year ago when the Bruins, with a 3-0 series lead, stood poised to sweep the Flyers. Things change around here. Fast. Who knew that express bus to oblivion had a manufacturer’s recall on it. Something in the drive train.

But this run is a little different, especially the last three games, because the Bruins have been able to win without a power play and win when really not on their “A’’ game.

They barely slipped by the AHL Oilers Sunday in Edmonton.

They won with only one goal Tuesday night against the stripped and shredded Senators.

Their offense was lukewarm much of last night, but they stayed buttoned to a defensive game plan, the highlight of which was a penalty kill that had them two men short for 1:53 in the second period.

“That was a huge factor,’’ noted Milan Lucic, who popped in his 28th of the season for the winner with 3:42 to go in regulation. “The PK gave us a chance to win.’’

The PK, it should be noted, has killed 8 of 9 situations in the last five games. So while the PP has gone 0 for 11 in the same stretch, the tradeoff has been negative one goal. All in all, no biggie. At least not now.

But no matter how good a team feels, or how much fun it is to watch, come playoff time it has to deliver on the power play. They said that in the old NHL. They are saying it in the new NHL. They’ll be saying it as long as those vulcanized rubber trees grow in the deep, snow-covered forests of Canada’s northernmost reaches.

“One thing we have to work on is getting a little better down low,’’ said Julien, who has a dynamic duo in the Zdeno Chara and Tomas Kaberle at the points, but can’t come up with the right mix of grit and touch up front. “Maybe it’s time we start making better plays down low and start scoring some goals. The finishing touch is probably the biggest question mark right now.’’

Julien gave one of his favorites, Michael Ryder, some exposure on the first-unit PP last night, but he again was stymied. He now has one goal in his last 10 games. Mark Recchi was out there, too, and he now has one goal in his last 16 games. David Krejci? He’s the second unit’s pivot and has one goal in nine games. Patrice Bergeron, the No. 1 unit’s pivot, has two goals in 12 games.

Truth is, there isn’t a lot of pop in these guys right now. Yet they keep winning, thanks mostly to a tight defensive structure, solid netminding (now with Tuukka Rask finally back in the mix), and that business-like attitude. It’s got a lot of people convinced they can do some business this spring.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com.

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