Quick strikes in third end Bruins’ losing skid
The most encouraging aspect of last night’s 5-3 win over Ottawa before 17,565 at TD Garden wasn’t the power play, which tied the game in the first period. It wasn’t the discipline the Bruins showed one game after blowing their tops in a 4-2 loss to Montreal. It wasn’t the offensive contributions they received from every line, which Daniel Paille capped with a breakaway goal at 7:18 of the third period.
It was that the Bruins finally submitted the type of defensive performance that was previously featured only on milk cartons.
“It starts in our zone,’’ said Patrice Bergeron. “We’re the type of team that’s got to play well in the D-zone, then go from there. I thought tonight was the perfect example.’’
Each of the three Ottawa goals featured a strange bounce. In the first, after Tim Thomas got his blocker on Stephane Da Costa’s shot, Nick Foligno followed the rebound and somehow tipped the puck in before the net came off its moorings.
Later in the first, just 14 seconds after Milan Lucic tied the game with a power-play goal, Ottawa grabbed the lead once more. A Chris Neil dump-in landed on Joe Corvo’s back and fell to the slot. Foligno sent a through-the-legs dish to Da Costa, who beat Thomas before the netminder could recover from the off-the-back carom.
In the third, Jared Cowen made it a 3-3 game. The defenseman’s point shot ticked off Dennis Seidenberg’s stick, sailed through a Neil screen, and fluttered past Thomas at 5:04.
Other than that, however, the Senators rarely put any heat on Thomas (23 saves). The Bruins limited Ottawa to one-and-done offensive rushes. At the other end, the Bruins wore down the Senators by playing their hard-hat game - driving pucks deep, establishing the forecheck, and grinding down their opponents.
“We didn’t give them much,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “I thought we competed and battled harder in our own end. Because of that, we were able to turn pucks over and go back on the attack. A lot of it was just straightforward. Taking the puck wide, taking it to the net.’’
Perhaps the best example came before Bergeron’s tying goal in the second. From deep in the defensive zone, Zdeno Chara won a puck battle against top-line forwards Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek. Once Chara had possession, the Bruins went on the attack. Brad Marchand hit Tyler Seguin with speed. Seguin carried the puck wide right. Marchand drove far post to open up a seam. Seguin dished to Bergeron in the middle, and the center snapped the puck past Craig Anderson (36 saves) at 4:21 of the second to make it a 2-2 game.
Defense had turned to offense.
“We were more tight,’’ Chara said. “We were moving as a group of five up the ice. Backchecking in our zone, we were tight. We were not too spread out where we were opening the seams and the plays for the other team. It was easy to play in that structure the way we used to.’’
The primary bugaboo that had ailed the Bruins was their net-front play in the defensive zone. Forwards weren’t collapsing to the slot. Defensemen were running around. As a result, opponents were getting too many quality sniffs in front of the net.
Last night, the Bruins finally made it a do-not-enter area.
“I thought we collapsed well as forwards,’’ Bergeron said. “We all helped each other. We all read the play well. It’s key for us to win.’’
Mentally, the Bruins didn’t snap either. They suffered some humbling setbacks last night. For the eighth time this season, the Bruins gave up the first goal. Less than 30 seconds after tying the game in the first, they saw the Senators reclaim a one-goal lead.
For only the third time this year, the Bruins took a lead into the third period. After Rich Peverley whipped around the net and spotted Chris Kelly in the high slot, Jordan Caron went to the front of the net and screened Anderson. With Caron taking away Anderson’s eyes, Kelly slapped the puck into the net at 18:00 of the second to give the Bruins a 3-2 advantage after 40 minutes.
Cowen rubbed out that lead with his tying goal at 5:04 of the third. This time, the Bruins didn’t wilt under the heat.
“You don’t want to see lucky bounces go in,’’ said Johnny Boychuk. “They did get some breaks. They happened to go in. But we didn’t let that bother us. We just kept pressing against them.’’
Following some strong board work by Peverley and Caron, the puck squirted to Kelly. The No. 3 center saw Boychuk loading up at the right point. After taking a pass from Kelly, Boychuk slapped the puck past Anderson at 6:41 for the winning goal.
Paille sealed the win after taking a chip from Shawn Thornton and going five-hole on Anderson for his second goal of the year.
“We needed to win,’’ said Thomas. “I don’t know if it was a must-win game, because there’s time left in the season. But we needed to win. We needed to start somewhere. We did that tonight.’’
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.