Bruins cut to chase
They knock out Nabokov in the first period and then pile on against Islanders
In their last three wins, the most recent being a 6-2 thumping of the Islanders last night at TD Garden, the Bruins have racked up 18 goals. The finish that was missing for most of October looks like it has returned.
Like they did against Toronto and Ottawa the previous week, the Bruins threw a wave-after-wave attack on starting goalie Evgeni Nabokov (three goals allowed), backup Al Montoya (two), and the empty net that David Krejci slipped the puck into at 17:12 of the third.
But as their coach has been preaching ever since they dug themselves into a 3-7-0 ditch, turning the listing ship around had to start in their own zone.
On Oct. 30, the Bruins identified their defensive shortcomings on video. The following day, they started to address those deficiencies - not collapsing efficiently in the slot, not coming back hard enough for pucks, not playing sound positional defense - in practice.
It’s no coincidence they haven’t lost since.
“A lot of it was neutral-zone and defensive-zone play,’’ said Milan Lucic, whose line scored four of the six goals. “It was our effort and our puck pursuit. We had to get back and make good decisions. That’s been much better. It’s what’s helped us get 18 goals in the last three games. We’re starting to find the level of play we want to play at.’’
In the first period, Lucic’s line was on the ice for a pair of breakdowns that led to New York goals. At 5:52, Matt Moulson was granted enough space in the slot to deflect a Steve Staios shot past Tuukka Rask to tie the game at 1.
At 18:36, after a defensive-zone turnover, an unmarked Michael Grabner - Lucic should have been backchecking - skated into the slot for a John Tavares feed that he converted to close Boston’s lead to 3-2.
For the final 40 minutes, Rask stopped every puck he saw, thanks to help from his teammates. The Bruins swept away rebounds after Rask (24 saves) stopped the first shot. The forwards, who had backtracked aggressively, were in position for outlet passes. The defensemen started breakouts efficiently.
And away they went.
After a scoreless second period, the Bruins came out with more life in their skates. At 4:34, Lucic gave the Bruins a 4-2 edge. Naturally, the play started in the Boston zone.
Dennis Seidenberg hit Krejci with a cross-ice pass just inside the Boston blue line. Krejci cleared the zone with a pass off the wall. Because Lucic was tracking the play correctly, the left wing had enough speed to beat Staios to the puck. From there, momentum took over. Lucic and Horton, the broad-shouldered first-line bookends, thundered toward the net. Lucic dished to Horton. After pulling Montoya his way, Horton feathered the puck back to Lucic for an easy tap-in.
Forty-nine seconds later, it was Horton’s turn. Joe Corvo hammered a shot on goal that Montoya kicked out. Horton, in the correct net-front position, found the rebound and slipped a backhand shot five-hole on Montoya at 5:23 to give the Bruins a decisive 5-2 lead.
For Horton, who had scored a power-play strike in the first, it marked his first two-goal game of the season. Both goals were off rebounds from in tight, where power forwards must be at their best.
“He can score from the perimeter,’’ Lucic said of his linemate. “But he’s even more deadly in the traffic areas, the battle areas, the house in front of the net.’’
The Lucic-Horton sequence marked the second time last night the Bruins scored twice within a minute. At 14:07 of the first, just 29 seconds after Horton’s power-play goal, Tyler Seguin scored a net-front tally to give the Bruins a 3-1 lead. Islanders coach Jack Capuano pulled Nabokov after Seguin’s goal.
Seven times this season, the Bruins have scored two goals within one minute.
“We’ve really put a lot of emphasis on following up with a strong shift after a goal scored or a goal against,’’ coach Claude Julien said. “It’s about holding on to the momentum or regaining it. We’re at the stage now where we’ve been together for a long time. You keep pushing the little details on guys. Ever year, you try and add some things.’’
With the win, the Bruins vaulted over the Islanders into 13th place in the Eastern Conference. They have four matches remaining on their five-game homestand. They don’t know yet if their stumbles in October were the final remnants of the summer of their lives.
But if they keep playing sound in their zone and turning defense into offense, the old Bruins might be back.
“We’re getting there,’’ Patrice Bergeron said. “We can always get better, but I think the past three games is the way we’re supposed to play. It shows in the results and the outcomes. We’ve got to realize that and not force plays. It’s not because we just won [three] that we go back to forcing plays and not playing our system. It’s pretty easy. Pretty simple to realize. That’s how we need to play.’’