Bruins change their ways in third, get the job done
NEWARK - The Bruins spent 40 minutes last night staring at the ice as if it were a befuddling crossword puzzle, scratching around for a word to start things rolling. For two periods, nothing down, nothing across. Shift after shift, blank stares and a game sheet to match.
“They were ready for us,’’ said Boston captain Zdeno Chara, crediting the tight, alert defensive methods of the resident Devils. “They stayed with a good game plan.’’
But then came the third period, and the offense came gushing out, the crossword filling up as if the Bruins were cheating from an answer sheet in back of the book on their way to a 4-1 win here at the Prudential Center.
Andrew Ference connected at 3:01 with his first goal since Nov. 21 for the tie, then came the 1-2 combination of a Nathan Horton goal at 7:10 followed by a Gregory Campbell knock-in at 7:45.
A three-goal burst in a span of 4:44, and the final touch was Chris Kelly’s empty-netter with 47 seconds to play, by which time the Bruins had turned the Rock into their own luxury suite.
“We talked about playing better after the second period,’’ said goalie Tim Thomas, his game back on register after a lackluster effort two nights earlier in a loss at Tampa. “And we got the job done. But you know, there’s a difference between talking about and actually doing it. One good thing about this team, more often than not we do it.’’
Horton’s goal in the third period, his third in three games, was a gift from David Krejci, who fed across from the right circle with Milan Lucic camped at the right post. Horton jammed in front with Devils defenseman Matt Taormina, and the puck just ticked off his stick and slid over the line.
Goalie Martin Brodeur must have been preoccupied with the towering Lucic, who swept at the puck from his parking spot at the right post.
And only 35 seconds later, after an exceptional shift with linemates Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton, Campbell popped in the 3-1 lead. Thornton picked up his second assist of the night and Campbell, who earlier in the evening engaged Brad Mills in the only fight of the night, finished with a Gordie Howe hat trick (goal, assist, fight).
“I mean, you know, I guess it’s a good feeling,’’ said Campbell, acknowledging his night’s tie-in to the great No. 9 of the Red Wings. “But the important thing is, we won.’’
The only scoring through 40 minutes, and the only real offense, was owned by the Devils. With 1:31 remaining in the first period, career opportunist Petr Sykora popped home a doorstep forehander six seconds after a draw to Thomas’s right.
Following the faceoff, actually won by Krejci, veteran winger Dainius Zubrus won a big man’s one-on-one battle for the puck with Dennis Seidenberg behind the net. The 33-year-old Zubrus made a quick, instinctual feed in front and Sykora potted it for his 12th of the season.
Had it not been for a key Thomas save with 1:15 left in the second - a glove stop on David Clarkson - the Devils would have left the second period with a 2-0 lead.
“Tim had a great comeback from what was a mediocre game for him,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “He wasn’t bad in Tampa, but mediocre. When that happens, it’s get back in there as soon as possible.
“That stop [on Clarkson] was huge for us. Tim played a very solid game.’’
Neither club could crack the board in the second, but the Bruins might as well have hung out a sign, “This Space for Rent’’ in their attack zone.
When the period came to an end, the Devils owned a 23-12 shot lead and the Boston offense officially looked as though it had entered midwinter hibernation.
Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli, looking down from the press box in the second period, offered a fair summation of his club’s play recently: “I see a lot of east-west in our game right now.’’
When the Bruins are successful, they are banging bodies and playing a straight-line, north-south game, keeping the opposition on its heels. That wasn’t the story in their second visit to the Rock in two weeks.
The Bruins spent the first 40 minutes doing little in the way of mounting a serious attack on Brodeur. Of the 12 shots they landed in the first two periods, half were by defensemen, an indication that the forwards weren’t able to muster a serious threat in the gritty areas around the net.
But the whole east-west thing went south in a hurry in the third period. When Campbell’s shot for the 3-1 lead went in, the Bruins had cut New Jersey’s shot lead to 23-22. It took the Devils a full 10 minutes of the third to land their first shot on net.
But by that time, puzzle solved.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at GlobeKPD.