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This one was twice as nice

Caron’s spark lifts struggling champs

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / March 9, 2012
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The Bruins still aren’t quite themselves and likely won’t be for a while. Two of their top six forwards, Rich Peverley and Nathan Horton, remain hors de combat. The same goes for Tuukka Rask, goalie 1A, who probably won’t be seen again this season unless the Bruins make a deep playoff run. Their game, centered on grinding play, big hits, consistent scoring, and full-sheet defensive responsibility, too often trends more toward partly cloudy than blue sky.

But Thursday night was better. Much better in fact, for one significant reason: the 3-1 win over the Sabres came only 48 hours after Tuesday night’s triumph in Toronto, giving the Stanley Cup champs their first back-to-back wins in two months.

“I guess we were aware of it,’’ said Shawn Thornton, reflecting on the protracted drought that spanned 26 games. “It’s not as if we were trying not to win, obviously . . . but the results weren’t there. For a while, we weren’t playing our style.’’

“It feels like it’s coming now,’’ added David Krejci, whose goal with 4:06 to go in regulation was the two-goal jawbreaker. “It’s about time.’’

In fact, way past due. In their previous 25 games, the Bruins won only 10 times, only to follow each of those victories with a loss. Four of those losses were by shutout. They lost those 10 games by a collective 35-13. Cobbling together two wins might seem rather modest, especially for a defending Cup champ, one that earlier this season strung together win streaks of 10 and seven games. But given the recent win-one-lose-one pattern, the back-to-back W’s over the Leafs and Sabres were nearly enough for the Sports Hub’s Dave Goucher once more to summon the Duck Boats and stir a city’s dream of repeating as champs.

“It seems to be for a lot of people, and I think it’s the same for us,’’ said coach Claude Julien when asked if the two wins provided a sense of relief. “We’ve been obviously battling with our consistency. And even though this is our first back-to-back wins in a long time . . . I was encouraged by our play in New York [a 4-3 loss to the Rangers], and it’s just kept coming along in the next game.’’

Now the question becomes, beginning with Saturday’s visit by the Capitals, is this finally the start of a positive trend? Are the Bruins finally doing enough things right not to end up on the wrong side of the score? Do we have some traction here?

Much of that answer centers on secondary scoring, which has been primarily absent with the departures of Horton and Peverley from the right wing. Out of desperation, Julien moved Tyler Seguin up a line to play on the right side with Krejci and Milan Lucic, a line that has sizzled for 20 points in the last five games. Aside from that trio, the most encouraging sign of late, and beginning with that loss in New York, has been the emergence of Jordan Caron.

Caron, the big-bodied winger, began Thursday night on the No. 3 line with Benoit Pouliot and Chris Kelly. But by the second period, the former first-round pick was bumped up to the Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron line, with deadline acquisition Brian Rolston swinging down to Caron’s spot. And it was Caron’s solid work on that line that helped produce Johnny Boychuk’s strike with 12:56 gone in the third that proved to be game-winner.

Caron, selected 25th overall in the 2009 draft, finally looks as though he’s emerging as a bona fide NHL winger. He scored once at MSG, a firewagon charge to the net from the left side. Two nights later in Toronto, he duplicated the move, buzzing by Leafs defenseman Luke Schenn on a heavy approach. He added a second goal against Toronto, converting a goal-mouth feed from Zdeno Chara. Straight-line, north-south hockey. Nothing fancy. No jacket-and-tie required. Precisely how the scouting report read in June ’09 after his third season with Rimouski Oceanic in the Quebec League.

“I feel pretty good right now, and I’m getting more and more ice time,’’ said the smiling 21-year-old, who, let’s not forget, would be wrapping up his junior year of college had he chosen the NCAA path. “That’s something that I really like. I think it’s easier when you play 12, 13, 14 minutes a game.’’

For the record, Caron finished with 13:19 in ice time and fired two shots, one of which made it to the net.

It’s not as if he dominated, but he did gain that tiny bit of momentum, and he is unmistakably making himself a presence. No one’s suggesting he is force, but like the Bruins game at large, he is emerging, at a critical time.

“I’m not a coach, but I can see he’s skating better,’’ noted Thornton, whose one-time slapper delivered Boston’s first goal, deflected home by Gregory Campbell for the 1-1 equalizer at 18:09 of the second. “He’s more aggressive with his shot. He’s creating his own chances out there, too. The last 3-4 games, he’s been really strong.’’

It’s a process, folks, one that’s been hard to watch the past two months. The Bruins have 40 wins - for the fourth time in Julien’s five seasons. Never have two in a row looked so good for a team that began this season with much grander visions of “two in a row.’’

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD.

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