Robin Lehner was in full swim mode. In overtime, Patrice Bergeron’s tip had slipped between the Ottawa goaltender’s pads. The puck was on the goal line and inching toward the back of the net.
Lehner pawed for the puck. He chased it so hard his blocker came off. Somewhere in that frenzy, Lehner knocked the puck over the line with his bare right hand.
Video replay confirmed that the puck crossed the line at 3:38 of overtime, giving the Bruins a 2-1 win before 17,565 at TD Garden. It was a comforting end to a grind — the kind that always seems to take place after returning from a road trip. The Bruins were coming off a 4-1 road swing that ended with four straight wins.
“You come back home from all that, it always seems like a challenge,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “We didn’t have our A-game tonight. A lot of it was because I didn’t think we skated as well as we’re used to skating. We were second on the puck on a lot of occasions. It made it a little bit tougher for us to come up with a win. Again, you’ve got to give your guys credit for battling through it and finding ways.’’
The game-ending sequence started with Bergeron winning an offensive-zone faceoff against Peter Regin. It was one of Bergeron’s 17 wins on 26 draws (65 percent).
The puck went back to Dennis Seidenberg at the point. As Seidenberg wound up, Bergeron positioned himself in the high slot, sagging away from defenseman Andre Benoit.
Bergeron tipped Seidenberg’s shot, and the puck skittered through Lehner (44 saves). After several moments, Brad Marchand and Andrew Ference signaled that it was a good goal.
Referees Francis Charron and Kevin Pollock huddled to wait for the video verdict from the Toronto war room. Before the signal was made, Zdeno Chara, who had been standing alongside the referees, lifted his stick. That indication allowed the Bruins to come off the bench to congratulate Tuukka Rask (30 saves).
“I think that’s what he wanted — to find my stick,’’ Bergeron said of Seidenberg. “He did. I was just trying to tip it on net. It squeezed in, so I’ll take that.’’
As the Bruins predicted, they had to engage in a dogfight to claim 2 precious points. The Senators didn’t have three of their best players in Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza, and Craig Anderson, but they submitted a blue-collar, defense-first effort. The Senators entered the game riding a five-game winning streak.
“Exactly what I anticipated before the game,’’ said ex-Senator Chris Kelly. “They played a good, solid hockey game throughout the course of the night. They don’t give you much. Their shots might be a little deceiving, but they don’t give you many scoring chances. They wait for their opportunities and play a good system.’’
The Bruins put 46 pucks on Lehner, but they didn’t have many quality scoring chances. Nathan Horton scored on a changeup at 5:48 of the second period. Early in the third, Horton had a chance to net his second goal, but he snapped a shot over Lehner’s glove.
Other than that, the stingy Senators clamped down in front of their rookie goalie. They backchecked with a purpose. They stuffed shooting lanes. They kept their gaps tight to limit the Bruins’ rushes over the blue line.
“They played an awesome game,’’ Julien said. “Defensively, they always had numbers back. So it was hard for us to even get outnumbered situations or even two-on-twos or three-on-threes.
“If we had three guys, they had four. If we had two, they had three. They did a really good job of playing well defensively and protecting their end as best they could.’’
The Bruins didn’t have their legs. They didn’t win as many battles as they wanted. But they made the plays when necessary.
In the second period, when the game was scoreless, Milan Lucic helped set up the opening goal.
The Bruins were cycling down low. The puck nearly left the offensive zone, but Lucic sprinted and corralled it before it crossed the blue line. That effort kept the attack going and triggered a give-and-go between Horton and Dougie Hamilton.
Hamilton’s return pass found Horton open in the slot. Horton didn’t get all of his muscle behind the shot, but it found a hole.
“We didn’t play our best game,’’ Horton said. “But we still found a way to win. It’s not how we want to play. But in the end, we did get the points. We move on to the next game and be better.’’