The Boston Bruins certainly weren’t slinking away from the importance of getting back to their winning ways in New York this weekend.
The B’s had dropped a pair of New York games by an aggregate, embarrassing score of 13-3 score to the Islanders and Rangers where the team thoroughly collapsed, and pulling back further they had lost four of their last five games with the feel-good Lake Tahoe win sandwiched in between defeats.
So, the onus was on the Boston Bruins to respond with a supreme effort at both ends of the ice, and make sure in no uncertain terms that the last two losses were not a part of this team’s identity this season. Sure, they were missing Matt Grzelcyk, Jeremy Lauzon and Kevan Miller as legitimate reasons behind some softness at the defensive end.
And it absolutely looked like there was some emotional let-down both before and after the marquee outdoor game against the Flyers in Nevada.
But it was back to business in Boston’s 4-1 win over the New York Rangers where they outmuscled, outhustled and outscored the Blueshirts at Madison Square Garden while getting back to the way they played over the first month of the season.
“The emphasis was the togetherness on the ice and on the bench and everybody pushing everybody else to play the right way,” said Bruce Cassidy. “You guys don’t see that as much or hear it, but hopefully that translates on the ice when guys are sticking to together. When you start losing a bit and it gets uncomfortable, teams can go in different directions.
“I’ve always found that, when there’s a little adversity, this team will always come together and not split apart. It was all getting back to our game. I didn’t think we were all that far off from our game. We lost some [games] badly, but I thought we weren’t lousy for 60 minutes in those two games. We were somewhere in between. But tonight, I thought from the first shift all the way essentially to the last shift, we were going to play the same way no matter who rolled over the boards. That was our identity: We were going to make plays off the rush when they were there, we were going to be hard and physical [and] we were going to protect the front of our net and go to their net.”
So where did the rebound from the Black and Gold come from?
Certainly, it was a great call by Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy to shake up the lineup, and bench Chris Wagner, Anders Bjork and John Moore while inserting Greg McKegg, Karson Kuhlman and Steve Kampfer into the B’s Sunday roster. The move manufactured some urgency that had been absent and sent a message that Cassidy was willing to “shake it up a little bit so that people understand the value of being in the lineup every night.”
It worked along with a decision to give Jakub Zboril top pairing responsibilities with Charlie McAvoy while dropping 21-year-old Urho Vaakanainen to a third pairing with Steve Kampfer. That led to a much more stable defensive effort from the Bruins where they were stouter around their own net while able to move the puck amidst the Rangers fore-check.
“I thought our back end bounced back very well,” said Bruce Cassidy. “[We were] sticking to the game plan by playing North as much as possible. They were still making hockey plays when there were plays to be made. Obviously [McAvoy] and [Zboril] are really good puck movers, but I thought the other guys did a good job staying clean.”
That made all the difference in the world and freed up McAvoy for a huge goal in the second period that really pushed things out of reach. The rest was about Charlie Coyle stepping up and scoring a pair of goals with some big-time secondary offense, Patrice Bergeron blocking shots and throwing hits like he was a fresh AHL call-up and Trent Frederic getting back to the energetic, punishing style of play that’s worked so well for him this year.
It was the familiar formula that pushed the Bruins to the top of the East Division after the first month, and now has them two points behind the Washington Capitals with a pair of games in hand.
“We needed it. We dropped a couple of games, and that’s not us. That’s not our character, especially with the way the result was in the last couple [of games],” said Coyle. “We wanted to use this one to our advantage, stick together and get to our game.
“We kind of got away from it in stretches of games and we could see what it could turn into quick. That’s not us. When we play the way, we did today and stick together, we’re good. It’s our identity. When we put in the work and feed off each other, that’s huge and we’ll get that [winning] result more times than not.”
Oh, by the way, the next two Boston Bruins games are at home against the Capitals, so there should be no lack of motivation for a B’s game that now seems to be finding their mojo again.