After last night’s 2-1 shootout win over Columbus before 17,565 at TD Garden, the important statistic for the Bruins wasn’t the goal next to Adam McQuaid’s name on the scoresheet.
The numbers in bold were the zeros that accompanied Rick Nash, Jeff Carter, and R.J. Umberger, Columbus’s top line.
When all the defensemen are healthy, McQuaid usually makes his home on the third pairing. He is known for playing a safe, conservative, stay-at-home game, responsible for keeping third- and fourth-line forwards from contributing offensively.
But last night, with Johnny Boychuk unavailable because of flu-like symptoms, the coaching staff gave McQuaid the nod for top-pairing duty alongside Zdeno Chara. McQuaid and Chara responded by blanking Nash, Carter, and Umberger, who combined for 12 of Columbus’s 31 shots.
“They’re a big, heavy team,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “We needed a big, physical presence up there. I feel Adam’s been playing better the last few games as far as handling the puck, making better decisions all around, not getting beat back to the net - those kinds of things that were haunting him a little bit earlier. He’s been a better player for us. It was nice to see him play well tonight and score the goal that got us back in the game.’’
The Bruins could have paired Chara with Dennis Seidenberg, his partner during the playoffs. They also could have given Steven Kampfer some shifts with Chara.
But McQuaid rewarded his coaches with his solid defensive play. He was often head-to-head with Nash, the Columbus captain who can turn depth defensemen into turnstiles.
“He’s the rare combination of size, speed, skill, strength, everything,’’ McQuaid said. “It definitely is a challenge. I think he’s more of a deceiving skater than he looks. He’s got a long stride. It’s trying to limit his opportunities like anyone else. At the same time, he can drive wide. He can cut to the net. He can do different things. He keeps you on your toes.’’
McQuaid’s goal wasn’t pretty. At 4:24 of the second period, McQuaid flipped a floater on goal that appeared to glance off Columbus defenseman Grant Clitsome and carom past goalie Curtis Sanford, tying the game at 1-1. Derek MacKenzie had scored Columbus’s only goal at 2:49 of the second.
McQuaid’s ugly goal captured the essence of last night’s win. Columbus played a heavy game and wore down the Bruins. The Blue Jackets had the better chances, especially in the second period, when Tuukka Rask had to stop eight shots.
The Bruins didn’t have their best legs. They were careless with the puck. They didn’t place pucks efficiently in the offensive zone. They couldn’t do much to solve Columbus’s forecheck or figure out how to beat their pack-it-in, net-front play.
But aesthetics mean little when the bottom line is a seventh straight win.
“Lot of things I didn’t really specifically like about our game,’’ Julien said. “But the one thing I liked is that no matter what, we still found a way to win. There’s going to be nights, where you have an 82-game schedule, where you play well and come out with nothing and probably deserve better. There’s going to be nights where you maybe don’t get as good a game out of your team, but you still find a way to win. That’s where you’ve got to give credit to your team, for finding a way to win those games.’’
In the shootout, their second of the season, Julien tabbed Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley, and David Krejci. Sanford, making his first start of 2011-12, kicked out Seguin’s wrister with his left pad.
But Sanford (26 saves) could do little to turn back Peverley and Krejci. Both attacked with speed and snapped off forehand shots.
At the other end, after No. 2 shooter Mark Letestu went high glove to beat Rask, the netminder stood tall to foil Antoine Vermette.
“We’ll take it,’’ said Krejci. “Games like that happen sometimes. I think we battled through it.’’
The Bruins had their best offensive chances in overtime after Vermette was sent off for slashing. Chara hammered a one-timer off the right post. Seguin (three shots) had a net-front look that went wide.
They were chances that didn’t come during regulation. Other than McQuaid’s goal, the closest the Bruins came to scoring was when Benoit Pouliot struck the crossbar late in the first.
Meanwhile, Columbus could have gone ahead on several occasions in the second period. A Kampfer giveaway led to a point-blank attempt by MacKenzie that Rask had to turn aside. Later in the period, Rask flashed his left pad to boot out a close-range Carter shot.
“We knew they were going to be a challenge,’’ McQuaid said of the last-place Jackets. “This league is too good not to bring your best every night. Teams will bury you if you don’t. We were probably just good enough to win tonight. We weren’t at our best.’’