TORONTO - When November began, the Bruins were the 15th-ranked team in the Eastern Conference, and the second-worst team in the league.
A month later, after last night’s 6-3 win over Toronto at the Air Canada Centre, they are the No. 1 team in the Northeast Division, a point ahead of the Maple Leafs, and a point behind conference-leading Pittsburgh.
“Going 12-0-1 is more than I think anyone imagined,’’ said Milan Lucic, who busted an eight-game goal-scoring drought with a pair of strikes. “It all comes down to the commitment of all the guys and our game plan that we did this whole month. A big reason for that is that it wasn’t one line or a pair of defensemen. It was everyone stepping up, doing their job, and playing more like we ended off last year.’’
It was the first time the Bruins finished an entire month without a regulation loss since January 1969, when they went 10-0-4. They have recorded points in 13 straight games, a feat last accomplished in 1983. That season, they rolled off points in 17 straight.
Last night wasn’t their best game. Tim Thomas allowed a rare softie, a bad-angle Matt Frattin goal in the third that rattled through his equipment and trickled over the line. The fourth line, usually a dependable crew, was on the ice for a handful of Toronto’s scoring chances. With the Bruins clinging to a 4-3 lead in the third, the Leafs sent wave after wave of pressure on Thomas.
But like they did during the entire month, the Bruins came up big when big performances were required. Lucic broke Toronto’s back with his second goal at 15:21 of the third. Brad Marchand capped the win with an empty-net goal at 19:08.
“I didn’t necessarily think we played that well tonight,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “We didn’t get much support. We didn’t defend as well. But sometimes you have to find a way to win in a long schedule. We did tonight. We made the most of our opportunities.’’
Thomas (34 saves) didn’t look like an NHL puck-stopper on Frattin’s goal. But in the first, Thomas bailed out his boys - Joe Corvo and Dennis Seidenberg flubbed an exchange in the offensive zone - when Phil Kessel, of all people, pulled away for a breakaway.
“I quickly think, ‘Man, I know he wants to score really bad,’ ’’ Thomas said. “I didn’t really start thinking about what he was going to do. I just decided to play him honestly. I realized there was just enough back pressure to keep him pretty much to one side of the net, which really helped me out.’’
Kessel tried to slip the puck five-hole. Thomas jammed his pads shut at 16:00, keeping the score tied at 1-1.
From there, Thomas’s boys took over.
Entering last night, Lucic, David Krejci, and Nathan Horton had been ghosts on the scoresheet. Krejci’s last goal was on Nov. 7. Lucic hadn’t found the back of the net since Nov. 10. Horton had just one assist in his last four games.
Last night, the power line played like a No. 1 threesome. In the second, they hurtled out of the defensive zone with enough speed that Horton had a close-range shot on goal. Jonas Gustavsson kicked out the shot, but Krejci was coming so quickly that the center was in perfect position to knock home the rebound at 3:33, giving the Bruins a 2-1 lead.
Later in the second, after Joffrey Lupul slammed in a Kessel feed to tie the game at 2-2, Krejci’s line came through once more. Again, they attacked Toronto with speed. Because of the size of Lucic and Horton, few teams can repel the forwards when their legs are whirring. After Horton fed a feathery pass to Krejci, the center spotted Zdeno Chara joining the rush. Once Chara took Krejci’s dish, the captain whistled a wrister past Gustavsson at 15:30 to give the Bruins a 3-2 edge.
“I think it’s important for those guys to build on that,’’ Julien said of his power line’s performance. “They’ve got the confidence now. They’ve got to make the most of it more than they can relax and say, ‘Well, now we’re getting points.’ I’d like to see them build on it.’’
In the third, Frattin’s goal gave the Leafs late life. Thomas was under siege.
For the last time, Krejci’s line came through to apply the crushing blow. Late in the third, Krejci slipped behind the net and waited for Toronto to make a mistake. Luke Schenn obliged by leaving his net-front position to apply pressure on Krejci. The shifty center floated away from Schenn, who then had to scramble back to cover Lucic in front of the net.
By then, Lucic had gained a foothold in the slot. Schenn arrived too late, as Lucic directed Krejci’s pass past Gustavsson at 15:21, giving the Bruins a 5-3 lead.
“We always talk about the third period being our best period,’’ Lucic said. “That’s been the case this year. We always talk about the killer instinct and pushing for more. We didn’t have it in October. But we found it here in November. That’s a big reason why we’ve been able to put together the record that we have.’’Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.