GLENDALE, Ariz. - Perhaps it was fitting that last night, on his winning goal in overtime, Dennis Seidenberg’s shot landed nowhere close to the Phoenix net.
Seidenberg’s fling from the high slot was as wide right as a Scott Norwood boot. But in a most fortuitous turn of fortune, Seidenberg’s shot glanced off ex-Bruin Derek Morris and caromed past Jason LaBarbera 58 seconds into overtime to give the Bruins a 2-1 win before 17,459 at Jobing.com Arena.
Like Seidenberg’s shot, the Bruins were just a bit off in their return from the holiday break.
“First game back after having three days off, so I don’t think we were as sharp as we could have been,’’ said coach Claude Julien, whose team won its seventh straight game. “But we improved as the game went on and we found a way to win.’’
Even though Seidenberg’s attempt wasn’t on target, the defenseman and his teammates did everything right to create the scoring chance. Benoit Pouliot carried the puck down the right-side wall and behind the net, drawing Keith Yandle his way. As Pouliot careened around the cage, he sent a backhand dish out front to a driving Chris Kelly. The two couldn’t connect on the exchange, but Kelly stayed in front and planted a solid screen on LaBarbera.
“We got possession in the offensive zone,’’ Kelly said. “Seids was pretty active. The more traffic you can get in front of a goalie, sometimes good things happen. That seemed to be the case.’’
Pouliot’s pass, which had slipped past Kelly, landed on Seidenberg’s stick. As Yandle approached to step in front of the shot, Seidenberg did his best to fling the puck around the oncoming defenseman.
“All I was trying was to get the puck by the guy that was coming at me, whoever that was,’’ Seidenberg said. “I kind of chopped at it. It wasn’t a hard shot or anything. My goal was to get it by the first guy, get it deep, and get it as close to the net as possible. When you have luck, it’s a good feeling.’’
The Coyotes might have deserved a better fate. For the first half of the game, despite falling behind in the first minute, Phoenix pushed harder than the Bruins. They had better legs. They had some good looks on Tuukka Rask. They took advantage of some loose defensive coverage to attack the offensive zone with speed.
“I thought we struggled through the neutral zone,’’ Julien said. “We got spread out quite a bit. They were just going through us like Swiss cheese. We left a lot of areas for them to skate through.’’
Nowhere was that more evident than on Phoenix’s goal. During a neutral-zone regroup, the Coyotes made the Bruins backtrack toward their net. Ray Whitney, who had picked up speed in center ice, hurtled over the blue line. Whitney took a feed from Daymond Langkow, split Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk, and tucked the puck five-hole on Rask at 15:16 of the first. Rask had entered with two straight shutouts.
Even though Rask saw his scoreless run vanish, the Boston netminder stood tall for the rest of the night. Rask’s best save came during a second-period Phoenix power play after Boychuk was sent off for tripping.
During the power play, Whitney slipped behind the penalty-killers for a breakaway chance. Rask waited for Whitney to make the first move, then smothered the winger’s close-range shot with his left pad at 16:37 of the second.
“Breakaways are always tough,’’ said Rask, who collected 21 saves. “He’s obviously a pretty sneaky goal scorer as we saw in the first when he snuck that one by me. So you could say that [save] was the toughest one.’’
Meanwhile, LaBarbera rebounded after a bad start. Just 47 seconds after the first puck drop, the Bruins scored on their first shot of the game. David Krejci snapped a shot from the slot that sailed past two Coyotes before beating LaBarbera. But the backup netminder, assuming the No. 1 role with Mike Smith (groin) on the shelf, stopped 27 shots. LaBarbera’s sharpest save was in the third, when he gloved a Brad Marchand wrist shot at 2:53.
There were some fireworks at 17:11 of the first period. While lugging the puck toward the net, Raffi Torres dropped Andrew Ference with an elbow. After seeing his partner go down, Adam McQuaid wasted little time going after Torres.
McQuaid got the best of Torres in a fierce fight, opening up a cut over the ex-Canuck’s left eye with a barrage of right hands. Torres was called for elbowing and fighting. McQuaid racked up 17 penalty minutes - two for instigating, five for fighting, and a 10-minute misconduct.
“It’s hard to get upset at players who go to the defense of their teammates,’’ Julien said. “That’s what he did. He did a good job of it. This is what this league has turned into lately. If there’s a good hit or a bad hit, right away, the gloves are off.’’
McQuaid’s left cheek was puffy after the game. Patrice Bergeron was limping. Boychuk, who took a puck below the belt, was still shaking his head about his bad luck. But an overtime win, a seventh straight victory, and a first-place berth in the Eastern Conference can go a long way toward dulling such pain.