The Bruins took their first stride into the NHL’s stretch drive last night, and they stumbled with their initial steps. But after two periods of standing around like Washington tourists - perhaps it was their recent visit to Pennsylvania Avenue? - they turned a better third-period effort and a fluke goal into a 4-3 win over the Senators at TD Garden.
Dennis Seidenberg, hoping only to mash a shot on net from the center-ice red line, saw his long-distance slapper elude Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson and land in the back of the net at 7:09 of the third to break a 3-3 tie. That goal - looking more like a between-periods shot by a lucky fan to win $50,000 - provided the Bruins with triumph No. 32 and moved them 1 point closer to the Rangers for first place in the Eastern Conference.
“I think the shot bounced and kept rising,’’ said Seidenberg, sounding somewhat mystified at how he scored his third goal this season. “Maybe it was tough to read for the goalie.
“You do that, and maybe you get lucky, but what I was really trying to do there was just get it on his pads. We had forwards flying with speed and you’re hoping maybe it comes to them.’’
For the first 40 minutes, nothing came to the Bruins. Their skating wasn’t there. Their net presence was nearly nonexistent. For the most part, until a Milan Lucic goal in the final minute of the second period, all they had to show for the night was a Zdeno Chara long-range slapper on a power play that brought them a temporary 1-0 lead in the first.
“Yeah, we were really, really, really rusty,’’ said Chara. “The first 40 minutes, we weren’t playing the way we’re capable of.
“But all of a sudden, in the third period, we were much better. We just decided to play. But for the first 40, we were too hesitant, too slow to react.’’
The Senators moved to a 3-1 lead by the 13:28 mark of the second period, the Bruins imitating the New England winter of 2011-12 by really not showing up. Ex-Coyote Kyle Turris broke the 1-1 deadlock at 7:43, sniping in a short-side roof shot from the left circle off a sweet cross-slot dish by Daniel Alfredsson.
With 6:32 to go in the period, Erik Karlsson provided the two-goal lead, finishing off a two-on-one break against Seidenberg after Chara was caught up ice.
Tim Thomas, guilty of a big rebound on Ottawa’s first goal, should have had the short side covered on the Turris snipe. It was a good shot, but the NHL Goalie Book of Truths (foreword by Glenn Hall) states that you should always have the short side covered.
Lucic snapped in a 25-foot wrister with 45 seconds to go before the second intermission, cutting the Ottawa lead to 3-2 and putting the Bruins within striking distance. Based on their listless play of the second (outshot, 13-5), it was a better position than they deserved. And from that better position, they quickly turned a mediocre night into another 2 points.
Asked if he felt lucky to be within a goal after 40 minutes, coach Claude Julien said, “No doubt. That’s a real tough team for us. They keep three guys high all night and that made it tough for us.’’
Brad Marchand connected for the 3-3 equalizer at 2:20, potting Boston’s second power-play goal of the night by knocking one in at the right post with Chris Phillips draped over him like an old suit from Filene’s Basement.
Less than five minutes later, Seidenberg drove in the killer, launching his shot from the center-ice red line and seeing it come to rest in the back of the net. It was his first goal since Dec. 28.
The Bruins needed the better part of the first three minutes just to find the offensive end of the ice, but despite the slow start, they moved to the 1-0 lead on the Chara power-play goal at 11:57.
Big Z unloaded a low, heavy shot from just inside the blue line, and Anderson lost it in a two-player screen (Lucic and Jared Cowen) at the top of the crease.
The Bruins have received little offensive pop from the back line over the last six weeks. Chara hadn’t scored since nailing in a power-play strike Dec. 17.
The goal was Chara’s eighth of the season, putting him about on pace to equal his 14 of last season.
The Senators were back to tie with 1:20 left in the period, Colin Greening connecting from the slot after Thomas uncharacteristically delivered a big, fat, juicy rebound to the right circle. Filip Kuba fired the initial shot off left wing, at the blue line, and Thomas failed in his attempt to steer it wide to the boards.
Milan Michalek pounced on the gift, quickly unloaded from the right circle, and Greening, the ex-Cornell star, provided the redirect into the net.
“We’ve been emphasizing that for a while,’’ said Julien, noting that he wants his defensemen to get more active on offense. “A lot of teams we play sit back in the neutral zone, and we’ve encouraged our D to skate more with the puck.
“Our offense slowly came back tonight, and one of the keys was our defensemen skating with the puck.’’Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD.