If there is one thing that has most disturbed the Bruins about their two-month gear-grinding, it is their fraudulence. Instead of playing the Black-and-Gold brand that led to success - airtight goaltending, efficient defense, timely scoring - they have submitted a facsimile, especially during their four-game losing streak.
On Saturday, before 17,565 at TD Garden, they finally turned in an honest performance that better represented their game’s foundations. Appropriately, they earned a 3-2 shootout win over the Flyers.
“We needed those 2 points,’’ said Tim Thomas (27 saves). “We needed to leave the arena with a good feeling after the game. Real bad.’’
In the shootout, David Krejci, Tyler Seguin, and Patrice Bergeron snapped wrist shots through Ilya Bryzgalov. Matt Read and Claude Giroux, Philadelphia’s leadoff shooters, slipped pucks past Thomas. But after Bergeron scored the go-ahead goal, Thomas slammed the door in Danny Briere’s face to get his team the decision.
In their last four outings, the Bruins never had enough punch to even approach a shootout. They gave up 12 goals in back-to-back losses to Florida and Tampa Bay. They had little life in a 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh in which Marty Turco relieved Thomas after 20 minutes. They dropped a 4-3 decision to Washington March 10 that triggered the four-game fold job.
In all four games, the Bruins dug themselves into early ditches. Before Saturday, they had fallen behind in seven straight matches.
Against the Flyers, they finally broke through early. In the first period, after Bryzgalov left a rebound of a Benoit Pouliot shot in front, Chris Kelly fought through Erik Gustafsson to bang in the loose puck at 6:23.
Later in the first, the Bruins took advantage of some scattershot Philadelphia coverage. Before the Flyers could scramble back into proper position, Bergeron spotted Seguin in front for a close-range strike at 17:07.
“I thought we had good energy that first period,’’ Kelly said. “We had a few chances and it was really nice to get that first one, then to get the second one. It felt good coming in after the first. It’s something we haven’t had in a while.’’
In the four losses, the Bruins were at their worst in front of their net. The house - as that real estate is commonly known - long has been the Bruins’ foundation. If there’s one thing coach Claude Julien wants to eliminate, it’s scoring chances from between the circles.
Heading into Saturday’s game, returning a ransacked house to its usual lockdown state was the club’s primary task.
“The last few games, we didn’t do a good job of boxing out or helping out Timmy on the rebounds,’’ Dennis Seidenberg said. “Today, we did a better job. There’s always room for improvement, obviously.’’
That job started in practice at Ristuccia Arena Friday. Shortly after touching down at Hanscom Field, the Bruins reported to the rink to address their shortcomings in front of the net. Battle drills, boxing out, and active sticks were the order of the day.
That work carried over into Saturday. The defensemen kept a tight box and took away the middle of the ice. The forwards, especially the strong-side wings, sagged off the points and walls to collapse in the net-front real estate.
“We were getting caught on the outside quite a bit and opening up that slot area,’’ said Julien. “At the same time, we had a D seeing a guy open in the slot, he steps up, and he gets caught in between. Then they’re able to slide pucks back-door.
“We just had to collapse a little bit more. One of the biggest adjustments was probably our strong-side winger getting caught along the boards a lot of the time when the other team had full control. So we brought him back in.
“Guys committed to that. Because of that, we took away some of the opportunities they normally get in those situations.’’
The only goals Philadelphia scored were off deflections. In the second, with Seguin in the box for slashing Giroux, Read tipped a Briere shot past Thomas at 9:16. With 4:17 remaining in regulation, Jakub Voracek got his stick on a Braydon Coburn shot to deflect the puck over Thomas, tying the game at 2.
But for the most part, the Bruins didn’t have the bad D-zone giveaways, sloppy coverage, or hole-filled defense that plagued them during their losing streak. They had the layers of protection they preach.
As a result, Thomas looked more like the goalie with two Vezinas and a Conn Smythe in his trophy case.
The Bruins started the day in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. With the win, they hopped back over the Senators into second (Ottawa played last night). That second/seventh interchange could continue until the regular season concludes. On Saturday, the Bruins looked more like a No. 2 seed.
“I think we know that time’s running out here,’’ said Julien. “With 10 games left, it’s important we bring that kind of effort, that kind of a game, night in and night out.
“First of all, we want to be part of the playoff scene. Second of all, we want to be in the best position possible. Thirdly, you want to make sure you play your best hockey once the playoffs start.
“You have to build toward that. We’ve got a lot of building to do.’’