For a change, the Bruins scored first in their 3-2 shootout win over Philadelphia on Saturday. Had they not struck first, they could be riding a five-game losing streak instead of sitting a point ahead of Ottawa. For that, they have their No. 6 defenseman and third-line forwards to thank.
Before Saturday’s game, Greg Zanon couldn’t crack Boston’s defensive six-pack. Zanon, the Bruins’ primary acquisition at the Feb. 27 trade deadline, was a healthy scratch for the 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh March 11. He was in a suit and tie for Thursday’s 6-2 setback to Florida.
But with Joe Corvo a healthy scratch on Saturday for the first time as a Bruin, Zanon was back in the lineup. Early on, the stay-at-home defenseman rewarded his coaches for their decision.
In the first period, an instant before Brayden Schenn closed in on the forecheck, Zanon chipped the puck out of the left corner for Brian Rolston. It was the first of three breakout passes that led to a Benoit Pouliot shot. Ilya Bryzgalov stopped Pouliot, but Chris Kelly jammed home the rebound to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead. It was the first time in eight games the Bruins scored the first goal.
“It certainly set the tone for the game,’’ coach Claude Julien said of the early goal and the crisp first-period tempo. “That’s the one thing we wanted to do. When you haven’t done that in a while, it’s obviously a good feeling. It really brings back the confidence.’’
The Bruins are far from disinfecting the game that has blemished their last two months. They turned in a thorough effort against the Flyers. History indicates, however, that Monday night’s home game against Toronto includes no guarantees of a repeat performance.
If they hope to continue repairing what they’ve demolished, the Bruins will need more of such contributions from their depth defensemen and bottom-six forwards.
Right now, the Bruins are a top-heavy team. Against the Flyers, they reunited Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, pairing their best defensemen. With Tuukka Rask unavailable for the rest of the regular season, Tim Thomas will handle the bulk of the workload in goal. Their top two lines, anchored by David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron, will be responsible for creating offense.
It will be critical for the rest of the roster to complement the Bruins’ best players.
Against the Flyers, the No. 3 line of Pouliot, Kelly, and Rolston gave the Bruins the secondary scoring they require. Rolston has shifted up and down the lineup since his arrival from the Islanders. During his first handful of games back with the Bruins, Rolston served as a fifth wheel while attempting to adjust to the team’s pace and system. Rolston looks far more comfortable now.
It helped Rolston that Kelly had his legs and stick working. Prior to Saturday, Kelly had just 1 point in his last 12 games. He had lost more faceoffs than he had won in four straight games. Against the Flyers, Kelly scored the first goal, won 10 of 17 draws, and was the responsible two-way center the Bruins have known him to be.
“Chris seemed really on top of his game,’’ said Julien of his No. 3 center’s St. Patrick’s Day performance. “He’s Scottish, not Irish, but still, it seemed to mean a lot to him.
“It was nice to see him be like that. Brian’s starting to fit in with everybody else. That line was a real decent line for us.’’
The Bruins also need Gregory Campbell to reclaim some consistency. Campbell has just 1 point in his last 25 games. He also has been on the ice for too many goals against. In Thursday’s loss to the Panthers, Campbell was on the ice for two Florida goals, including the winner.
On March 11, the Penguins scored their first two goals with Campbell on the ice. Julien insists that above all else, his fourth line be defensively responsible.
Campbell didn’t score against the Flyers, but he engaged Zac Rinaldo in a first-period fight. In the third, with the Bruins holding a one-goal lead, Campbell hit the deck to block a Jakub Voracek slap shot.
“You see somebody go down and block a shot, it’s a huge boost to the team,’’ Campbell said. “That’s like playoff hockey. We’ve talked a lot about guys getting out of their comfort zone. Whether it’s me or anybody else on this team, whoever’s going to do it, it sends a message that it’s desperate times right now. It calls for desperate measures. If you have to block a shot with your leg, face, whatever, that’s what we need right now.’’
On the back end, playoff partners Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk were reunited as well. Ference landed a team-high four shots in 21:42 of action. Boychuk blocked a team-high four shots and got the best of Maxime Talbot in a second-period fight.
Neither Zanon nor Adam McQuaid recorded a shot. But offense isn’t the calling card of either defenseman’s game. Instead, Zanon (13:20) and McQuaid (14:52) gave the Bruins the gritty shifts they needed to spell Chara and Seidenberg.
“It’s a huge statement game,’’ Bergeron said of the skid-stopping win. “We can obviously build from it. But it’s only one game.’’Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.