Milan Lucic raced through center ice, slalomed around Joe Thornton, and chipped the puck to himself in the corner. Once Lucic tracked down the chip and emerged from the corner, the left wing had no clue that regulation was about to expire.
Had Lucic looked at the clock, to see that time was almost out with the game tied at 1-1, he might have rushed the play and shot the puck on goal.
Instead, oblivious of the clock, Lucic fed Adam McQuaid at the right point. In hindsight, it was the right move.
McQuaid snapped a shot past Tomas Hertl. David Krejci, camped out in the slot, fished out his stick and deflected the puck between the pads of goalie Antti Niemi and into the net. Time remaining: 0.8 seconds, or just enough for one last faceoff before the Bruins celebrated a 2-1 win at TD Garden over the Sharks Thursday night. San Jose had been the only team in the league without a regulation loss.
“I thought it might be more than 10 seconds — 10, 15, 20 seconds,” Krejci said when he tipped home the winner. “But when we all came together, Looch told me. So I looked up and it was 0.8. It was even sweeter.”
Krejci, with assistance from McQuaid and Lucic, was the lead accomplice in the two-point result. But Tuukka Rask was the primary thief.
Rask squared off against Niemi, his fellow Finn. They are friends, former national teammates, and ex-competitors in Finland. They both employ Markus Lehto as their agent. They are bidding for the same Olympic crease. With Pekka Rinne sidelined for a month because of hip surgery, Rask and Niemi are the top dogs for the No. 1 job.
For one night, Rask made the stronger claim to start in Sochi.
The Sharks had their plan. They had practiced in Boston on Tuesday and Wednesday following a road win in Detroit on Monday. They knew the Bruins were coming off a road win in Buffalo. To start the game, the Sharks knew their legs would be fresher.
Nearly everything went according to San Jose’s script. The Sharks have the most dangerous 1-2-3 center combination in the NHL in Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, and Joe Pavelski. For 20 minutes, the Sharks played at a 93 octane, fully caffeinated frenzy. They blitzed the Boston net with 16 pucks. The Bruins blocked nine other shots. Three others went wide. At the other end, the Bruins managed only three shots on goal.
“They were pretty relentless on their attack,” McQuaid said. “They were pushing the puck. There was no messing around. They were getting it in and coming every time. They had a lot of speed. They’re a really good team. It was a tough game tonight.”
The only problem with San Jose’s plan was the opposing goalie. Rask stopped 38 shots, including all 16 in the first. On an early power play, Rask stoned Couture and Patrick Marleau. Later in the first, Rask booted out another Marleau bid. Following a bad bounce off the end boards, Hertl had an unchallenged net-front bid. Rask coolly cut down the angle and punted away Hertl’s shot at 17:22.
“Without Tuukka playing the way he has — what does he have, 11 goals against in eight games? That’s why he gets paid the big bucks,” Lucic said. “And that’s why I think he’s been our MVP thus far.”
The Sharks should have potted at least four goals in the first period. Rask left them with none. He stole the win for his team. After the victory, Rask could have ambled over to the North End to pick the Modern Pastry cash registers clean and pocket a box of cannolis.
“I’m sure he was named the first star,” said San Jose coach Todd McLellan. “If he wasn’t, I don’t know what game a lot of people were at. He played extremely well for them. We weren’t on the outside against a big, physical team. I thought we generated a lot of opportunities.”
Because of Rask’s airtight play, the Bruins held a 1-0 lead after 40 minutes. Jarome Iginla scored his first goal as a Bruin at 18:48 of the second.
But even Rask was human in the third. After the opening faceoff, Rask turned back a Marc-Edouard Vlasic point shot. Marleau found the rebound and tucked in the puck at 0:18 of the third, tying the game, 1-1.
The tempo, however, had changed. The decaf Bruins had jiggled their legs free. They reclaimed their game, which they prefer to play at a slower pace than the high-flying Sharks. The Bruins controlled the puck more. They wore down the Sharks. By the end, the Sharks were grinding their gears while the Bruins had found their rhythm.
“We don’t have to be ashamed,” Krejci said. “I’m pretty sure lots of guys can tell you they were probably a little bit better team. I’m not making any excuses. We played last night. We traveled. They were here since [Monday], I think. We just kept it simple. We tried to get the puck deep and go work. That’s how the winning goal happened.”