TORONTO — It’s almost a routine these days. The first period comes, the Bruins lose a defenseman. On Sunday night, it was Dougie Hamilton, gone down the tunnel near the end of the period, done for the night.
And perhaps longer. After the game, a 5-2 win for the Bruins over the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre, coach Claude Julien said Hamilton was headed back to Boston to be evaluated for a lower-body injury. Julien said Hamilton was unlikely to play for “at least a week,” putting yet another blue liner on the shelf.
“It seems to be normal now,” Torey Krug said. “We’ve played so many games where we’ve dropped a guy, especially early on in a game.”
The Bruins lost another defenseman when Kevan Miller was sent into the boards by Dion Phaneuf in the waning moments of the game. The hit went unpenalized, despite looking as if it was worthy of sending Phaneuf to the box. As Julien said, “It was a close call. It’s headfirst into the boards.”
Julien seemed optimistic about the undrafted rookie’s condition, calling his injury “very minor.” Miller has proved worthy of a spot after being called up on an emergency basis for the second time this season. And Julien said he was “more optimistic than pessimistic” about the potential return of Johnny Boychuk, who was injured on a boarding play by Montreal’s Max Pacioretty on Thursday. The Bruins will wait until Monday morning in Calgary to determine whether they need to recall another defenseman from Providence.
Miller did more than provide his usual steady work against Toronto. He scored his first NHL goal, which turned out to be the winner, off a faceoff win from Carl Soderberg at 15:58 of the second period.
“Very happy that old guy finally scored,” the 22-year-old Krug quipped of the 26-year-old Miller. “It was great. You see the excitement on his face. I remember when I scored my first goal — it’s just such a great feeling.”
Said Julien of Miller, “He’s been pretty solid. We’ve said that from the beginning. He’s been thrown into the fire. You get some young players coming up sometimes. You spot them here and there, put them against maybe third, fourth lines. He doesn’t have that luxury here right now. We’ve got so many injuries, he’s got to play against some top lines. It doesn’t seem to be bothering him.”
Miller’s goal was the Bruins’ third of the second, a period that had doomed them against the Canadiens in Montreal, but which provided the winning margin on Sunday.
“We pushed a lot, I think,” said goaltender Chad Johnson, who made 30 saves to record his fifth win in six starts. “We talked about it in the past, that we wanted to have better second periods. Tonight, we had a really good second period. It carried us through the whole game, I think. We got the lead back and it was key for us.”
Johnson had allowed a goal to Peter Holland at 12:20 of the first period, but the Bruins came back in the second, starting with two consecutive power-play goals.
The first came on a nice feed from Reilly Smith to Soderberg at 5:14.
“We have pretty good chemistry,” said Smith, who was playing for the first time in his hometown of Toronto. “If I get the puck down low, I know [Soderberg is] going to go backdoor, and the other way around. He’s able to find some open space, and that worked out today.”
The Bruins took the lead as Krug scored his eighth of the season at 6:47, again on the power play, to tie Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson for the league lead in goals by defensemen.
Trailing, 3-1, the Maple Leafs came back in the third period, with Jay McClement scoring just 37 seconds in. But they couldn’t get any closer. The Bruins added an insurance goal on Jarome Iginla’s sixth of the season — and only his second in the last 13 games — and an empty-netter by Patrice Bergeron.
For the Bruins, it was a crucial win in the wake of Saturday’s difficult and emotional game against the Penguins, one that left the Bruins down five regulars (Chris Kelly, Loui Eriksson, Shawn Thornton, Adam McQuaid, and Boychuk).
That put the onus on the younger Bruins — on Krug and Matt Bartkowski and Miller, on Ryan Spooner and Matt Fraser. For the most part, they proved equal to the task.
“You’ve got to believe in your system, what you want to accomplish as a team,” Julien said. “The way we play is a very demanding way of play, but we feel our scouts and our upper management have done a good job of giving us the types of players that can play that game. So, even with the guys that are being called up, they played a very similar style back in Providence, so we’re asking them to do the same thing here.
“It’s about believing in what your team is all about, going out there and doing it whether you’re a young player or an older player. Our game can never change.”