EDMONTON, Alberta — They just had to hold on.
The Bruins scored three goals in the first period in Edmonton, and looked ticketed for an easy victory.
But these Bruins have just 12 healthy forwards (three from Providence), six healthy defensemen (one from Providence), and two semi-healthy goaltenders. This is a team that has spent the week coming down, one after the other, with flu-like symptoms that have left them weakened and sluggish.
So it wasn’t that easy, even against a team that has the fewest points in the Western Conference. The Bruins allowed two goals in the second period and had to kill two crucial penalties in the second half of the third period to leave Rexall Place with the 4-2 win, their fourth straight.
The Bruins were outshot, 11-0, to start the third and finally recorded their first shot 13-plus minutes into the period.
“At the end we were just hanging on,” coach Claude Julien said. “Our bench was short. We’ve been struggling with the health of our team right now, and you can see it was a matter of either win it in regulation, or I don’t think we come out of here with a win.”
But they did, needing every single one of Chad Johnson’s career-high 39 saves to do it, though Julien was critical of the goals allowed.
“Didn’t like the goals we gave up for what we expect out of our team,” Julien said. “I thought some of those were sloppiness. But credit to them because they came out, they played the way we know they can play. They skated, they showed their skill level, and they gave us a real tough game.”
Johnson (6-1) got the start because Tuukka Rask was felled, like many of his teammates, with a stomach bug. Rask, who took Johnson’s start Tuesday because the backup was sick, missed practice Wednesday, and yielded to Johnson Thursday.
“Johnson was good, especially in the third period,” Julien said. “I’m sure he’d like to have that second goal back, but that third period, he’s the reason. He kept us in there. Just made the big saves when he had to.”
The key was a penalty kill of Brad Marchand’s interference penalty with 11:06 to go in the third. The Bruins, down some of their best penalty killers, survived it despite the unit of Johnny Boychuk, Zdeno Chara, Gregory Campbell and Jordan Caron spending at least 1:30 of the two-minute minor in their own zone.
“Two minutes in their [offensive] end,” Boychuk said. “They have such a good power play. Try to just take away their shooting lanes and try to take away seams. But they’re very skilled and they find those seams. But we managed to kill it off and that was probably a key kill for us.”
Fortunately for the Bruins, they scored three goals in the first period, starting with a long-distance shot by Dennis Seidenberg — who took a puck to the right side of the jaw in the third period — that got by Oilers starting goaltender Devan Dubnyk at 10:25 of the first.
The shot was flicked in on Dubnyk from just inside the blue line. It wasn’t a particularly hard shot, nor was there anyone in front of the Edmonton goaltender. Still, it went past him, giving Seidenberg his first goal of the season, unassisted. (Seidenberg has made that a strange part of his arsenal, with at least three goals from that range or longer in the past three seasons. There was one three years ago against Tampa Bay, and one in 2012 against Ottawa.)
The Bruins added a second at 16:11, as Jarome Iginla got one (and then another, later) in his hometown of Edmonton with help from a screen by Milan Lucic.
Two nights after Iginla was showered with adulation in his return to Calgary, he got two in front of a contingent of about 30 friends and family, the second coming with 44 seconds left and into an empty net.
Just two minutes later in the first period, at 18:17, the Bruins added one from Marchand, who benefited from Patrice Bergeron’s patience in making the pass on the two-on-one.
For the Oilers, that goal was not a rare occurrence. Edmonton leads the league in shorthanded goals against, with Marchand’s the seventh scored on them this season.
The Oilers came back with more force in the second period, starting with a goal by David Perron, his 13th of the season, at 3:25 of the second period. They had better chances and better push after the break, and after Dubnyk was pulled for Jason LaBarbera.
The Oilers added another by Perron at 17:27 of the second on a wraparound into the right corner of the net, with Johnson too slow to get to the other post. That put the Oilers down, 3-2, heading into the third.
That’s when the pressure really started.
“You’ve got to give the Oilers credit,” Iginla said. “They’re a dynamic young team and they can create a lot of chances. When they start feeling it, they can get it going. They turned it up and they played well, but we also probably didn’t have the same legs that we’ve had at different times.
“Finding a way to just win the game, that’s the most important thing. We had a one-goal lead going into the third period and we found a way to win.”