SAN JOSE, Calif. — It had been a tough trip to California, heading into Saturday night’s game against the Sharks, with the Bruins having lost their first two games. They had been beaten in convincing fashion by both the Ducks and Kings and needed to salvage 2 points out of the week.
Against the Sharks, the Bruins played far better than they had earlier in the week, going deep into the third period still caught in a scoreless game. Tuukka Rask and Antti Niemi matched each other save for save, in a demonstration of just how hard it will be for Team Finland to choose a starting goaltender for the Olympics.
Niemi broke first, allowing the first goal of the game with just 7:35 to go in the third period. Carl Soderberg got his sixth goal of the season, finishing after a shot by Loui Eriksson kicked off the skate of Scott Hannan and bounced to Soderberg in the first game for the new line of Soderberg, Ryan Spooner, and Eriksson.
And on the strength of just that goal, the Bruins earned a 1-0 win at the SAP Center, allowing for a much more pleasant plane ride back to Boston on Sunday. The loss for San Jose marked just the second time the Sharks have been defeated at home in regulation.
“That was Bruins hockey,” Rask said. “That’s how we get points in this league. Sometimes we slip from it, but today was a great example of how we need to play in order to get points.
“We talked about it before — it’s about pride, too. You come on these road trips and you lose the first two games, you don’t want to get swept. We talked about it and gave a sharp effort and it paid off with the win.”
There were quite a few close calls for the Sharks in the third period, but none could find the back of the net, setting the Bruins up to take the lead (and the win) on that first score.
“We had some other good chances, too,” Eriksson said. “We finally got kind of a lucky break there. We did a good job in the corner, and I was trying to shoot it, but it ended up on Carl’s stick. It was definitely nice to see it go in.”
Rask and the Bruins needed every one of his 26 saves, with the goalie earning his fifth shutout of the season.
“I am happy how we played defense today,” Rask said. “We eliminated those mistakes we made in the first two games, which were huge. And today we didn’t do those and that paid off, resulted in a way.
“A shutout is always good, but it’s a tight game and you’re just happy to get the win.”
The Bruins were helped by the return of Eriksson (concussion) and Shawn Thornton (suspension), both of whom were back on the ice after missing the last 15 games. Both last played against the Penguins on Dec. 7 in Boston.
They were helped, too, by a better performance from Rask, up against fellow Team Finland goaltender Niemi.
Rask, who was pulled just 1:45 into the second period on Thursday after giving up his third goal, looked far sharper on Saturday against the Sharks. That included a glove save with 2:03 to go in the first period on Tommy Wingels — off a turnover by Matt Bartkowski — that generated a “Tuuuukk” chant, even at the SAP Center. Rask allowed eight goals to the Ducks and Kings this week, with Chad Johnson giving up one. But through the first two periods, Rask held the Sharks scoreless on 18 shots, 12 of which came in the first.
The Bruins mostly survived that first period, being outshot by the Sharks, 12-9, helped by the play of Rask. It was a bit of a struggle defensively for the team, forced to play without Johnny Boychuk, who was back in Boston for personal reasons.
“It was much better in a lot of areas,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “We kind of asked our guys just to do their jobs and do them well. I think we had some guys that were trying to do other people’s jobs because they felt that they weren’t going well enough. Eventually everybody’s got to take that responsibility. I think the guys responded well.”
The Sharks missed again with just less than 12 minutes to go in the second period, when Joe Pavelski had a close-in chance on Rask turned back.
The Bruins did show some feistiness in the second period, with California native Kevan Miller recording his first NHL fight against Mike Brown, taking the bout at 10:27 of the second.
“He was back to being himself,” Julien said of Rask. “But again I think he plays well when everybody else plays well in front of him.”Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.