Within 24 hours, the Bruins saw two divergent looks from the elite of the Western Conference.
Sunday’s 3-2 shootout loss at the United Center pitted the Bruins against the go-go Blackhawks. Chicago plays with pace, skill, and precision.
Sunday was a day at the racetrack. Monday’s game at TD Garden was car-crash hockey against the bruising Kings. The pileups happened from puck drop to the final horn, whether it was Jordan Nolan wiping out Torey Krug or Kevan Miller hammering Dustin Brown.
A tie-snapping goal from Brad Marchand at 8:53 of the third was enough to propel the Bruins to a 3-2 win. Following the two-day span, the Bruins strutted away with 3 points as well as the knowledge that they can play with the big boys. Ice bags always feel better when they are placed over win-earning bruises.
“We’ve played some playoff-type hockey in the last two games,” said coach Claude Julien. “These last two days have been what you see in the playoffs — the intensity and the speed of it.”
Every puck required a dogfight to claim. Bodies stuffed skating lanes. Tempers flared in the danger areas. To advance to the front of the net was putting well-being at risk. The Bruins paid the price.
“Two teams like ours, we both battle hard,” Marchand said. “Lot of big guys. They’re definitely interesting to watch. Guys were running around and making hits. They’re fun games to be a part of.”
The win gave the Bruins 5 points in their last three games. Before this segment, the Bruins had dropped three of four. They were not happy with any area of their game.
But the confidence is back. Chad Johnson, the winning goalie in Dallas last Thursday, turned aside 21 of 23 LA shots. The defense is playing with snarl and swagger. They are rolling four lines.
“I was pretty impressed with our team and the way we’ve handled these last three games,” Julien said. “I thought we had a good start in Dallas with that win. [Sunday] was one of those great games that as a fan, you like to see. Wish we could have had that extra point.
“But to come out here today and play an afternoon game against a team that’s a real good team, plays a heavy game, and is one of the elite teams in the league, they’re waiting for us here, I thought our guys did a great job.”
Tuukka Rask, the starter in Chicago, ceded the crease to Johnson. Before his win in Dallas, Johnson had gone almost a month since his last start.
On Monday, for the second straight game, Johnson turned back every shot he was asked to save. The only pucks that eluded him were ones that no goalie could stop: a Willie Mitchell high-blocker snipe after a wraparound feed from Mike Richards, and a Jeff Carter power-play one-timer.
“The way he played in Dallas, there’s no doubt we had the confidence to put him back in there,” Julien said. “He had played so well, and wanting a fresh goaltender, that was the main reason behind it.”
There has been no player hotter than Marchand. The No. 2 left wing has scored in each of his last four games. Marchand, who popped in two goals plus a shootout strike against the Blackhawks, posted another deuce against the Kings.
In the first period, Marchand opened the scoring with an electric strike on the penalty kill. On one shorthanded effort, Marchand made Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, and Jonathan Quick — three Olympians who are among the best at their positions — look silly.
Marchand’s timeliness came through in the third. Carter had tied the game at 2-2. The Kings, once down, 2-0, had pulled themselves back into the game with their trademark tenacity.
Marchand put an end to that rally.
Eighteen seconds after Carter’s goal, Marchand responded with a knockout punch. Reilly Smith spotted Marchand open at the far post. Before Quick could push from right to left, Marchand received Smith’s pass and snapped the winning puck into the net at 8:53.
“He’s really moving his feet, using his speed to his advantage, and he’s creating a lot of plays just by his hockey instincts,” Patrice Bergeron said. “He’s taking what’s in front of him. He’s not forcing plays.
“He’s got it on a string right now. He’s making some unbelievable moves. It makes us better players on the ice right now as a line.”
Marchand wasn’t done contributing to the win. In the final minute, the Kings pulled Quick. The Bruins countered by gaining control of the puck in the defensive zone. Marchand had the puck along the boards and was looking for an exit from the zone. As Jake Muzzin approached, Marchand held his ground. Muzzin tripped Marchand and was sent off at 19:15, which put an end to LA’s comeback hopes.
“We’ve got to continue this,” Marchand said. “We want to be one of the top teams. To do that, we need to continue playing the same way we are.”