CHICAGO — The result was dismissed as somewhat irrelevant. After a game in which the Bruins proved what they can be — what they should be — they couldn’t finish it in the shootout.
But it was what happened in the first 65 minutes at the United Center on Sunday, when the Bruins played toe to toe with one of the best teams in the stacked Western Conference, that mattered in their eyes.
“I thought it was a real good test as far as our team is concerned with the way we’ve played lately,” coach Claude Julien said. “We’ve gotten better. Tonight was another step in the right direction, so we’ve just got to continue playing that way. Real happy with the effort.”
They had come into a building where they had seen disappointment — that triple-overtime loss in Game 1 of last season’s Stanley Cup Final, anyone? — and they had demonstrated their worth, despite yet again being without one of their defensemen for more than half the game, after Adam McQuaid was injured.
They had fought through the rematch, through the “hurt,” as just about every Bruin referenced on Saturday, en route to a 3-2 shootout loss, which meant they finished the two-game road trip through Dallas and Chicago with 3 of a possible 4 points.
“It’s about us continuing to play like we did,” Julien said. “I don’t think we have to look over our shoulders or over-respect anybody. We’ve just got to go out there and show that we’re part of that group, and we are.
“We’re a good team. We’ve just got to play the way we know we can, and you get those types of games like tonight.”
The win in the shootout came on goals by Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, with the Bruins’ Ryan Spooner and Patrice Bergeron recording misses. Brad Marchand, in the third round, was the only Bruin to convert on his attempt.
It was the fourth time in seven games — including the Cup Final — in which the teams had gone to overtime. As Julien said, “It continues to be the same as it was last year, need overtime to resolve these games against us.”
It was a tough start to the overtime for the Bruins, though. Boston had to survive a badly-timed Matt Bartkowski cross-checking penalty, which occurred with 4.6 seconds remaining in regulation. That forced the Bruins to play 4-on-3 hockey to start the extra session.
But Chicago couldn’t convert. And the Bruins ended up with one of the better chances in the overtime, with Gregory Campbell fanning on an open-net chance on Corey Crawford (34 saves).
For the Bruins, the overall play was a good sign, and so, too, was the play from Marchand. The winger notched both goals for the Bruins, scoring with 18.9 seconds to go in the first period and 50 seconds into the second.
After Marian Hossa had opened the scoring at 4:13 of the first, Marchand tied the game just before the teams went to the break. It was a shot created by Patrice Bergeron, with the center dishing to Marchand on the right side and the winger beating Crawford between the pads.
Marchand got his second — and his ninth in 14 games — giving the Bruins the lead. He went in alone on Crawford, after taking the pass from Reilly Smith, waited just enough and slipped it through the five-hole.
But the Blackhawks got that one back on a seeing-eye puck that sneaked between Tuukka Rask’s skate and the post at 9:44 of the second period. The goal by Brandon Bollig marred a game in which Rask had made several outstanding saves, including grabbing the puck out of the air on Johnny Oduya at 4:30 of the third to preserve the tie.
“I had the post covered — my skate was there, I was ready,” Rask said of the goal. “Just somehow it went over. I don’t know. It bounced over my skate or something. I tried to look at the replay, but you couldn’t really tell. I saw it barely got over, but it’s a goal.”
Still, no one seemed overly disappointed in the postgame locker room, not with the shootout loss, and especially not after the struggles that the team has had of late. The Bruins came in having lost three of five, dropping games to the Ducks, Kings, and Maple Leafs.
“You want to be as consistent as you possibly can, and lately I think consistency hasn’t been our strength,” Rask said. “After that game against Toronto, we wanted to come out hard in Dallas, and start building from the start. Two good games so far, so we just have to keep that going.”
They looked far better in securing a win over the Stars on Thursday, and truly seemed to be back on Sunday in one of the best tests they’ll find — on the road against a certain Cup contender.
“I think we kind of looked at ourselves here and told ourselves we needed to be better,” Julien said. “We know we could be better, and that’s just about going out there and showing it. We don’t have to prove anything, we just have to show that we’re a good team night in, night out. It’s as simple as that.”