The Bruins couldn’t make good on the 17 seconds that cost them the Stanley Cup. They couldn’t erase that loss or the memory of watching the Blackhawks celebrate on their home ice. All they could do Thursday was win Game No. 73 of this season.
So they did all they could, taking a 3-0 victory on a night when Chicago, despite missing Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell, still managed to demonstrate what it’s capable of against one of the best in the NHL.
It took five minutes for the Bruins to find their game, their smothering, defensively crushing game. It took five minutes of chances by the Blackhawks, who were playing to their strengths, for the Bruins to take over. As Chicago coach Joel Quenneville put it, “It was a perfect start. Then it slowed to a crawl.”
That was what the Bruins wanted to do to the Blackhawks’ high-powered offense. And so, with another impressive effort, the Bruins took the only modicum of satisfaction they could from their first TD Garden matchup against Chicago since the Stanley Cup Final.
“I would say it was a closer game than maybe the score showed, but we really tried to focus on our defense and not to give them much,” Zdeno Chara said. “Obviously a team like that with the personnel they have, they’re going to get some chances. But for the most part, I thought we did a really good job playing really tight defensively and not giving them many opportunities on power plays and things like that, or odd-numbered situations.”
Boston has now allowed just nine goals in its last nine games, including Tuukka Rask’s league-leading seventh shutout of the season.
“For the most part, if we move our feet and we are ahead of the puck, I think that we do make good decisions,” Chara said. “We’ve just got to get all those three things in the game: moving our feet and be above the puck and obviously communication and be aware of what’s going on, reacting on the ice and supporting each other. If we do that, I think we are on the right track.”
They looked that way after those first five minutes. They grabbed the lead at 11:50 of the first when Patrice Bergeron battled through Duncan Keith to get his first of the night, on a deflection of a Matt Bartkowski shot from inside the blue line. It was Bergeron’s fifth straight game with a goal — a career-best streak — and the fifth straight game in which he’s scored Boston’s first goal.
Though they weren’t able to extend the lead until the third, the Bruins played hard through a second period that saw some sloppiness from the visitors, something Chicago’s Patrick Sharp called “disappointing.”
The Bruins, who landed 23 shots on Corey Crawford, upped the advantage in the third as Carl Soderberg scored his 14th at 5:28 after some solid work in front by Chris Kelly.
That was followed by another goal 13 seconds later by Bergeron, his second of the game and 25th of the season, at 5:41. The goal was initially waved off, but then deemed good on review because Crawford knocked the net off its moorings.
“The puck’s going in, I guess,” Bergeron said of his recent stretch. “There’s not much to say about it. It’s just you get those chances sometimes during the year and it doesn’t go in and now it is. Obviously, it’s great any time I can chip in offensively and keep my two-way game, I’m happy with it.”
It was yet another good third period for a team that has made a habit of that, outscoring opponents, 95-48, over the final 20 minutes. As Soderberg said, “We just keep working, 60 minutes in all games, and if you don’t want to play in the third period, you shouldn’t play.”
More than anything, though, it was the defensive effort that pleased the Bruins, the shutout coming against the highest-scoring team in the NHL, with Chicago at 3.23 goals per game. They were able to win the battles in the neutral zone, a factor coach Claude Julien noted led to the Bruins limiting the visitors’ chances.
“I think we want to be known as a defensive team that can score,” Kelly said. “I think our mind-set [is that] goals will come if you do the right things in the D-zone, and manage the puck, and work hard coming back. I think we did a good job of kind of taking their time and space away.”
They did, and in the process they earned themselves their 50th win of the season. They are now 13-0-1 in their last 14 games, the only blip Monday’s shootout loss to Montreal.
“We’re good,” Julien said. “We’re in the right position right now, as far as where you want to be at this time of year. Almost every game day morning we spend time looking at an area where we feel we might have slipped a little bit. So we’re staying on top of things, too.
“Satisfied is not a word that exists in our dressing room.”