PHILADELPHIA — After each road win, the routine is the same in the Bruins’ dressing room.
Either Eric Tosi or Matt Chmura, the team’s media relations point men, turns down the celebratory music pulsing in the room. The players break out in boos. Shawn Thornton complains that they can’t even enjoy one song. Chris Kelly tells Tosi or Chmura to visit his house and tell his kids there’s no Christmas. There are grumbles about the NHL turning into the No Fun League.
Sunday marked the ninth straight time this slapstick routine has taken place. The Bruins scraped out a 4-3 shootout win over the Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center to claim their ninth road win in a row, setting a franchise record. This is a practice the Bruins would like to continue.
“Nobody could ever imagine you’d have one shootout loss,” said coach Claude Julien on his team’s 15-0-1 run in the last 16 games. “It’s been a real good month for us. If you check our schedule, we’ve had a lot of back-to-back games. That’s where I give our guys a lot of credit. There’s no doubt we were running on fumes at the end.”
Shootout goals by Patrice Bergeron and Reilly Smith against Steve Mason gave the Bruins the 2-point decision. Bergeron kicked off the shootout by slipping a puck past Mason’s left pad.
After Mason foiled Brad Marchand, Jarome Iginla, and David Krejci, Julien turned to Smith. The right wing had scored the deciding shootout goal against Tampa Bay March 8. Smith scored the difference-making goal once more.
This was a win, however, the Bruins were fortunate to claim. Sunday marked the conclusion of the Bruins’ sixth back-to-back set in March. Their heavy legs showed in the third.
The Flyers hammered the Boston net with 17 shots. They landed 52 total pucks on goal, the most the Bruins have allowed all season. The Flyers had 71 shot attempts compared with the Bruins’ 49, indicating how much they controlled the puck and the pace of the game.
But Tuukka Rask (49 saves) made the important saves in the third period to bail out his gassed teammates. The only puck he couldn’t stop was the tying shot by Vincent Lecavalier with 24.1 seconds remaining in regulation.
Johnny Boychuk failed to backhand a bouncing puck out of the zone. Jakub Voracek pounced on the puck and fired it on goal. Rask turned it back, but Lecavalier scored on the rebound to send the game into overtime.
“I don’t know if it was the fatigue or what it was in the third,” Rask said. “We were totally flat-footed out there. Good thing we battled and got the win, though. Good month.”
The Bruins held a 3-2 lead to start the third. The Bruins, trailing 2-1 after 20 minutes, pulled ahead with two second-period goals. Zdeno Chara scored on the power play at 5:44 to tie the game. At 11:05, Bergeron scored the go-ahead goal.
Mason kicked out Bergeron’s first shot. But Bergeron found the rebound, curled around the net, and sent a slow-moving shot on goal. The puck slipped between Mason’s pads to make it 3-2. Bergeron stretched his goal streak to seven games.
“It’s one of those streaks that the puck’s going in,” Bergeron said. “I don’t think I’m doing anything different. I’m just trying to keep playing my game 200 feet, playing both sides. My linemates are helping me and everyone’s pushing together. Nobody’s really looking at who’s scoring. It’s about winning. It’s fun like that.”
The Flyers tied the game in the final minute of regulation. But they could have scored their tying goal much earlier.
At 3:15 of the third, Dougie Hamilton was called for hooking. Thirteen seconds later, Chara floated the puck over the glass.
The top-pairing defensemen would be in the box for 1:47. So the coaching staff called upon Boychuk and Kevan Miller to start Philadelphia’s five-on-three power play. They would finish it as well.
The Flyers have some serious skill on their power play. Kimmo Timonen is a good quarterback. Claude Giroux can sling and snap with the best of them. Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds jam and muck. Lecavalier (two goals on nine shots) had one of his sharpest games of the season.
But Miller and Boychuk, along with Bergeron and Kelly, kept Philadelphia’s two-man advantage from punching through. The Bruins gave up only two shots during the 1:47 kill.
Boychuk’s done this before. Not Miller. The 26-year-old, bypassed by 29 teams, started the season in Providence. Miller will never go back to Rhode Island. The unsigned free agent is now one of three untouchables in Boston’s playoff rotation on the back end alongside Chara and Boychuk.
“Because he doesn’t make many mistakes,” Julien said of deploying Miller for the entire kill. “Whenever he bobbles the puck a little bit, he uses his strength to correct it. He gets himself in good position. I think he’s a very poised player. For a first-year player, I think he’s way ahead of his time as far as the composure he’s showing. He looks like an experienced player out there. You couldn’t ask for more from a guy like him.”
The Bruins have the top seed just about locked up. But they’re still finding meaning in these meaningless games. They’re answering questions, such as Miller’s dependability, how they can play through fatigue, and whether Rask can stare down a barrage. It’s not a bad way to prepare for the playoffs.