After two games in which the Bruins looked like the hotel doorman lost their game plan in the luggage room, they reclaimed their form Sunday, played smart, efficient, 200-foot hockey, and easily picked apart the Rangers, 4-1, in a matinee in Manhattan.
Madison Square Garden may be more than 20 blocks south of Central Park, but for the most part, the Bruins made their work inside MSG look like a winter afternoon’s walk in the iconic park.
“Winning’s more fun than losing,” said defenseman Charlie McAvoy, whose one-time slapper in the second period provided a cushy 3-0 Bruins lead. “There was urgency to get back our identity … no game’s ever going to be perfect, but we really needed to limit the mistakes.”
Saturday’s practice, added McAvoy, helped fix the myriad mistakes of Thursday and Friday — the 7-2 loss on Long Island followed by the 6-2 stinker in Game 1 at MSG. There was an extended video session, accompanied with the coaching staff’s harsh narrative, followed by a brief on-ice workout in the NYC suburbs.
Overall message: Return to the smart, hard-to-play-against methods and practices that had the Bruins motoring along at .700-plus over the first five weeks of the season.
“We had a good practice [Saturday], we went over what we needed to go over,” McAvoy said. “Sometimes that’s tough love. It kind of makes you realize what you’ve been doing wrong, what you need to get better and I felt like we did it today ... maybe save the road trip a little bit and leave here with a smile on our face.”
The change in ‘tude was evident from the afternoon’s first shift, with team captain Patrice Bergeron dealing a solid smack to ex-Bruins prospect Ryan Lindgren (part of the package to acquire Rick Nash). Message delivered: It wasn’t going to be a repeat creampuff performance that had the Rangers breezing to their win Friday night.
In fact, it took the Rangers some eight minutes to land their first shot on Tuukka Rask (now 8-3-1), and by then, Charlie Coyle already had potted his first of two goals, connecting with the opening strike at 6:41 with the sides skating four apiece.
Trent Frederic, his game seeming to evolve by the shift the last couple of weeks, knocked it up to 2-0 at the 18:14 mark of the first with his doorstep tip of a Connor Clifton shot from above the left wing circle. And then came McAvoy’s blast midway through the second to make it 3-0.
It was the first time all season the Bruins carried a 2-0 lead into the first break, and the 3-0 lead at 40:00 was reminiscent of the previous Sunday, at Lake Tahoe, when the Bruins carried a 6-2 lead into the second break vs. the Flyers.
“I thought for the most part we made it very difficult on New York to generate offense,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “We knew if we checked well, the goals are in that room and that’s kind of what happened.”
The Rangers came out of the flatline fog briefly in the third when ex-Harvard forward Colin Blackwell walked into a wide-open slot and sniped a 25-foot wrister under the crossbar. It was the only one of 21 shots on net that beat Rask.
Coyle added the 4-1 jawbreaker with 1:55 remaining, firing the puck two-thirds the length of the ice into an empty net. The Rangers, gifted a power play at 16:09 on a Craig Smith unsportsmanlike penalty, had pulled netminder Alexandar Georgiev for a 6-on-4 attack. But Sean Kuraly made a crafty move along the right wall in the defensive end and relayed to Coyle, who summarily fired roughly three city blocks for his fifth of the season.
All in all, the afternoon went as ordered, after suffering the embarrassing back-to-back losses that had the Bruins giving up six goals or more in consecutive games for the first time since March 2012.
“I thought from the first shift on, ‘til essentially the last shift,” Cassidy said, “we played the same way no matter who rolled over the boards. That’s what I loved about our game today. That was our identity. We’re going to play behind you. We’re going to make plays off the rush. We’re going to be physical. We’re going to protect the front of our net.”
Precisely as needed, said Coyle.
“We dropped a couple of games, and that’s not us, that’s not our character,” he said. “Especially the way the result was the last couple. We wanted to use this one to our advantage and make sure we stick together, get back to our game. We’ve kind of gotten away from that for stretches in games and we see what it can turn into quick. That’s not us. When we play the way we did today, stick together.”
Encouraging, too, said Coyle, that the lineup included some newcomers, the likes of Karson Kuhlman, Greg McKegg and Steven Kampfer, filling spots on a day Cassidy felt the need to change things.
“That’s what we need from everyone,” Coyle said, “is that next-man-up mentality. That’s huge for us. Hats off to those guys. They played a heck of a game. That’s what we need. That’s our identity … we’ll get that result more times than not when we play that way.”