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With team leaders showing the way, Bruins continue to adjust — and win

Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron knocked home the winner in the third period Tuesday in Montreal.Minas Panagiotakis/Getty

TAMPA — Patrice Bergeron was losing faceoff after faceoff to Nick Suzuki. The game was tight. The Canadiens were clawing their way toward an upset of the Bruins.

It was early yet.

When winning time arrived Tuesday night in Montreal, Bergeron beat Suzuki on an offensive-zone draw, David Pastrnak put the puck on net, Brad Marchand outworked his check, and Bergeron snapped home the rebound.

“When it counts, we make it happen,” coach Jim Montgomery said Wednesday. “That’s been the trademark of this team. When it counts, bet on the Bruins.”

Matt Grzelcyk was watching from the bench.

“You’re not really surprised,” he said. “How many times, with five minutes left in the game, has Bergy been the guy making the play or setting someone up? Pretty special.


“I know potentially it was one of his last few games in Montreal. We were saying after the game, ‘If he keeps playing like this, there’s no way …’ ”

For anyone making a “Last Dance” comparison between this year’s Bruins and Michael Jordan’s final Chicago Bulls team, the Bruins (38-5-4) have a better record at this point in the season than the 1997-98 Bulls did (33-14).

That Bulls team, of course, won the NBA championship. For these Bruins, anything less than a Stanley Cup, no matter how many records they smash, will mean they have fallen short.

Tampa Bay, which tied the NHL record for wins (62) in 2018-19, could tell you about that. The Lightning were swept out of that year’s first round by Columbus. Same goes for Detroit, which won 62 games in 1995-96 but lost in the conference finals to Colorado.

In the years following those setbacks, both the Lightning and Red Wings won back-to-back Cups. The Bruins have plenty of accumulated bruises, bumps, and heartbreaks to lean on, if that’s what will help them when it counts the most.


“The only thing that favors us is that our leaders have done it before,” Montgomery said. “That’s the biggest caveat that we have. But nonetheless, there’s a bunch of guys that haven’t done it before. We have players that have had swings in a season where they haven’t been playing as well, but we have so much depth that other players have picked it up.

“Early in the season, our third and fourth lines were scoring a lot five on five. Now our top two lines are scoring a lot five on five. Our D corps went through a month without scoring, and now they’re scoring again. Our goalies went through a month stretch where I think they were the reason we won. So there’s a lot of different ways we won, and because of that we can draw on that.”

The 36-year-old Krejci has played a role in he early-season successes of the Bruins.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

To Montgomery’s eye, they scored two “playoff-type goals” in Montreal — Bergeron’s winner and David Krejci’s net-front tip off a Pastrnak feed — and he expects they’ll need those to beat teams like Tampa Bay, Toronto, Carolina, and New Jersey in April, May, and June.

“That’s a big part of what we have to continue to grow, is those areas,” Montgomery said. “What translates to playoff hockey and what can we draw on that we’ve done before. You can’t replicate playoff intensity. That’s going to be the big change.”

By then, there will be more video on the Bruins. Opponents are already taking stock of the recent adjustment: how the Boston defensemen roll down the walls and make plays below the dots. It’s not just Charlie McAvoy, Hampus Lindholm, and Grzelcyk doing it, either.


Primo penalty killers Derek Forbort and Brandon Carlo have the green light to dive-bomb. Forwards know to cover. On Tuesday, with about 13 minutes left in a tied game, Connor Clifton scooted diagonally from the right point to below the left dot and threaded a pass to Trent Frederic.

The pass was off-target, and Frederic whiffed, but it was a Grade A chance. Montgomery noted that plays that go across the mid-line of the slot have approximately a 38 percent chance of becoming goals. The fact they attempted the play, he said, “That’s what I like.”

“I think before we were probably making it easier on teams, just standing there,” Grzelcyk added. “If we get active, switching with forwards high and low, it creates chaos. And it’s not like we have some sort of set play. It’s a little tough to game-plan for, because we’re reading the play and trying to create available ice.

“There’s not a set play where they can see a certain formation and attack it. It’s not like football. We’re just playing on instinct.”

When opponents adjust, they plan to do the same.

Rest up

A 3 a.m. arrival in Tampa had Montgomery, along with veterans Bergeron, Krejci, and Marchand, opting against an on-ice workout at Amalie Arena. It’ll help them feel fresher for Thursday’s game against the Lightning (30-15-1), who beat the Wild at home Tuesday to snap a two-game slide. It will surely feel like a mid-January playoff game … Montgomery had not decided when to deploy call-up forward Marc McLaughlin and spare defenseman Jakub Zboril (one appearance in the last two months), but hinted they could dress Saturday at Florida … McLaughlin, among the last cuts from training camp after a 11-game stint with Boston last spring (3-0—3), has been hot lately. He was 4-5—9 in his last nine games for Providence. Montgomery was told the North Billerica and Boston College product has “increased his ability to play on the edge. Has been physical,” he said. “His penalty kill has been good. Very responsible player and he’s been taking a lot of faceoffs. Playing in the middle, they think, has helped his development.” McLaughlin (7-10—17 in 39 games overall with Providence) said he was focusing on consistency and details, and finding ways to keep his legs fresh for the AHL weekend grind of three games in three nights. He has been keeping up with the varsity, of course. “Fun to watch,” he said. “It seems like they have the right pieces everywhere, a lot of depth throughout the lineup. You hear it in the locker room: They talk about how special this team is.” … Programming notes: Buffalo at Boston March 2 is no longer an ESPN+/Hulu exclusive; it can be seen on NESN. New Jersey at Boston April 8 is now an ABC/ESPN+ game, and will begin at 8 p.m.


Matt Porter can be reached at matthew.porter@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyports.