It was like hockey never left.
On Saturday, the Bruins opened their 48-game season against the Rangers with a 3-1 win before 17,565 at the Garden. The players and coaches have been promising a sprint toward the finish with a playoff-like atmosphere. The Bruins didn’t disappoint.
“I couldn’t be happier because I liked the effort we gave tonight,” said coach Claude Julien. “The guys seemed to be pretty focused. I thought we did some real good plays and good decisions. As bad as we looked on Tuesday, we looked that good tonight.”
It wasn’t just his team’s win that pleased Julien. It was the manner in which the Bruins executed their game plan. Just five days earlier, the Bruins dropped a 7-5 scrimmage to Providence. They looked ragged in just about every area — goaltending, defense, up-front rhythm.
It was the total opposite in the season opener. Tuukka Rask turned back 20 of 21 shots. On the only puck that eluded Rask, Brad Richards’s point shot first hit something in front, then fluttered past a screen. Rask never saw the puck.
“The goal they scored, everybody did everything well,” Julien said. “We’re all back. It hit a skate. There was a last-second screen in front of him where he lost sight of it. It was absolutely nobody’s fault.”
The goals the Bruins scored were not the kind they scored regularly last season. They were three ugly goals off the sticks of Milan Lucic, Daniel Paille, and Johnny Boychuk. But they’re the kind of goals that characterize the type of hockey the Bruins must play.
“It was an area of our game last year I thought we lacked,” Julien said. “We went from winning the Stanley Cup and having that grit and desire to go to the net to score ugly goals. But at the end of the night, goals are goals. It was important for us to get back to that.”
Paille’s winning goal should end up on Julien’s highlight reel. Paille started the play in the Bruins’ zone in the second period. He scooped up a loose puck and skated it out of trouble. Paille read that the Rangers were executing a line change — they had a long way to skate in the second period — and that an offensive chance might be available.
Paille gave Gregory Campbell the puck, then sprinted toward the net. As Campbell pulled up inside the offensive blue line, Paille slipped behind Anton Stralman and tipped Campbell’s shot. The puck first glanced off the post, bounced off Henrik Lundqvist’s back, and rolled over the line at 8:20, giving the Bruins a 2-0 lead.
In the first, the Bruins also transitioned rapidly from defense to offense. Andrew Ference triggered the sequence by hitting David Krejci with a long-distance pass, giving the Bruins a two-on-two rush. Krejci put a low slapper on goal, which Lundqvist booted out with his right pad. Lucic beat Marc Staal to the loose puck, and before Lundqvist could slide to his right, banged home the rebound at 14:14 to give the Bruins their first goal of the season.
“The thing that kind of crept out of our game was that net drive — having that guy drive the middle and get those rebounds,” Lucic said. “Today was a lot better. Myself and even [Paille’s] goal, two guys driving the net and getting those dirty goals. Those have been big for us the last couple years.”
Lucic’s goal settled some worries. The left wing, who didn’t play during the lockout, acknowledged some concern with his game when camp opened last Sunday. Lucic (three shots, four hits, 14:22 of ice time) didn’t look out of place in the season debut.
“This is the best I’ve felt all week,” Lucic said. “I was a little worried at the start of the week, especially in the Monday practice we had here. I go back to that Tuesday game and just getting the kinks out, knowing where you are on the ice again. I remember I tripped on the boards a couple times. As the week went on, it got better.”
In the third, Boychuk gave the Bruins the space they needed. Patrice Bergeron beat Richards on an offensive-zone faceoff. Bergeron pulled the puck back to Boychuk off the wall. As Boychuk wound up, the Bruins sent bodies to the net. Boychuk’s shot appeared to hit off Richards and skim past Lundqvist (31 saves) at 8:13 of the third.
The Rangers had a great chance in the third period. Thirty seconds after Lucic was sent off for boarding, Zdeno Chara was caught for hooking. The Rangers had a 90-second five-on-three power play. Coach John Tortorella rolled out all his top guns: Richards, Rick Nash, Marian Gaborik, Ryan Callahan, and Derek Stepan. The Rangers never got a decent sniff on Rask.
“I think they had two shots and a couple missed the net,” Rask said of the extended power play. “We did a great job. That’s something you need to do.”