There had been small improvements, small indications that the Bruins were working harder on the power play, that more results might be in the team’s future. Of course, the team still stood at 20th in the league in the category, a familiar position after years of power-play futility.
The Bruins moved all the way up to 14th after Saturday’s 3-1 win over the Maple Leafs, the team scoring its eighth and ninth power-play goals of the season to beat the team ranked fifth in the penalty kill coming into the game.
But it wasn’t only the power play that delivered the win. It was also the penalty kill, a specialty of the Bruins under Claude Julien that had hit a bump giving up goals on five consecutive power plays two weeks ago.
Since then? The Bruins are a perfect 18 for 18 on the penalty kill, killing all three against a team that had come in also ranked fifth in the league on the power play. That included a frantic late-game penalty kill when Carl Soderberg was tagged for holding at 15:24 of the third.
“I felt our special teams were obviously the difference tonight,’’ said Julien. “Our penalty kill was extremely good, winning battles and getting pucks down at the other end, and even when they had possession in our own end, we were always in the shooting lane. Didn’t give them much there.
“Our power play scored two big goals, and that was huge as well. It was one of those nights where you really relied on your special teams a lot and they got you a win.”
The game-winning goal came courtesy of someone who has been there before against Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer. The goalie was victimized twice by Patrice Bergeron in Toronto’s Game 7 collapse in their first-round playoff meeting in May, once in the final minute of regulation, a second time in overtime.
Bergeron scored another pair of goals on Saturday night at TD Garden, the first going for the game-winner on the power play at 1:06 of the third, the second with Reimer safely on the bench and the net open with 21.7 seconds to go.
Bergeron’s first was made possible by some tough work by Soderberg near the net, a place the Swedish forward has made clear is a place where he is at his best. It was on a rebound after a Soderberg shot that Reimer left the puck for Bergeron to clean up and put over the glove hand of the sprawling goalie.
Said Remier, “I was hoping for a goalie interference call. But I am not quite sure honestly what happened . . . It’s just a scrambly goal.”
It marked the first time a forward had scored on the power play this season. The other goals had gone to Zdeno Chara (3), Torey Krug (3), and Dougie Hamilton (2).
“It’s something that we’ve worked on for a few years now and now it seems to be clicking,” Bergeron said. “Obviously that helps the team a lot. That’s something that we’ve talked about and that we need to be better at. So far it’s been good. We’ve got to keep building on that.”
The Bruins scored their first goal with the man advantage, as well, with Chara finishing up a possession in which Jarome Iginla did significant work in the Toronto zone.
“He stood tall for our team,” Julien said. “A player who’s been around the league for that long a lot of times doesn’t even want to do that stuff or doesn’t feel that it’s his job and he’s going to do whatever it takes to help our team out. So, really impressed with him since he’s been here.”
That first goal came as a result of a dogged shift by the Bruins’ first line, keeping the Toronto trio of Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, and Joffrey Lupul in their defensive zone for nearly a full minute, which led to a holding penalty on Jay McClement.
On the power play, Iginla got off a shot on Reimer, who allowed a rebound, which went back to Iginla. The winger sent it to Chara, doing battle in front of the crease, and he put it in the net for his third of the season at 15:27 of the first period.
But while the Bruins had come out hot, taking away any advantage that might have come from the hyped-up Maple Leafs, they wilted a bit in the second period. Toronto took advantage at 16:52 of the period, with Lupul bringing the ice from the Toronto blue line up the right side, beating Tuukka Rask (33 saves) on the short side.
“The second period got us off guard again,” Rask said. “We really left our skates in the locker room. It seemed like we didn’t support each other, we didn’t chip the pucks in, chip the pucks out. We didn’t really do anything we were planning to do.”
The game was made infinitely more difficult in the first period, when Adam McQuaid, skating behind his own net, went down clutching his right leg at 7:52. He was not touched on the play and did not return. That left the Bruins with just five defensemen to play out the rest of the game.
Chara was forced to play 28:04, Dougie Hamilton played 24:43, Johnny Boychuk played 24:28, and Dennis Seidenberg played 24:15, with Krug adding 15:54.
But even with that, the Bruins came out hard against a team that was motivated to beat them.
“We talked about it before the game that we had to be in the present and not think about last year and realize they’re ahead of us in the standings and we have to get up each game,” Bergeron said. “Yes, we got away from our game a little bit in the second, but we showed some character to get back into it in the third and we got the result.”