In hockey, everything is connected. An engaged and upbeat mental state initiates a positive physical response. A strong play in one zone usually manifests in the other.
When all that is taking place and things are in concert, the game flows. It looks easy. Everything is right.
It all came together for the Bruins in Thursday’s 3-0 win over the New Jersey Devils at TD Garden.
“It’s still a work in progress,” said Adam McQuaid. “But it’s something we want to get better at. Hopefully it will come secondhand. When it does, the game just seems to flow. You worry about those finer details about the game instead of worrying about the outcome. More times than not, you get the outcome that you want.”
Wednesday’s 3-2 overtime win over the Penguins required some luck. Pittsburgh had a goal waved off because of goaltender interference. Had the referees initially said no goal on Patrice Bergeron’s winner, video replay would not have been conclusive enough to overturn the call. Tuukka Rask had to be all kinds of awesome to turn back wave after wave of Pittsburgh’s attack.
One night later, the Bruins took luck out of the picture.
Because of their thorough three-zone play for most of 60 minutes, the Bruins never put the Devils in a position to take advantage of a fortunate bounce. The Bruins whipped 68 pucks toward the New Jersey net. They landed 43 of those attempts on goal, with three finding the back of the net.
In comparison, the Devils managed only 36 attempts, with 14 landing on Niklas Svedberg. The backup netminder swatted aside all 14 for his second NHL shutout.
This has been a nervous time for the Bruins. Harsh words have come from the executive suite, hockey operations department, and coaches’ office. The tension has shown in their play. Against Pittsburgh, the Bruins played too many panic-stricken shifts where they chased the puck and repeatedly failed to get it out of the danger zones.
On Thursday, coach Claude Julien sensed calm instead of frenzy. His charges played with belief in themselves and in their system. Once one player went, his teammate followed. Everybody did his job and trusted each other to do the same.
Confidence led to execution — committed backchecking, overwhelming defensive layers, snappy breakouts, and speed into the offensive zone with numbers.
On the occasions when the Devils gained puck control in their zone, the Bruins bricked up center ice. The Devils sent the puck into the teeth of the Bruins’ defense, allowing them to go right back on the attack.
All-out scramble mode in the defensive zone had been a regular occurrence. On Thursday, there was only one such stretch, at the end of the second period, when McQuaid and Dennis Seidenberg got trapped deep in their zone. Besides that, the Devils never had a sniff at applying heat on the Boston net.
“Right away, we had a strong game,” Bergeron said. “We limited their chances and their shots on net. I thought we had a lot of good looks and good chances, a lot of traffic. Lots of layers also on the backcheck and pushback. It was a good effort.”
The result: an efficient forecheck, extended zone time, and chance after chance on Cory Schneider (40 saves).
“They don’t seem as tight,” Julien said of his players. “I could see that not only in the forecheck but in the execution from our D’s. They used each other and made good first passes. You go through those situations during the season that are really hard to explain. The one thing I know is that confidence in your play is always a big part of it. Sometimes you lose it, it takes a long time to get it back. When you start feeling good about yourself, your energy and your legs get back as well. We didn’t play as heavy tonight as we have in the past.”
The Bruins are now in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, three points ahead of ninth-place Toronto. During their time outside the top eight, there was no player more in need of a confidence boost than Milan Lucic. The left wing was slow to pucks. He couldn’t get to his north-south game. When the puck landed on his stick, he couldn’t wait to get it to a teammate.
On Thursday, Lucic played like those days are over. He scored twice, first on the power play, then again into an empty net with 11.7 seconds remaining.
On the power play, David Krejci got Lucic the puck at the top of the right circle. Instead of getting rid of the puck, Lucic held it, waited for David Pastrnak and Zdeno Chara to set up in front, then picked the top corner over Schneider’s blocker at 18:50 of the first. It was Lucic’s first goal since Dec. 16.
Carl Soderberg doubled the lead at 8:31 of the second. Chris Kelly’s forechecking forced Mark Fraser to cough up the puck. Soderberg shrugged off Travis Zajac’s check, bulled into the slot, and snapped the puck past Schneider.
“We talked about how important our forecheck had to be,” Julien said. “It was one of the things we looked at for our team before looking at New Jersey. Our forecheck had to be better to spend more time and not let teams come out so easily. We did a great job on that forecheck and forcing the guy to turn the puck over.”