NEWARK — With Tuukka Rask back at the team hotel suffering from illness, Niklas Svedberg was the only goaltender at the Bruins' morning skate Friday at the Prudential Center. Watching him, knowing that he would likely have to go with his lately untested and untrustworthy backup, coach Claude Julien saw something.
He saw a better goaltender.
"Told him this morning that there was a possibility that he'd be playing," Julien said after Boston's 3-2 overtime win over the Devils. "I hadn't made my decision yet, I was going to see how Tuukka was. I wanted him to prepare like he was going to play.
"He looked pretty good to me in the morning skate. He looked determined to turn it around. I think it showed tonight in his game."
Svedberg took the ice in New Jersey having been pulled from two of his last three starts, having caused the Bruins to go back — again and again — to Rask, even as their starter played in 18 consecutive games and 27 of 28. It was time for Svedberg to prove himself worthy of the roster spot he had barely seemed to occupy over the last two months.
Svedberg did just that, stopping 29 of 31 shots before Ryan Spooner's first NHL goal ended it. Though the Devils battled back from a 2-0 deficit, Svedberg held firm despite heavy fire in the third period.
The Bruins opened up a 4-point lead on the Panthers and a 6-point advantage on the Flyers with a game in hand for the final wild-card spot.
"Once they got the momentum and they started feeling it and tied the game up, there was a lot of pressure on him," Julien said. "He was making the saves, the puck wasn't always just sitting there pretty for him. But at the end of the day, he was making the saves and our guys did a good job of clearing rebounds. I thought he did a good job of fighting through it."
Svedberg knew he needed the win, "personally and for the team as well."
It was the fifth career overtime or shootout win in his seven career wins.
Asked about his mind-set coming into the game, Svedberg said, "Win the game. That's it."
He added, "That's how it is. Obviously it was a big game today in both aspects. So it feels really good. You can't get too nervous and start thinking too much. You've got to stick to your game. I believe in my game."
After the first period, it looked as if the game might be another slow one for him. His last win had come against the Devils, when he needed just 14 saves to shut out New Jersey Jan. 8. He faced only four shots in the first period.
But the Devils made up for that in the next two.
The Bruins jumped out to a two-goal lead, starting with Daniel Paille's second goal in as many games after he had gone 36 games without one. His goal, off a pass from Loui Eriksson, came at 8:39 of the first period.
David Pastrnak doubled the lead just 1:40 into the third, not long after a Mark Fraser penalty expired. Pastrnak collected his own rebound and fired it past Cory Schneider (31 saves) for his seventh of the season.
But Travis Zajac scored on the power play at 5:57 of the third, and then a lax Dougie Hamilton clearing attempt at the blue line turned into a Jordin Tootoo goal at 8:06, and the game was tied.
The Devils were making their push, and with the Bruins getting just four shots in the period, it seemed that this game might be headed for a problematic ending for the visitors.
"I think maybe we started backing off and protecting the lead," Svedberg said. "Stopped playing a little bit. And we got back.
"We had a tough stretch there, but we battled through it."
They made it to overtime. And there, 2:46 into it, the Bruins' future came through. Spooner, playing in the 35th game of his career, scored his first goal, assisted by Pastrnak and Torey Krug.
So they got the win, the 2 points, and perhaps the previously waning confidence of their backup.
"I really felt good putting him in, with Tuukka's situation," Julien said. "He proved us right."