The Bruins filed off the ice after the second period knowing they hadn’t been good enough. With five games left in the season and their playoff spot still not secured, they need to claw for every point, every inch of ice. But they hadn’t in the second.
They hadn’t clawed, hadn’t fought, simply hadn’t played the way they know they need to play. And they knew it.
“Kind of frustrating,” Tuukka Rask said. “Just wondering what’s going on out there. There’s no emotion. We needed to find it. We did.”
There were words spoken in between those periods – a “secret message,” David Pastrnak told NESN after the game – and so the Bruins came out in the third period showing a vintage version of themselves, the version that has been able to dominate in third periods in the past. It was a version that had been mostly missing this season.
But with two goals from the Ryan Spooner line – game-tying from Pastrnak, game-winning from Milan Lucic – the Bruins took two points from the Florida Panthers with a 3-2 win on Tuesday night at TD Garden, putting them one game closer to the chance for an extended run this spring and likely knocking Florida out of the race.
“We bounced back,” Zdeno Chara said. “We didn’t play the way we wanted to play in the second and we knew we needed to bounce back. We needed to be much better than we were, and we were. We found a way to be more effective, and we were more ourselves and we found a way to win with two big goals.”
Halfway through the third, the Bruins were still down by a score, still looking at a disappointing evening against a team below them in the standings. But then Pastrnak sent a pass across the ice from the defensive blue line, a pass that Lucic found and dropped back to Spooner.
The center flung the puck on the net, where Pastrnak was waiting to deflect it past Roberto Luongo (26 saves on 29 shots) for his second goal in as many games.
Nor was the line done.
With just 1:09 remaining in regulation, Lucic took the puck past the blue line and into a crowd of five Panthers defenders. From the slot, he snapped it on net, a shot that Luongo said he didn’t see.
It was, yet again, the line saving the Bruins. In addition to goals by Spooner and Pastrnak on Sunday, to take two points in Carolina, the line has done its best to buoy a Bruins team that isn’t exactly scoring in bunches. Since Feb. 22, Lucic has seven goals and six assists, Pastrnak five goals and 12 assists, and Spooner seven goals and 10 assists.
For a team still ranked 20th in the NHL in goals per game (2.61), the importance of that can’t be understated. Of course, that line still has to earn the full trust of Julien, who clearly still isn’t comfortable throwing it out in all situations.
The Bruins had gone up at 16:57 of the first period, after a Brian Campbell penalty for tripping Patrice Bergeron left both sides with four skaters. Carl Soderberg got his stick on a puck, turning it over to Loui Eriksson in the offensive zone. The winger took possession at the left faceoff dot and skated across the crease – waiting, waiting, waiting – before taking the bad angle backhand shot for his 20th goal of the season.
“They never really got anything great going there, but we were just so flat that it was kind of one of those games where something bad is about to happen and it did,” Rask said. “Thank goodness it didn’t end up costing us.”
Florida scored twice in the second period, first on a shot by Brandon Pirri 55 seconds in on the power play. The second goal came after Spooner won an offensive zone faceoff back to Matt Bartkowski, who turned the puck over to Brad Boyes. Boyes scored an unassisted goal – not Rask’s best work – at 12:37 to put the Panthers up. As Rask said, “Just wasn’t ready enough for that shot.”
The Bruins eventually recovered. And thanks to some desperation defensive work around the net, including defenseman Adam McQuaid acting as goaltender, they got their two points.
With those points, they kept their lead over Ottawa intact at three with the Senators having a game in hand. And they also closed the gap to two points with Detroit for third in the Atlantic, with Detroit also having a game in hand.
They now have taken seven out of the last eight possible points, returning themselves to a playoff race that looked lost a week ago. It might not have been their best work Tuesday night – especially in that second – but it got them the result they needed.
“A 40-minute game today got us the win, but obviously there’s wins that feel great and there’s wins that you take and you feel good,” Rask said. “I don’t think this is a great win for us, but we’ll take it for sure.”