After Thursday’s overtime loss to Carolina, Bruins coach Claude Julien made a pronouncement. “If I was a betting man,” he said, “I think our team is going to be much better on Saturday.”
Perhaps he should become a betting man.
Highlighted by two goals from David Pastrnak, the Bruins came out stronger and harder on Saturday, taking out a good Islanders team, 3-1, at TD Garden. In doing so, the Bruins continued a run that started at the trade deadline, as Boston has earned 12 of 14 points in its last seven games, a stretch in which it has not lost in regulation. And that has come mostly against difficult opponents.
“I think it’s exactly what we were looking for,” Julien said. “We knew we were going to get a pretty hungry Islanders team. We were going to get the best of them. So it was important for us to be on top of our game right from the drop of the puck.”
And they were.
The Bruins went up by a goal late in the first period, taking advantage of a seemingly missed assignment by New York on the power play. Ryan Spooner was able to get the puck to Loui Eriksson at the right side of the net, where Eriksson wheeled around and swept the puck past Thomas Greiss (28 saves) for his 26th goal of the season at 18:26.
Eriksson was left alone. He took advantage.
“Usually there’s a guy standing there to take away that two-on-one,” Eriksson said. “Today, I don’t know what happened there. I just had a lot of room and I was able to take it in. So it was nice.”
The Islanders evened the score at 10:48 of the second period on a poorly played sequence from the Bruins. Zdeno Chara gave up the puck. Kevan Miller did the same. Then David Krejci did it again, with Kyle Okposo picking up the loose puck and getting it in the direction of John Tavares. Tavares beat Tuukka Rask (25 saves), the only time that would happen on Saturday.
After that, it appeared as if the teams would head into the third period tied.
But with nine seconds remaining in the second, Krejci made a sweeping circle of the offensive zone. As the focus shifted to him, Pastrnak was left alone to bury the one-timer that served as the winning goal.
Just before Pastrnak’s goal, Rask stopped consecutive shots by Josh Bailey and Tavares. Then the Bruins surged ahead.
“There was an odd-man rush and I think whoever the D was there did a very good job of keeping the man on the outside,” Rask said. “Pretty good shot for a rebound and luckily the rebound was right in front of me. I was able to scramble in front of the second puck and then we cleared it.
“You never want to get scored on in the last minute, and we have in the past. It’s a good example — when you don’t, you might get another opportunity, and we did.”
With 2:34 left in the game, Pastrnak sealed the win with a blast from the right circle after Eriksson had taken the puck from the Islanders at center ice. The goals gave Pastrnak 12 on the season, a career high.
“That line was good for us,” Julien said. “I thought David [Krejci] had one of his better games there in a while . . . and David Pastrnak right from the get-go, you could see his feet moving really well. He had good speed tonight and he had their defense on their heels, so that was a good combination.”
The win was crucial as yet again the Bruins head out on a difficult stretch. They will fly to California on Monday morning for a three-game trip that features games in San Jose, Anaheim, and Los Angeles, teams the Bruins have struggled against this season.
But they are better now, earning points since the trade deadline. That certainly makes this trip a bit less daunting.
“I think we are playing better,” said Julien, “but at the same time it’s about not predicting, but going out there and showing instead of making predictions. I think it’s up to us to go out there and show that we are ready to play those guys.”
Of course, maybe Julien should be making predictions. It worked out well for him the last time.