DALLAS — A previous iteration of the 2016-17 Bruins might have cracked after waving goodbye to a two-goal second-period lead.
The current version, however, blitzed through Jiri Hudler’s tying goal like an 18-wheeler barreling over roadkill. On Sunday, the Bruins punched back with three straight strikes, including two off the stick of Patrice Bergeron, to leave the shell-shocked Stars not knowing what ran them over.
“We bent,” coach Bruce Cassidy said after a 6-3 win over Dallas at American Airlines Center. “We didn’t break.”
By the end, the Bruins had swiped Points No. 5 and 6 on the four-game road trip. The win propelled the Bruins into third place in the Atlantic Division, 1 point north of the Maple Leafs.
“To get three out of four is very good,” said Cassidy, now 6-1-0 since replacing Claude Julien on Feb. 7. “Guys should be proud of themselves.”
Memories of last year’s West Coast swing are still fresh in the Bruins’ memories. Last year, the Bruins led the division before their wheels went up on the road trip. The Bruins dropped three straight to San Jose, Anaheim, and Los Angeles, then stamped an exclamation point on their tailspin with a fourth consecutive road loss to the Rangers. It was the beginning of the end for the Bruins, who tumbled to third place in the division by the trip’s conclusion.
This time, the Bruins recorded 6 points instead of none. They beat San Jose in overtime last Sunday. They lost in regulation to Anaheim on Wednesday, but recovered the following night with a 4-1 win over Los Angeles. A week after starting the trip, the Bruins peeled out of Dallas with smiles on their faces and precious points in their pockets.
“It was a huge road trip for us,” Torey Krug said. “Last year, this was the turning point for our season. This year, it’s the opposite. It was good for us to get on the road. The way the schedule’s been this year, we haven’t had much time for bonding and getting away from home and really having time on the road to jell as a team. I think we did that. Our on-ice play speaks for itself.”
The Bruins’ best players led the charge against the Stars. For Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, it didn’t matter who lined up as their right wing.
In the first period, David Backes lasted two seconds as the No. 1 right wing off the opening draw before squaring off against Jamie Benn. David Pastrnak, their former right wing, filled his old spot for the rest of the first before giving it back to Backes for the final 40 minutes.
“Playing Dallas, there will be times when there’s chances traded,” Cassidy said. “That’s when Pasta’s line with Bergy and Marsh can be real dangerous. Once we got the lead, we balanced it out a little more.”
Given their relentlessness, skill, and pursuit of the puck, Marchand and Bergeron could ride with a hippopotamus and still put up points. At 5:56 of the first, after taking a cross-ice pass from Bergeron, Marchand buried his team-leading 27th goal behind Kari Lehtonen to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead.
At 15:21 of the second, after winning an offensive-zone faceoff against Devin Shore, Bergeron went right for the net. Jordie Benn didn’t have a chance. Bergeron drove Benn so far back that he might as well have been in Oklahoma. By then, when Marchand’s snapper arrived, Bergeron was in position to tip the puck past Lehtonen to make it a 4-2 game.
“We talked about that before the faceoff,” Bergeron said of the Stars’ soft spot down low. “It seemed on [David Krejci’s] goal to be open. We were trying to make that same kind of play. It worked out.”
In the third, Bergeron was on the receiving end again. Marchand started the play with a one-on-one rush against Esa Lindell. Instead of attacking the net for his own shot, Marchand slowed his approach, turned his back on Lindell, and waited for support to come. By now, having played with Bergeron for six years, Marchand knew his center was due to arrive.
As soon as Bergeron received Marchand’s pass, he whistled a riser over Lehtonen’s blocker at 7:48 to give the Bruins a three-goal lead and end any hope of a Dallas rally.
“Marchand’s one [heck] of a player now,” said Dallas coach Lindy Ruff. “His puck possession and his small-ice play are excellent. They complement each other. Bergeron is one of the best two-way players. I’ve been around him in a couple of Olympics, and he’s a heck of a player. Marchand has gone from really being known as an antagonizer to being a complete player with a great shot. He can make a lot of good plays in that little bit of ice.”
The Bruins are rolling. They’re feeling good about themselves. But they know how fleeting such segments can be. They learned that the hard way last year following their plunge down the standings and out of the playoffs.
“We don’t want to put ourselves in a position again like last year where we miss the playoffs again,” Marchand said. “We have to make sure and bear down the last 20 games.”