Bruins' short-handed blue line delivers

BOSTON -- Losing one of their top defensemen early in the game didn't help the Boston Bruins' cause against one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference on Saturday night at TD Garden.

But after defenseman Adam McQuaid left with what appeared to be a right-leg injury at the 8-minute mark of the first period, the Bruins battled through and finished with a 3-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"It's something that's very unfortunate, but at the same time you have to pull the load and everybody has to chip in and get a little more ice time and do the job," Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said of losing McQuaid's services.

The Bruins scored a pair of power-play goals and added an empty-netter en route to victory. But the main reason they won was the play of the defense, including goaltender Tuukka Rask, who finished with 33 saves.

"I think they played solid today," Rask said. "There were a lot of blocked shots [15]. The second period caught us off guard again and we didn't play good as a team, but those five Ds battled hard and did the job."

On Oct. 31, the Bruins were without defenseman Johnny Boychuk for the majority of the game due to a back injury against the Anaheim Ducks. Boston was left short-handed on the blue line but pulled through and won 3-2 in a shootout.

The Bruins were forced to play with a man down again on Saturday. The game plan changed quickly as the Bruins needed their defensemen to take shorter shifts but carry more of the load while changing partners throughout the game. Chara came up big, logging 28 minutes of ice time and producing the first power-play goal. Dennis Seidenberg finished with 24:15 of ice time, while Boychuk played 24:28.

But it was fellow blueliner Dougie Hamilton, the second-year man, who really stepped up his game.

"With Adam being down everybody played a little bit more," Chara said. "But [Hamilton] is such a smooth skater and everybody knows he can skate with the puck, he can handle the puck. He's getting better and he still needs to get better, just like everybody else."

The Bruins have had seven solid defensemen for six spots. Matt Bartkowski has mostly been the odd man out as Hamilton and Torey Krug have been in the lineup most games.

Hamilton's sophomore season has been a productive one so far. It's evident he's trusting his abilities at this level.

"I've gotten better defensively around the net and in the corners," Hamilton said. "I think I got stronger, too. I have more confidence and I'm more comfortable with the guys."

The 20-year-old played nearly 25 minutes Saturday against the Maple Leafs. He was involved in every aspect of the game and found his rhythm.

"I like it better, personally," Hamilton said of the added ice time. "When you know you're going to play a lot, you just keep going out there and don't have to sit on the bench too long. Everyone stepped up and we played well as a defensive group."

When Rask says he doesn't notice Hamilton during a game, believe it or not, it's a compliment.

"He seems to make the right plays a lot out there," Rask said. "He's playing the body well and he's playing smart. The less I see him out there, the better he seems to play. I never really can memorize anything he does out there, so I think that's a good sign that he's playing a rock-solid defensive game, which in this league, and on our team, is really important."

The other aspect of the Bruins' game that proved crucial was on special teams. Boston went 2-for-3 on the power play, receiving goals from Chara and Patrice Bergeron.

"It's something that we've worked on for a few years now and now it seems to be clicking," Bergeron said. "Obviously that helps the team a lot. That's something that we've talked a lot about and that we needed to be better at. So far it's been good. We've got to keep building on that, and (penalty kill) is the same thing. We've got to keep playing well there and the special teams are always a key to get some points."

Speaking of the penalty kill, the Bruins were a perfect 3-for-3 in that category, including an important kill in the waning minutes of the third period with Boston holding a one-goal lead. With Carl Soderberg in the box for holding, the Bruins were aggressive and once again stifled Toronto's attack.

"It was huge," Rask said. "It's always a tough time to get a penalty that late and you know they're going to try everything in their power to get that goal, and we really chopped down pucks and we got them out when we had to. The penalty kill has been improving a lot in these past couple games and that's our bread and butter, we need to be a good team on PK and we've done that in the past."

On a night when the Bruins were down a man and facing a tough opponent, they finished with an important victory.