BOSTON -- It’s taken a while, but the Boston Bruins finally are playing their favored style of hockey on a consistent basis and it has resulted in three consecutive victories, including a 3-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday afternoon at TD Garden.
Against one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, the Bruins played physical and with speed and emotion, and it resulted in probably their best game so far of the 2013-14 season.
Unfortunately Boston’s win was marred by an injury.
Lightning star forward Steven Stamkos suffered a broken right tibia and is out indefinitely after he crashed into the Tampa net during the second period. He was taken off the ice on a stretcher and transported to a local hospital.
Seeing one of the NHL’s top stars suffer such a gruesome injury, the mood was somber in both locker rooms after the game.
While the Bruins were concerned about Stamkos, they were pleased with the strides they've made on their current homestand. The Bruins defeated the lowly Florida Panthers 4-1 last Thursday, then handled the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1 on Saturday before beating the Lightning on Monday.
“Our team is playing better all the time,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “We looked a little bit more like the team we want to be tonight. We played a pretty good team and I thought our guys handled themselves well.”
Prior to this three-game winning streak, the Bruins were 1-3-1 in their previous five games and were struggling in many aspects of their game.
“Our team had been going through a bit of a slump and we didn’t play with the energy and obviously the cohesion that you need to play well,” Julien said. “Through a schedule like ours in hockey with 82 games, you get those [skids] and we’ve been trying to fight our way out of it, and right now we’re finding our game slowly.”
Now the Bruins are playing well in all areas. The top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Jarome Iginla has been consistent. The second unit has picked up its game, mostly because forward Brad Marchand finally has found his game and is playing with that angry intensity that makes him successful.
From a defensive standpoint, the Bruins have been solid and also received offensive contributions from the team’s blueliners. Rookie defenseman Torey Krug is riding a four-game point streak, and overall he has six goals and five assists for 11 points in 17 games.
Special teams have been solid too. The power play has been generating chances and the Bruins are 9-for-48 on the man-advantage this season. Boston’s penalty kill once again has been terrific. On Monday, the Bruins were a perfect 4-for-4 on the PK and have killed off 21 consecutive penalties. Overall, they’re 46-for-56 while shorthanded this season.
“Getting pretty good speed into our game and we’re supporting each other and getting those pucks deep and going to work for the most part,” goalie Tuukka Rask said. “That’s our game, but there have been some stretches during the games that we haven’t played as good, but we’ve battled back and found our game and that has helped us to win these games.”
The Bruins have shown in the past that when they get on one of these runs they can extend it.
“I hope so,” Rask said. “I still don’t think we’re playing unbelievable hockey for 60 minutes. There’s still stretches during the game when we kind of struggle and give the team chances, but we’re heading in the right direction and if we keep playing like this we’ll for sure win more games than we lose.”
But Rask is realistic and knows firsthand what can happen with this team when it does play well for stretches.
“Sometimes when we play good it kind of seems like we get comfortable and we get bored to play the way we play. Then we start dangling out there and passing across and stuff and it ends up costing us,” he said. “So I hope we realize when we play like this we’re going to win more games than we lose and we need to keep doing the things we’re doing.”
Rask knew coming into this full 82-game season that he would log more minutes than at any other time during his career. With Monday’s win, he’s 10-4-1 in the 15 games he’s played and it’s evident he’s locked in mentally and physically.
“Not too bad,” he said. “Obviously there are stretches when you play every other day and you don’t seem to get those days off, but you just try to get your rest whenever you can. But I’ve felt good so far.”
In fact, he extended his shutout streak against the Lightning this season (three games) to 149:28. Rask has not allowed a goal against Tampa since 10:32 of the second period on Opening Night, which was on Oct. 3. He also posted a 5-0 shutout at Tampa Bay on Oct. 19.
His shutout Monday was his second of the season and 18th of his career.
As a team, the Bruins are beginning to play their style of hockey, the one that has helped them reach the Stanley Cup finals twice in a three-year span. It’s only November and Boston is 11-5-1 in the first 17 games, but there is a lot to like about the way the Bruins are playing right now.
“It’s about playing with emotion and being engaged,” Julien said. “Sometimes mentally you go through the phase where it’s a little tougher than other times. We’re one of those teams that had a short summer and maybe mentally we’re not always ready to start the best we can, but it does come back and we’ve been through it before.
“It’s a thing hockey teams go through, different teams go through at different times of the year, and we’ve been going through it the last little while. The positive thing is we’re finding our game and seem to be heading in the right direction.”