For Bruins, little things brought big win

BOSTON -- In the midst of a late-season swoon, the Boston Bruins responded in a big way Tuesday night at TD Garden with a 4-1 victory over the surging New Jersey Devils. But it's more important that they keep it going with only 10 games remaining in the regular season.

The Bruins have played Jekyll-and-Hyde hockey of late, posting a seven-game winning streak last month, but entering Tuesday's game with a 1-3-3 mark in their previous seven games. Not exactly the way the first-place team in the Northeast Division wants to play with the Stanley Cup playoffs quickly approaching.

What made the recent skid even more horrific was the Bruins' dreadful 5-2 loss to the Maple Leafs on Saturday in Toronto.

After two days of intense practice, the Bruins seemed to regain their focus against the Devils and produced a calming victory.

"After the Toronto game, it was a bit of a wakeup call," said Bruins pugilist Shawn Thornton, who scored his ninth goal of the season Tuesday. "We knew the effort was going to be there today. We addressed the things we needed to address in practice, but we did a good job of responding today."

Boston did all the proverbial "little things" against the Devils, and it proved crucial, especially given the team's recent funk. The Bruins won battles to the puck, sustained a solid forecheck, recovered quickly on the backcheck and fought for every loose puck.

Those efforts equaled victory.

"We're getting down to crunch time with the playoffs around the corner," defenseman Andrew Ference said. "It's about finding that balance of being focused, being intense for the games, but not squeezing the stick too hard and not being so tense that you're just paralyzed out there."

After a sluggish first 15 minutes, the Bruins did not panic and were able to stay focused. Boston played stingy and became that type of hard team to play against in outworking the Devils.

"Besides the first 15 minutes, I think our team responded well," coach Claude Julien said.

New Jersey came in as a dangerous team. The Devils have been playing well of late and are attempting to sneak into the playoffs, so they played with desperation early in the game and had the Bruins handcuffed for most of the first period.

"They probably felt we were a little fragile there with what's been happening, so it was important for them to come out that way," Julien said. "We were able to resist and Tim [Thomas] made saves early on to keep us in there."

Once the Bruins settled down as their back end began to open up space through the neutral zone, Boston was able to infiltrate the opposition and capitalize on its chances. After the Bruins tied the game at 1-1 on Thornton's goal at 15:39 of the first period, they were able to calm things down.

Another major aspect of the victory was that the Bruins actually scored a power-play goal.

Boston entered the game 1 for its last 29 on the man-advantage, and even though the Bruins went 1-for-5 against the Devils, Zdeno Chara's power-play goal at 8:17 of the second period proved to be the winner.

"The power play was creating a lot of chances, a lot of momentum, and eventually we scored," Chara said.

Bruins forward Milan Lucic notched his 30th of the season to give Boston a 3-1 advantage at 16:13 of the third period, before Mark Recchi added an empty-netter at 19:20. Even though Lucic reached the 30-goal plateau, he was more focused on the team's effort.

"It feels great I was able to get that 30th, but the biggest thing here today is it felt like we played Bruins hockey again," Lucic said.

If that's the case, the Bruins need a repeat performance Thursday against the Montreal Canadiens, and for the remainder of the regular season if they are to be successful once the puck drops for Stanley Cup playoffs in less than a month.

"We want to go into the playoffs on the way up, not on the way down," Thornton said. "We've got 10 games left and we want to start being consistent and getting ready, so we can go in on a bit of a roll."

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins and Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.