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Thursday, October 20, 2011
Updated: October 21, 10:35 AM ET
Bruins get back to team hockey

By Joe McDonald
ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- From the days when the Boston Bruins struggled during the 2010-2011 season until they hoisted the Stanley Cup in June, the team's mantra revolved around the fact that team chemistry on and off the ice was the reason for its success.

The Bruins have struggled with consistency this season, so coach Claude Julien relied on that overall chemistry and tweaked his line combinations a bit this week, hoping it would spark a change in the team's success. It worked, as Boston handed the Toronto Maple Leafs their first loss of the season with a 6-2 win Thursday night at TD Garden.

Shawn Thornton
Shawn Thornton's battle with Colton Orr in the first period Thursday night energized the Bruins and their fans.

"It was about everybody focusing on their game and playing with some energy and desperation in a good way," Julien said. "I thought we were really determined as a group and needed to play better as individuals, and as a team that will translate into a good thing as well."

Even before Boston scored its first goal of the night, it was the Bruins' Shawn Thornton who energized his teammates and the 17,565 fans in the building when he collected his first fighting major of the season in a heavyweight bout with the Maple Leafs' Colton Orr.

It was a spirited bout and it sparked the Bruins' bench.

"Yeah, 100 percent," Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. "It seemed like it got us into it, it got the crowd into it and created that energy in the building tonight."

Lucic, Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara all scored their first goals of the season, while Nathan Horton, Chris Kelly and Tyler Seguin each added their second goals of the year. In fact, Seguin and Chara added two assists each. Seguin's three points were a career-high during a regular-season game.

Defenseman Andrew Ference chipped in three assists, tying a career-high.

Boston took advantage of its power-play opportunities, too, notching a pair of goals on the man-advantage thanks to Horton and Chara's tallies.

"We were moving around really good," Horton said of the power-play units. "It seemed like a couple of times we didn't score and we still had a lot of chances. It was definitely nice to get a power-play goal and feel like you got your chances to score."

It wasn't all offense, because Boston's success started on the back end, too.

While Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas made 27 saves, the team's defensive core did a solid job moving the puck on the breakout, in transition and even helping out offensively.

"That's part of the reason we had success last year," Thomas said of the team's defensive play. "The contributions are made by everyone down the list and it's definitely the key to our success."

Boston found that team success earlier this season when it beat the Tampa Bay Lightning, 4-1, at home. But unfortunately for the Bruins, they couldn't bottle that success and carry it over. Thursday's game was bit different because the Bruins' victory had all the necessary components, including physical play as well as solid offense, defense, special teams and goaltending.

It was almost the type of game they were hoping to play.

Tim Thomas
"It's a good feeling and we needed the win," Bruins goalie Tim Thomas said. "Hopefully it's a big step for us and it's up to us to follow it up on Saturday."

"It's close," Thomas said. "Not every game is going to be the same. There's no perfect blueprint, but this was definitely within the blueprint of how we need to win."

It also helped that the Bruins were able to stifle the red-hot Phil Kessel, who entered the game with seven goals and five assists for 12 points in his past five games for the Maple Leafs.

"We know that he's having a hell of a year so far," Chara said. "He's on top of the league and he is playing extremely well. We were just trying to obviously play really tight and take away as much time and space from him."

The Bruins' win over their division rival wasn't a complete 60-minute effort because they did lack some luster in the second period, but Boston was able to regroup and finish strong, which is a good sign against a good opponent.

Now this victory and performance will only be significant if the Bruins can carry it over against their next opponent, the potent San Jose Sharks, on Saturday night at the Garden.

"It's a good feeling and we needed the win," Thomas said. "We needed to get back on a roll and we needed to start somewhere, and starting it against a team that has had success this year and hasn't lost in regulation. … Hopefully it's a big step for us and it's up to us to follow it up on Saturday."

For once in a long time Julien and his players stepped away from the team-first attitude because the Bruins needed individual players to produce. Those players did and it turned into an important team victory in the middle of October.

"We're proud guys and we want to be on top every night," Bergeron said. "Right now I think it's a good effort, but we've seen it too often in the past six games that you have to be consistent and we need to have a good effort on Saturday as well."

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.