After starting the season with a bang, the Bruins first line is experiencing a rough stretch. Totaling only six points combined in their previous six games prior to Friday, Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla have slowed a bit. While the effort has certainly been there, the points haven’t followed, making for an interesting storyline moving forward.
Bruins coach Claude Julien, all too wary of the first line struggles, changed things up prior to the Black Friday showdown; the coach replaced Iginla with the red-hot Reilly Smith, hoping to jump-start the line, and team, after an uncharacteristic 6-1 loss in Detroit Wednesday night.
The change was purely a message-sending mission by the veteran coach, who quickly replaced Smith with Iginla after the opening faceoff.
The Bruins heard their coach loud and clear, responding with terrific shifts from each line, producing a number of scoring chances against the New York Rangers and king Henrik Lundqvist.
While it won’t show up on the score sheet, the Bruins top line was a major contributor in the first Boston goal. Bottling up the Rangers in their own end, the line maximized momentum prior to the Brad Marchand goal- a product of a phenomenal backdoor pass by Zdeno Chara.
The bruins post-goal play faltered, allowing the Rangers to both tie the game and take the lead in a matter of minutes. Poor defensive zone coverage by both the forwards and defensemen killed the Bruins in the first period, a theme that can’t continue for the Stanley Cup contender.
It was a good start for the first line though, who cycled the puck well, regaining their early season identity that made them such a force.
As the second period progressed the top line continued to make strides.
After a lackluster shift, they followed it up with two beauties, cycling the puck at will while manhandling the Rangers back end. Although they still couldn’t bury one, the line continued to push momentum in Boston’s favor even though they trailed on the scoreboard.
While there weren’t many shots overall, for either team, every Bruins shot, or chance, seemed like a golden one; and Lundqvist, very similar to Tuukka Rask in New York last week, albeit a difference in style, was keeping the Rangers in this game.
The third period was by far the best for both the first line and the rest of the Bruins. After Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron hooked up for the game-tying goal, Zdeno Chara gave the Bruins a crucial one-goal lead.
Iginla, Lucic and David Krejci worked the puck into the Ranger’s zone, another good entry, and maintained possession before Krejci finally found an open Chara above the circles, and the captain blasted the puck through Lundqvist netting the Bruins third goal of the game.
Although issues of consistency remain, the trio made their mark in a number of ways in the Black Friday matinee; and they helped clinch a 3-2 victory for the Bruins.
It was a terrific bounce-back performance for a team who just suffered their worst regular season loss in recent memory.
After the game, coach Claude Julien talked about the Bruins “heavy” style of play, and having to match that of the Rangers, a very similar team. The Bruins first line in particularly, with guys like Lucic and Iginla right in the middle of it, were as heavy as possible in Friday’s matinee.
“It’s demanding so you try and get players that are willing to play those kind of games every night and that’s what we feel we have; but it doesn’t always happen,” said Julien. “So the thing I like is the character that the guys show. It’s about finding ways to win and bouncing back and that last game didn’t sit well with us and instead of getting upset, we were going to get determined. So we came in yesterday, had a good practice and were ready to play today.”
And the Bruins determination showed- the loss for the Rangers was the first time they didn’t get at least one point when entering the third period with a lead in the past 101 games.