The Bruins weren’t perfect in Thursday night’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, but they were good enough to pull off a 3-2 overtime win to finish a five-game homestand in which the Bruins earned nine-of-10 possible points.
That type of performance stands in stark contrast to the way the Bruins started the homestand, as they were coming off a week in which they lost three-of-four games and only earned a victory in a shoot-out win over the Ducks.
After the Anaheim win, coach Claude Julien acknowledged the team’s momentum wasn’t going the way he wanted, but he was singing a different tune after Thursday’s win over the Blue Jackets.
“We can stand here every night after every game and nitpick at our team. At the end of the night, we won a game,” Julien said. “We had more scoring chances than them. We weren’t perfect, we aren’t a perfect team; but we are a good team.”
The Bruins did not look so good at the start of the first period. Boston came out sluggish and mustered just five shots on net through the first 15 minutes of play. Columbus took advantage of the Bruins’ slow start at 12:48 in the first period when, with Dougie Hamilton and Zdeno Chara both chasing Mark Letestu along the endboards, Blake Comeau swept through the slot unguarded and flipped a shot past Johnson to give the Blue Jackets a 1-0 lead.
The Bruins did not seem to have much energy until the last few minutes of the first period, when Reilly Smith made a great inside-out move to beat James Wisniewski and put a shot on net. The puck trickled past Blue Jackets’ goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and danced near the goal line, but Carl Soderberg was unable to slip it in the empty net and the puck coasted just wide of the post.
Following Smith’s play, the Bruins fired four more shots on net in the remaining three minutes of the period and scored on one of them, as Loui Eriksson tied the game with 1:50 left in the first by deflecting a Chara shot from the point past Bobrovsky.
The Bruins continued to show flashes of strong play countered by momentary breakdowns throughout the game. For every Brad Marchand whiff on a pass or shot in the offensive zone, there was a great play by Torey Krug at the other end of the ice to block a shot or clog a lane.
“I think we just got back to supporting one another and moving the puck better,” said Milan Lucic of his team’s improvement during the homestand. “Our transition game has been better and we’re coming up the ice again as a five-man unit. I think when we got into that skid and that funk, that was the main thing that got away from us is that we were trying to play too much as individuals instead of a team game and we’re getting back to that.”
There’s evidence of increased team support throughout the lineup. The penalty kill stepped up its game and has killed off 26 penalties in a row. Other lines aside from the Jarome Iginla-Lucic-David Krejci line are ramping up the production. The defense has put together better efforts and played much more responsibly in front of Johnson against the Blue Jackets than it did in front of him in his last game, a 3-1 loss to the Islanders on Nov. 2.
The Bruins still have plenty of work to do when it comes to the nuances of the game (Soderberg in particular looked lost throughout Thursday’s game), and their energy level against teams with poor records is not quite where it should be. After all, the Blue Jackets have only won one of their last eight games and currently sit in third-to-last place in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins, as the No. 2 team in the East, should be beating the Blue Jackets, and those wins should probably be a little easier to come by than having to score a late goal in overtime.
But at some point, it’s important to appreciate improvement and acknowledge that it’s still early in the 2013-14 season. The Bruins have plenty of time to work out some remaining kinks in their game, and at the end of the day, a win is a win.
“I’m not standing here saying I’m happy but the guys worked hard,” Julien said. “We need to be sharper mentally and make some better decisions, but you have to give the other team credit, they came in here and I said that this morning – they’re a team that forechecks hard, they play a heavy game, they battle hard; they did that to us in Columbus and that’s what they did to us again tonight.
“So we got through it and won the game and now we’re going to Ottawa hoping to win another one.”