Bruins Still Chasing Their Best Hockey, as They Win 9th Straight
BOSTON, MA - On Monday night, the Bruins quickly hustled around the locker room at TD Garden packing their Black & Gold hockey bags before catching their flight to New Jersey.
It was already back to business, following their 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild.
'Does a nine-game win streak actually mean anything?' Bruins' alternate captain Chris Kelly was asked, as he stood in his workout clothes. There was no celebrating the victory; just a postagme workout to prep for the back-to-back.
"Not really," he remarked, to a round of laughs among the handful of gathered reporters, who weren't too surprised by his answer.
"It’s nice to win. It’s better than losing, but at the end of the day, it’s all about the next game. It’s about New Jersey tomorrow and we’ll go from there."
The Bruins now have just 14 games left until the postseason begins. Following their win over the Wild - which gave them the second longest winning streak in the NHL this season at nine games - they next face the Devils at the Prudential Center at Tuesday night, offering yet another chance to continue fine-tuning their game.
"Yeah, we're feeling good, obviously, but there’s aspects of the game I think we can get better at," said Kelly. "This is a group that’s been together for a while and we’ve gone through winning streaks and losing streaks, and all we’re really thinking about is the next game, nothing in the past and not too far ahead."
Monday's win, their fifth straight at home, came with another strong third period effort to put Minnesota away.
The Black & Gold led 2-1 following the second period, after goals from Jarome Iginla and Loui Eriksson had given them a two-goal lead. The Wild's Jason Pominville found a way past Tuukka Rask at the end of the period, when he fired a shot while breaking his stick that fooled the goalie.
But the Bruins scored twice in third period, with Reilly Smith breaking a 15-game scoring drought and Iginla firing in the empty-netter for his team-leading 25th goal of the season.
They now have a plus-41 goal differential in the third period, scoring 88 goals and allowing 47.
"Well, we want to play consistent through the sixty minutes," said Kelly. "Regardless of what the score is, we want to play the same way and manage the puck well and be confident out there, and I thought we did a good job in the third."
The Bruins' killer instinct often reaches a high level in third periods, and not surprisingly, when they have the lead and keep attacking, sustaining pressure and grinding down their opponents.
This season, they're 35-3-0 in games which they have had a two-goal lead. Comebacks aren't easy to mount against them. But in order to get those leads, especially during this nine-game winning streak, Tuukka Rask and Chad Johnson have had to be sharp.
Rask put up 33 saves on 34 shots in the win over Minnesota, and had to come up with terrific timely stops like when he flashed the glove on Mikko Koivu point-blank to maintain the Bruins' 1-0 lead in the second.
"Our goaltending has been outstanding all year without question," said Iginla. "Big momentum shifts. We also feel as the game goes on, the physical style that we play, we can start taking the game over as it goes on and try to wear teams down."
"We take a lot of pride in being a real good third period team and having that great goaltending. We don’t want to give up the chances necessarily, some of the breakaways and some of the chances that we are, but you’re going to have some breakdowns and our goaltending has been outstanding."
Those breakdowns, though, are part of the reason this team isn't resting easy with the tear that they're on.
"It’s good that we get those wins but I don’t think that we’ve played our best hockey all of these games," said Rask. "Giving up those breakaways, stuff like that. But for the most part I think we’re playing pretty good, the offense is good."
Before the tilt against Minnesota, I had asked Chris Kelly, 'When you're on a streak like this, do you focus more on what's working well, or on what needs work?'
The question could still be posed, as the Black & Gold chase win No. 10 in a row on Tuesday night in New Jersey.
"It's a balance - I think you never want to be glass half full or glass half empty," he had said. "I think you want to take the positives out of games and look at the good things you've done, but in the same breath there areas of the game where you want to get better."
The Bruins now sit atop the Eastern Conference with 97 points, just four points behind St. Louis for first in the League. Five points up on Pittsburgh for best in the East, why not try for best in the NHL?
"You try to win every game and if you have a chance to clinch the League, why wouldn’t you try?" Rask remarked, following his sixth straight win amidst the streak. "But I don’t think it’s our goal in our minds that we have to win it."
"We just want to be feeling good about ourselves going into playoffs and play our best hockey in April, May, June."
"To us, we’re good right now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we’re playing bad - we’re playing well - but I think there is still a lot of room for improvement here," said Julien. "If we expect to go a long ways in the playoffs, we’re going to have to be better than what we are right now."