BOSTON, MA - With less than seven minutes left in the second period on Thursday night at TD Garden, Johnny Boychuk fearlessly slid across the crease in front of Tuukka Rask and blocked away a shot from Phoenix Coyote Oliver Ekman-Larsson point-blank.
The Boston blueliner lost his stick in the process, so Matt Bartkowski quickly pushed it towards him with just enough time for him to pick it up and clear the puck up the ice and out of the zone.
The Bruins' 2-0 lead they had built in the first period, thanks to goals from Zdeno Chara and Jarome Iginla, remained in tact. They would go on to earn the 2-1 win over Phoenix, and pick up their seventh straight victory.
"I see commitment from everybody," Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said postgame. "It’s pretty obvious, when you play the number of games that you’ve played, and you look at the way you’ve played, there’s a pretty good commitment right now from our guys."
Boychuk's block wasn't the only indication on the night.
With the Bruins holding their 2-1 lead late in the period, and fatigue setting in from playing their second game in the past 24 hours, Coyote Antoine Vermette nearly tied the game.
After a centering pass bounced in front of the net, Vermette backhanded the loose puck as Rask dove to his left across the blue paint. Carl Soderberg was right there with his stick down, to safely clear it aside and skate out of trouble up the left side.
"Yeah, I’m not sure if I got a piece of it. It kind of felt like my glove hit something but then Carl, he was the one who passed it back, he got the rebound there," said Rask. "So I’m not sure if I saved it, but whoever saved it, did a great job."
It preserved the win, in a third period when the Coyotes made a strong push, outshooting the Bruins 12-5. Eight of those shots came in the final eight minutes, and three in a row on a power play that Boston successfully shut down. Boychuk logged another block on that penalty kill, as well.
The Bruins' PK went five-for-five on the night against the Coyotes' third ranked lethal man advantage. In the middle frame, they had to kill off two penalties back-to-back.
"It felt like they had some action outright, with the power plays and everything, but we blocked a lot of shots today throughout the game and then especially in that second period," said Rask, who earned his fifth straight win between the pipes.
Boston logged 15 total blocked shots, including five from Boychuk.
"Certainly a good effort on a back-to-back night again, and everybody knows we came off of a pretty important game, in our minds, about going out there and playing your game, and making everybody understand that it’s not so much the matchup [with the Canadiens] than it’s been our make-up," said Julien, of the team's 4-1 win in Montreal the night prior.
Chara gave the Bruins their 1-0 lead just 5:54 into the first period, scoring his 16th goal of the season after a strong Bruins' forecheck from the line of Carl Soderberg, Chris Kelly and Loui Eriksson caused the puck to pop right out to the Captain skating into the slot.
Jarome Iginla made that a two-goal cushion, with 2:29 left in the period, deflecting in Boychuk's shot from the right point.
After a second period with chances hard to come by (Boston outshot Phoenix 3-2), the Coyotes made their push in the final 20 minutes. Rask had to be at his sharpest, even until Phoenix's final shot with five seconds left in regulation.
"Pretty much the whole third period, it was just a battle. It felt like an overtime game for us there. Good thing we survived," said Rask.
"It's not always going to be pretty but when you play your system and work hard, the results are going to come," said defenseman Andrej Meszaros, who may have only been a Bruin for a week, but already knows what makes up the Spoked-B.
The Bruins are now 10-2-0 in the second game of back-to-backs this season, which is no easy feat. The mental fatigue is often what could sway that record in the opposite direction.
"For us, it’s no excuses," said Julien. "We don’t use that excuse of back-to-back or travel…We’ve utilized our whole bench, guys aren’t tired. We’ve traveled well. We didn’t skate this morning, that’s just one of the examples. I think we just set ourselves up to give ourselves a chance, and by doing that, we’ve put all of the excuses aside."
That approach has now resulted in the Bruins by far playing their best hockey of the season.
"You know, we are just playing Bruins hockey, I think day in and day out and not trying too much," said Rask. "Obviously, the schedule is tough and we try to keep things simple and just put pucks in deep and try to grind it out and get some traffic in front of the net and it’s been working well. Eliminating those turnovers, it’s been a huge part of our success."
"Guys here – it’s a hungry team, a very competitive team and we want to keep winning and keep getting better," Iginla told reporters postgame. "You guys are being nice but we don’t want to keep patting ourselves; we just keep moving forward."
"It’s just taking pride and trying to win every night out."
Moving forward also means not looking back at previous wins.
"It's not so much the streak," said Julien. "It’s the consistency, and the consistency leads into that streak that you’re seeing."
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