Sure, since shutting out the Chicago Blackhawks last weekend, the Bruins have given up 12 goals in four games - including a couple of goals in the waning seconds of periods - and not looking as consistent as they did during their 16 game point streak, but there's no need to go looking for a reason for it - because there's not one.
|photo courtesy Brian Babineau/NHLI Getty Inages|
At least, there's not something that needs to be corrected - just a stretch of games against four teams in desperation mode and trying to secure playoff spots combined with Boston coach Claude Julien mixing up his defensive pairings to find the best post-season combinations while giving his greybeards some time off to rest their weary bones.
“We’re in a position to utilize our whole bench,” Julien told reporters, waving off concerns that the team had lost the edge that they displayed during the month of March. “I can guarantee you there are situations there late in the period that if we’re in the playoffs, it won’t be the same thing. Let’s not read too much into that stuff here."
The latest chance for Julien to prepare his team for the post-season came Saturday afternoon at TD Garden, where the hometown faithful were treated to more of the same - the Philadelphia Flyers taking advantage of their superior speed and violent intent early, the Bruins taking the bullies' best shot, then cranking their play into overdrive...
...Milan Lucic scoring twice and Johnny Boychuck ripping the long-range game winner with six minutes and change remaining in regulation as the Bruins flexed their muscles and pulled away from the Flyers in the third period for a 5-2 victory - a win that clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference, ensuring home ice advantage for Boston throughout the Conference playoffs.
David Krejci also potted a goal, Chris Kelly added an empty net dagger and Loui Eriksson dropped four dimes for the second time in his career for the Bruins, who now have engineered a 23-3-4 record since a momentum-shifting overtime loss to the Blackhawks clear back in mid-January, overtaking the Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues for best record in the league in the process.
Now the Bruins set their sights on the President's Cup, awarded to the team that has the best record in the National Hockey League - and with it, home ice advantage throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And whether or not that is something that the Bruins should be working toward, it may be something that just can't be helped.
“The biggest thing to focus on is not to get complacent, keep on pushing." newly-crowned Bruins' Seventh Man of the Year Reilly Smith offered. "Most of the teams we’re playing are desperate for playoff spots, so just to keep that mind-set and make sure you’re pushing every night and stick to the things that made us successful the last month or so.”
And what has made them successful is their machine like efficiency and their now all-too-familiar game plan of taking their opponent's best shot, all the while wearing them down with their heavy physicality and then stepping on their throats and burying them in the final frame.
That's a script that has served them well all season, and Saturday afternoon against their nemesis from Philadelphia was no exception - in fact, it was a perfect example.
With the score tied at two coming out of the room for the third period, the Bruins set the tone by using Flyers' goalie Ray Emery for target practice, putting 22 of their 42 total shots on goal in the frame - at the same time wearing out the bullies' defense by punishing them against the boards...
...scoring three times in the final six minutes while starting goalie Tuukka Rask turned away nine of his 24 saves in picking up his 35th win of the season.
Krejci ended a personal 17-game goal drought to open the scoring, tracking down a puck knocked loose from a scrum in front of the net and snapping it in for a 1-0 lead late in the opening frame that the Bruins took into the room at the first intermission.
The Flyers tied it up on a Wayne Simmonds point blank backhanded tip in on the man advantage four and a half minutes into the second period, but the Bruins took the lead right back 19 seconds later when Lucic called for and received a pass in the high slot right in his wheelhouse - the one-timer finding dirty ice for a 2-1 lead...
...but it took all of a minute and a half for the Flyers to knot the score again, a rare Jay Rosehill offering that the checking-line left winger somehow snapped past Rask from a narrow angle, the puck flying over the big Finn's blocker from across the crease - but that's as close as the Flyers would come for the rest of the match.
"We've got to come out and initiate the third period with the game on the line, a tied game here," Flyers coach Craig Berube lamented to NHL.com. "I thought that we competed hard up to then and were in good shape. We have to go out and initiate the third period. We can't sit back and can't let teams match you, and I thought that's what we did."
The Bruins commenced the beatings from the opening puck drop of the final frame, taking control of the pace until, inevitably, the Flyers' defense tired and the Bruins' shots started finding the mark.
In rapid succession, Boychuk let one of his rockets off the chain, taking a one-timer directly off a Patrice Bergeron attacking zone faceoff win - his drive from the point never seen by a shielded Emery - then Lucic potted his second of the game just 30 seconds later, Torey Krug leading a three-on-two into the Flyers' zone and leaving the puck in the slot for the trailing Lucic...
...Kelly logging the empty net goal to provide the final score and an end to the Bruins' first two-game winless streak and avoided thier first three-game streak of the season.
What's left to do for the Bruins?
"Well, it's something, I guess, we wanted to do, but it wasn't really our main goal." Rask said of clinching the top seed in the east. "Everyone knows what our main goal is."
And with the season the Bruins have put together to this point, not accomplishing that goal would be a bitter disappointment, if not a major upset.