BOSTON (CBS) — Despite still playing the fewest games in the entire NHL, the Boston Bruins remain just one point shy of the Eastern Conference lead. They’ve competed hard, to be sure, but those victories just aren’t coming easy.
The latest example came Thursday night at the TD Garden, in the Bruins’ first home game in more than two weeks. Facing a streaking Ottawa team employing a roster of unknowns and a goalie with just 10 career NHL starts, it took ever last bit of effort from every player on the ice for the Bruins to earn their 2-1 win in overtime, extending their winning streak to five games.
For the Bruins, it was their fourth overtime game in just seven home games this season, and their fifth overtime game of the year overall. Three of those games have gone to a shootout, with Thursday’s win becoming the second Bruins game decided in the 4-on-4 overtime period this season.
It’s been a grind, and with a two-day break from games not coming again until the very end of March, it’s the type of hockey the Bruins would prefer to avoid as they make their way through this incredibly busy two-month stretch of schedule.
For now, though, they’re persevering, saved Thursday night by a Patrice Bergeron tip of a Dennis Seidenberg blast. The Bruins had been largely unable to solve 21-year-old netminder Robin Lehner to that point, scoring only a fluke goal in the second period, when Nathan Horton essentially whiffed on his shot attempt but still managed to coax the puck through Lehner’s legs. Bergeron’s tip didn’t exactly find twine either, as the puck just barely squirted through Lehner’s padding before resting on the goal line. The ensuing scramble eventually led to the puck just barely crossing the line.
“Right off the faceoff, I was trying to get open for Seids for a tip,” Bergeron said. “I think that’s what he wanted to do, was to find my stick, and he did. It squeezed in, so we’ll take that.”
The Bruins did make it tough on themselves, getting whistled for five penalties, including an unforgivable too-many-men penalty which came just 14 seconds after Chris Bourque exited the penalty box for interference. The Senators scored on the ensuing power play.
The next back-breaker looked like it might have come when Milan Lucic was penalized for putting his hand on the puck in the game’s final minute. The NHL’s best penalty killing unit needed to fend off the Senators’ power play for 32 seconds in order to ensure at least a one-point night before having to kill off a minute and a half of 4-on-3 once overtime began. The Bruins managed to kill it, to finish the night four-for-five short-handed, and thanks to that hard work, they were able to produce the game-winning goal on a night where it seemed almost impossible.
“We knew after the first 20 that it wasn’t going to be an easy one, but we said that we had to keep battling, keep working at it,” Bergeron said. “In the third, we said we just have to find a way, and we did it in overtime.”
While the stress and bruises that tend to come about more often in 2-1 nail-biters than 4-0 laughers may eventually take its toll on the Bruins, there’s still much to be gained from the experience they already have in tight games.
“We’ve showed a lot of character this year,” Bergeron said. “It’s something that we need to keep going and be proud of. It’s something that’s important to have, and I think right now we have it.”
Still, Bergeron said he knows there’s plenty of room for improvement.
“We’re the type of team where we’re not happy, we’re not satisfied with just a win,” Bergeron said. “We know we need to be better and we know it’s going to get tougher. I think it’s just one of those things that makes us realize that we need to look at ourselves in the mirror, and we can’t do that too often. More often than not, we’re going to end up on the wrong side of it.”
Coach Claude Julien saw the negatives but was impressed with his players’ ability to still figure out a way to get the job done.
“We didn’t have our A-game tonight,” said Julien after his 241st victory as head coach of the Bruins. “A lot of it was because I didn’t think we skated as well as we’re used to skating. We were second on the puck on a lot of occasions, so it made it a little bit tougher for us tonight to come up with a win. You’ve got to give your guys credit for battling through it, finding ways.”
Captain Zdeno Chara, who logged a team-high 26:16 of ice time, including 5:28 of short-handed time on ice, didn’t appear to be overly concerned with letting the weight of knowing there are 31 games scheduled in 59 days to close out the season slow the Bruins down.
“We just try to focus on the next game and not look at the big picture,” Chara said. “Every game is a big motivation for us to prove ourselves again, over and over, that we are the team that wants to play our best every night and beat every team. Obviously, it’s nice to say that. We know it’s kind of impossible to do throughout the long season, but we want to do our best to accomplish that every night.”
So far, on all but two nights, they’ve been able to do just that. But if they’re going to survive this treacherous schedule, they could do themselves a few favors by winning big a bit more often.