By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Too often this season the Bruins have played without a pulse.
Even in wins, especially at home, they’ve rarely done much to get TD Garden rocking.
The Bruins were at their dullest in the first period Thursday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, as they fell behind 2-0 on one goal defenseman Brandon Carlo shot into his own net and one Phil Kessel scored after Tuukka Rask gave him the entire net to shoot at during a power play.
However, something happened after those first 20 minutes, and the Bruins rallied for a 4-3 victory. They head into the All-Star break on their first two-game winning streak since Dec. 29 and 31, when they swept a home-and-home from Buffalo.
As much as the clutch goals from Brad Marchand (two goals), Riley Nash (go-ahead goal at 10:25 of the second period) and Patrice Bergeron (game-winning goal 51 seconds into the third period) were instrumental and Rask’s timely saves calmed a potent Pittsburgh offense, the emotion the Bruins showed throughout the final 40 minutes was the best sign of better things ahead.
Bruins defenseman Colin Miller made Pittsburgh forward Scott Wilson pay for picking a fight with a beatdown. The Bruins were credited with 27 hits. No one, however, personified the Bruins’ frantic approach to the crucial win than David Backes, who finished with six hits and even got in a brief tussle with longtime Boston villain Phil Kessel.
One could also tell from Backes’ postgame comments that he probably had a loud voice in waking the Bruins up after their lackluster first period.
“Yeah it’s one of those things where we had a decision to make in here after the first,” Backes said. “We were down 2-0. We either don’t show up for the rest of the game and you get what you put in, or we make a push and bind together, stick together and play our hearts out. And we chose the latter and you saw the result and we get two points out of this game. That’s the choice we need to make more often.”
The Bruins brought Backes to Boston to make sure that even if they fail to make the playoffs for a third straight season it won’t be because they have an emotionless collapse at crunch time. He hadn’t been much of a catalyst through the first 51 games of the season, but he showed signs of what could be an impactful second half against Pittsburgh.
“He’s had nights where I think he’s skated well. There’s other night where it’s been tougher on him,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “I think the physicality of him tonight was certainly something we can definitely use and it was nice to see him [bring that] because that to me created some energy, it showed great leadership and so those are the kind of things that … we’re looking to find an identity I guess and get better with it, and I think Backs, if he can certainly build on that, it’s certainly going to help our hockey club.”
There will be no excuses for pedestrian performances over the Bruins’ final 30 games. Let’s face it, the biggest knock against the Bruins after they failed to reach the postseason the past two years wasn’t that they were lacking in talent (which they were) rather that they didn’t go down fighting. The season finale last season against Ottawa typified their confused and rudderless leadership situation.
But Backes’ presence doesn’t let the rest of the team off the hook. Marchand is a player who feeds off emotion and can rile up his teammates. David Pastrnak, Torey Krug and Matt Beleskey can also be lightning rods. Backes can lead the way, but other players have to follow. One modest winning streak and a couple of high-energy wins will go to waste is the Bruins come out of the break and sleepwalk.
To a man the Bruins seemed to know that they’ve let down the organization this season by not being engaged all the time.
“I think we have to really focus on each and every guy,” Marchand said. “We have to be aware of it and talk about it and make sure it’s present. We have to hold each other accountable and we have to continue to do that and when we do, when guys are holding each other accountable and holding themselves accountable, that comes out in our game.”
Bergeron doesn’t see any other choice for the Bruins but to play with more emotion.
“You have to realize that’s what gives you success and that’s what makes you win hockey games, is to be engaged and emotionally attached to it,” Bergeron said.
The template has been set. The Bruins defeated the defending Stanley Cup champions by scoring timely goals, getting impressive saves and playing as though their careers depended on triumph. Funny thing is, if they don’t duplicate their performance from Thursday enough times in the second half, many of their careers will be altered.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.