November 12, 2009

Back-to-back wins, at last for B's

by Douglas Flynn

BOSTON – When the Bruins had reached their lowest point a week ago, winning just one of five games with a total of just four goals in that span, it was hard to find any positives in the club’s performance.

But hidden within the poor outcomes caused by the lack of offensive production was the fact that the Bruins were still a very strong defensive team. They weren’t winning games, but even at their worst they weren’t making it easy for opposing teams to come away with the two points against them.

Now, they’ve finally found a little offense. And they’ve done it without sacrificing that attention to detail on defense. The result is the club’s first back-to-back wins of the season, as Boston blanked reigning Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh 3-0 Tuesday night to move back over the .500 mark at 8-7-2.

That victory followed an impressive 4-2 win over Northeast Division leading Buffalo on Saturday. Overall, while the Bruins have broken out offensively with seven goals in the last two games, the defense has remained remarkably consistent, allowing just nine goals in the last seven games.

“Our team defense has been playing very well for like, I’d say the last seven or eight games,” said Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, who made 27 saves for the shutout. “And now we’re getting the offensive production we need to get W’s also. And neither one of them is easy. Both of them take a lot of hard work, so that’s what we’ve got to focus on going into the next games.”

The Bruins have reason to feel good about themselves with the way they’ve begun to turn things around without abandoning their system.

“When you go through (a scoring slump) you get frustrated and the hardest thing is to stay positive,” said forward Mark Recchi. “You’ve got to give a lot of guys credit in this dressing room. We stuck to the game plan. We stuck to playing well defensively. A lot of times when your team stops scoring goals, you tend to start cheating on the wrong side of the puck to try to create goals and I give these guys in this room credit. No one went away from the system. No one tried to cheat to create offensive opportunities. We stayed with the game plan and we knew that if we continued in that path it would eventually pay off and now it’s starting to pay off for us.”

Still, the big guy in the corner of the locker room cautioned about getting too excited over a couple of wins, especially with how long it took the Bruins to string them together.

“Well, if you can call winning two games a winning streak,” said captain Zdeno Chara when asked abouting finally winning consecutive games. “Our goal is to win as many as possible together, so that’s obviously the first step. It’s just too bad that it has happened for the first time after (17) games. We need to make sure that we play like we are right now for every game from now on and play extremely well.”

The Bruins came out quickly in this one, holding the high-flying Penguins to just two shots in the entire first period. Boston couldn’t get any of its 10 shots past Pittsburgh netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, but they had at least set the tone for the game.

In the second they finally cashed in, though it took a little while to celebrate. Matt Hunwick flipped a backhander up under the crossbar from the left side, but referee Bill McCreary initially waved off the goal. Play went on for several minutes with each side generating chances before the first whistle final came and the play was reviewed. The boys in Toronto corrected McCreary’s mistake, giving Hunwick his fourth goal of the year from Dennis Wideman and Steve Begin and turning the clock back to 1:36 into the period.

“Our first period was really good,” said Recchi. “We didn’t get a goal, but then we got that one-goal lead again and we’re a tough team to play when we’re up. I think we’re playing very, very sound right now. I really like our focus on the back end and it’s creating more opportunities now because we are real stingy. Now those pucks that weren’t going in before are starting to go in.”

The Bruins doubled the lead in the third with a historic marker that didn’t need any review. After Derek Morris broke up a play in his own end by sliding across to block Matt Cooke’s attempted crossing pass, Patrice Bergeron flipped it up to Recchi, who spotted Daniel Paille coming on the ice during a line change. Paille was free behind the Pittsburgh defense and Recchi hit him in stride.

Paille buried a forehand shot on the breakaway for his first goal as a Bruin, and Recchi earned his 900th career assist for the setup.

“It took forever,” joked Recchi, who had picked up assist No. 899 12 games ago back on Oct. 16 in Dallas. “All these personal things at the end of my career will be really cool. My kids have already texted me. They’re probably more happy than me. It’s kind of neat. It’s a lot of assists. It’s playing with a lot of great players and playing in a lot of great situations. I’ve been very fortunate.”

The Bruins, who closed out the win with Bergeron’s short-handed empty-net tally with 3.5 seconds left, are fortunate to be back on track after a rough start to the season. Now they just have to keep it going, show these past two games are no fluke and put a real winning streak together.

Douglas Flynn can be reached at dflynn@hockeyjournal.com.