Bruins Make Statement, Save Psyche, Clinch Division in 4-1 Win over Devils
"I guess all week that’s kind of what my thought was, that this might be just the perfect opponent for us, but you never know until the game is played."
- HEAD COACH CLAUDE JULIEN AFTER BOSTON'S 4-1 WIN OVER NEW JERSEY
We've been wondering, for a while now, what it would take to wake the Bruins up and get them out of this funk. Well, it appears a Sunday afternoon visit from a Devils' team hot on their heels was just what the doctor ordered.
"Character’s huge. You don’t get anywhere if you don’t have that character." Winger Mark Recchi, who had two assists on the afternoon, said after the game.
"So it’s a big thing, and tonight was a character win for us, something where a lot of people were kind of doubting us and we came ready to play, and the emotion was there, and the energy was there, and it was good."
Recchi was initially credited with the opening tally that put the Bruins on top 1-0 with 4:14 remaining in the first period. With Brian Rolston in the box, tabbed to serve the 2:00 for NJ's too many men on the ice penalty, Recchi sent the puck through the slot in Michael Ryder's direction. The puck, eventually deemed to have been touched by Ryder, caromed off of Paul Martin's skate and by Brodeur.
"I didn’t really react that well to it. I was going to try to move but I didn’t want to move and it was just perfect. I knew that judging by the reaction it went in. " Martin said of the unlucky bounce.
Less than two minutes into the second frame, fluky would prove to be the recurring theme as Chuck Kobasew managed to squeak one by Brodeur on a back-hander from along the goal line.
"I thought he was going to bounce it across, so I kind of pressed on my knob and my stick got up a little bit." Brodeur said. "It just sneaked right under my stick."
The Bruins continued to pressure the Devils and maintained a consistent level of ferocity sparsely seen in recent weeks. It was never more evident than when a frustrated Bobby Holik found his way to the sin bin for roughing at 5:32 of the middle frame.
Mark Stuart noticeably took umbrage with Holik after he laid a late hit on defenseman Aaron Ward at the end of the first. But Stuart later exacted his revenge with a clean, jolting open ice hit on Holik near the Devils' blueline. An agitated Holik then threw his fists at Stephane Yelle after being checked by the Bruins' center and got hauled off to the sin bin.
The B's tenacity and Holik's lost composure paid off for the Black and Gold. Marc Savard found himself staring at an open net, after a wacky deflection, from just inside the faceoff circle. Savvy buried the golden opportunity and gave Boston a commanding 3-0 lead, making them 2-for-2 on the PP.
"Their power play got two goals against us because we took two stupid penalties. The hockey gods are going to give it to you when you do that. We can’t do those types of things especially in big games this time of the year." Devils' Coach Brent Sutter said.
After the B's revived powerplay squandered an opportunity midway through the period, the Devils responded as defenseman Andy Greene stormed toward the net and tipped a Jamie Langenbrunner feed by Tim Thomas.
But the B's did not panic. They kept up with the Devils escalating pace and with a little over two minutes to go until the intermission, restored their three goal lead as Milan Lucic managed to bank yet another shot off of a Devils' defender by Brodeur. Lucic spent the afternoon with Yelle and Shawn Thornton on the 4th line, and Thornton was happy to have him aboard. "It’s always a pleasure having Looch [Lucic]. He’s a big body and he skates well, he bangs and he creates space for the rest of us."
The Devils revved up their intensity in the third period and threw everything Tim Thomas' way. The all out attack led to majority of the action taking place in the Bruins' defensive zone. But like Julien has alluded to time and time again, your best players need to be your best players. Tim Thomas was spectacular under a heap of pressure, bombarded by pucks being launched from every direction in the final twenty minutes.
Despite being outshot 17-3 during the period, the final frame had a different look and feel to it. It wasn't anything like their recent collapses in which they sat back and seemed to come unglued at the seams. The Bruins worked diligently and confidently, keeping majority of New Jersey's opportunities to the outside.
Zach Parise, who had many encounters with a quite-snarly Zdeno Chara, summed it up best: "They do a pretty good job of collapsing. It seems as if they will give you the point shot then clear away the rebounds. We did get a lot of perimeter shots. It is tough getting them in there and getting to the rebounds."
The Bruins simply played their game this afternoon. They got back to basics, worked hard, won battles, and limited an awfully potent Devils' squad to few high quality scoring opportunities. And when they did break through the stingy defense, Thomas was there to deny them as the B's netminder stopped 41 of 42 shots on the day.
"I was able to put a lot of rebounds to the corners, and a lot of that is not just our D, but our forwards are part of that. They kept them to the outside, then gave me the lanes to see the puck. We had hardly any odd-man rushes that I can remember, no breakaways, and they did a good job on the penalty kill, so that definitely makes my job easier." A pleased Thomas said after the game.
Hell there was hardly anyone not smiling after this one. They knew what was at stake, with the conference lead growing smaller and smaller and in serious jeopardy should they have lost. But now, the lead is back to five points rather than having been trimmed down to one by a Devils' team that has a game in hand on the B's.
"I think it’s up to us what it does for our confidence. I hope we look at this in the correct way and really do gain some confidence off of it, because it’s deserved confidence. Everybody on this team contributed today, and everybody showed up to play." Thomas said. "We don’t have a game for a while here, so we can’t carry it over right to another game, but we need to pat ourselves on the back a little bit this week and make sure we carry the confidence over to the next game."
The win clinched their first division title since 2003-2004. It was another accomplishment, one they were hardly aware of, that they can feel good about over this five day layoff.
"Beginning of the year, we wanted to take another step forward. I don’t think we even talked about being the divisional champs. We just wanted to make sure that we were better than the year before." Claude Julien said. "If you get the good leadership and your young players are following them, taking the bull by the horns and doing their part, it certainly helps the progression, and I think that’s where we probably surprised ourselves a little bit, with the way the season’s gone so far."