Hard times may be an exaggerated turn of phrase in describing the first half of this calendar week for the Boston Bruins.
They had garnered one out of four possible points in back-to-back 4-3 falters against Montreal and Washington on Sunday and Tuesday, respectively. Although not the most unseemly scenario conceivable, they spoiled leads in the third period both nights, a trend that will make any two-game winless skid feel more jagged and inflated.
Regardless, the Bruins needed to rake in a batch of hard-earned redemption Thursday night, which they did by warding off the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2. They withstood early threats, early penalty trouble and virtually nonstop aggression from a divisional rival that has now failed to take a two-point package from them in any of their last eight meetings.
Multiple motifs of this matchup as well as Boston’s 2012-13 campaign in general were on the most prominent display Thursday and three of them are assessed as follows.
The Maple Leafs have inflicted the two heaviest hit counts the Bruins have had this season. After taking 44 registered body-checks in their Feb. 2 visit to the Air Canada Centre, Boston players absorbed 39 at home Thursday.
Toronto set the tone for that without fail, generating eight hits and a host of byproducts that showed signs of early draining at the halfway mark of the opening frame. By the 10:22 mark, the Bruins had been called for their second unanswered icing, had given the puck away twice while the Leafs recorded three takeaways, and goaltender Anton Khudobin had summoned six whistles on as many shots faced.
Three seconds off the draw following that icing, Chris Kelly committed the evening’s first minor penalty and was then joined by teammate Daniel Paille for a 22-second, two-man disadvantage.
But the Leafs managed only two power-play shots, one on that five-on-three and the other after a fresh and out-the-box Kelly landed a shorthanded stab at Toronto stopper Ben Scrivens. In addition, starting with a shorthanded check by Kelly at 13:36, the physicality briefly flip-flopped in Boston’s favor (six hits to one) for the remainder of the period.
That period also remained scoreless until the all-important final minute, when a troika of prime suspects put the Bruins on the board. On that note…
In a span of eight minutes and four seconds of play, albeit with the first intermission in between, Boston’s line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin scored two goals and drew a power play.
Marchand garnered the secondary assist as Bergeron buried Seguin’s rebound with 53 seconds left in the opening frame. Although Toronto’s Nazem Kadri drew a 1-1 knot at 2:32 of the second period, Seguin helped to stymie any stream of momentum for the visitors by drawing an interference minor on Nikolai Kulemin 44 seconds later.
The Bruins could not capitalize on that advantage, and the Leafs took two stabs at Khudobin after even strength was restored. But when Khudobin held on for a whistle at 6:55, the Bergeron-Marchand-Seguin troika came on for their first shift since that power play.
The shift lasted all of 16 seconds, culminating at the other end with all three charging up their second points of the night and Seguin renewing the lead to 2-1 at 7:11.
David Krejci augmented the lead to 3-1 later in the period and Marchand set a tone for the closing frame by drawing the team’s second man-advantage at the expense of Dion Phaneuf. The Toronto blueliner was found guilty of cross-checking the Bruins’ leading goal-getter at 0:32.
By night’s end, the three radiant strikers had combined for nine of Boston’s 25 shots on goal, including a team-leading five by Seguin, who buried an empty netter to finalize the 4-2 upshot.
Granted, it was rather ho-hum when Seguin’s first strike evoked the “Thank you, Kessel!” taunt from the TD Garden masses, or at least from the portion of the crowd that is enthralled by two-year-old fads.
But the fact is Phil Kessel did have another forgettable evening in his former domain. The Bruins confined him to zero points and two shots on net out of five attempts and he was on the ice for the first and final goals, resulting in a minus-two rating.
That brings him down to nine points and a minus-20 in 20 career bouts against Boston since the 2009 trade that made Seguin’s acquisition possible for the Bruins. Conversely, with his two goals and assist, Seguin is now up to a 10-6-16 scoring log and a plus-nine rating in 14 games against Toronto.