When the Bruins are rolling, there is nothing pretty about their game. They fling dumps into corners and punish defensemen who dare to retrieve pucks. They crash the net in pursuit of goals. They collapse in front of their goalie to blanket opposing scoring chances. They flex their muscle to intimidate opponents.
The ugliness of their game can be a pretty thing to watch.
The Bruins submitted a 60-minute effort in Saturday’s 4-1 win over the Capitals before 17,565 at TD Garden. Their power line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and Nathan Horton contributed on all four goals by skating hard and in straight lines. Zdeno Chara helped keep Alex Ovechkin (four shots) from being an offensive threat. Anton Khudobin made 32 saves, including several of the timely variety.
It was the style of play the Bruins prefer.
“With what’s happened against that team in the last year, there was no reason why we shouldn’t be ready to play them,” said coach Claude Julien, whose club gagged away a 3-0 lead in Washington March 5.
“We’ve got to start playing closer to our identity. It’s about putting pucks in, forechecking, about being physical. It’s about being aggressive in more areas. More or less playing a north-south type of game. I thought we did that.”
The Bruins are at their best when they’re belligerent and emotionally engaged. Their battle level had sagged in previous games. Fatigue played a part in their dip.
They skated meekly in parts of Thursday’s home win over Florida and Tuesday’s fold job against Pittsburgh.
But on Saturday, all four lines crackled with energy. The manner in which they scored their four strikes — five if you include Krejci’s own goal off the skate of Johnny Boychuk — underscored their primary assets of speed, brawn, and snarl.
In the first period, Lucic hunted down Horton’s cross-corner dump in his usual predatory manner. Washington’s Troy Brouwer was first on the puck, but he might have heard Lucic’s footsteps.
As most people would do, Brouwer got rid of the puck instead of allowing Lucic to smash him through the glass.
Lucic hopped on the puck, curled around the net, and found Horton in the slot for the opening goal at 14:12 of the first.
Lucic turned in another monster shift to create the second goal. Horton, just before absorbing a hit from Steve Oleksy, rimmed the puck around the wall. Jack Hillen settled it, but Lucic, charging hard down the wall, stripped Hillen of the puck. After Lucic won the puck, the left wing connected in front with Krejci, who gave the Bruins a 2-0 lead at 17:15 of the first.
The coaching staff had been reminding Lucic to use his legs and mass to establish himself on the forecheck. Message received.
“I’ve always said that if I’m coaching the other team, I have those two guys playing against me, and they’re playing at their best, I’d hate to be a defenseman on the other side,” Julien said of Lucic and Horton.
“You certainly want to try and slow those guys down to give your D’s a chance to move the puck. But when you see big bodies coming at the speed that they come at, it certainly puts guys on their heels.
“That’s what creates turnovers. They get the puck and get rid of it as quick as they can. You can’t really blame them for that. When we forecheck properly, we turn pucks over.”
Washington should have gotten a lift in the second after Krejci’s errant clearing attempt wound up in his own net. Just 11 days earlier, the Capitals shrugged off a three-goal deficit against the Bruins to swipe a 4-3 overtime win.
But the Bruins immediately forgot about Krejci’s own goal. Krejci, in fact, helped get it back.
During four-on-four play in the second period, Krejci carried the puck into the offensive zone with speed, swung wide, and found Horton in the middle.
In turn, Horton dropped a pass for Andrew Ference, who snapped the puck over Michal Neuvirth’s glove at 8:02, making it a 3-1 game. It was Ference’s first goal of the season.
The Bruins finished their push at 2:41 of the third. Just nine seconds into their only power play (Hillen was off for slashing), the Bruins grabbed a 4-1 lead.
Rich Peverley won an offensive-zone faceoff against Nicklas Backstrom, pulling the puck back to Krejci. When Peverley took a return pass from Krejci, Neuvirth stuffed the forward’s bid. But Lucic hunted down the loose puck and gave it back to Peverley in front for a power-play goal.
Lucic recorded his third assist on Peverley’s goal. Krejci had his second assist of the game. Horton didn’t get on the scoresheet on Peverley’s goal. But that’s because the power forward was in the penalty box for fighting Matt Hendricks.
“They were unbelievable,” Shawn Thornton said of the power line. “Everybody on that line was going. You could see it right from the drop of the puck.
“It was well-deserved, the amount of points [Horton] got and sticking up for himself. He did a good job of doing that, too.”