ST. LOUIS - What do Manny Legace, Vesa Toskala, and Ondrej Pavelec have in common?
Within a 10-day span, all three goalies had to be pulled to prevent further scorching from the fiery Boston offense.
Last night, it was Legace's turn to be banished to the bench, the third time in five games the Bruins have ended a starter's night early. Legace, having fished five pucks out of his net through 40 minutes, was chased by the Bruins to start the third period, giving way to Chris Mason. The Bruins turned the same trick on Toronto's Toskala in an 8-5 win Thursday, and sent Atlanta's Pavelec back to the bench on Dec. 12 (7-3 victory).
It's been that kind of run.
Playing their first full game without Patrice Bergeron since his concussion Saturday, the trigger-happy Bruins (already missing a top-six forward in Marco Sturm and two top-four defensemen in Aaron Ward and Andrew Ference) kicked off a five-game road trip with a 6-3 win over St. Louis before 19,150 at the Scottrade Center.
"Huge. Huge," Manny Fernandez (29 saves), back in net after posting a 4-2 win over Carolina Saturday, said of the victory. "We've lost some key players. I think everybody knows us. In two nights like that, to have two good battles, and to come out with 4 points is really good."
It was the sixth time this season the Bruins have scored a six-spot or better. In comparison, the 2007-08 Bruins put up a six-pack only three times. Last season, the Bruins didn't have the kind of depth they feature this year.
They can call up Martin St. Pierre from Providence, give him 11:10 of ice time, see him play effectively against the Blues' top line, and assist on Vladimir Sobotka's third-period goal. They can throw Shane Hnidy onto the No. 2 power-play unit and see him net a man-advantage strike that helped Phil Kessel (assist on the play) stretch his scoring streak to 18 games. And they can see Blake Wheeler, who would have been a senior at the University of Minnesota this season, tuck two first-period pucks behind Legace in the first five minutes.
At 2:27 of the first, the rookie left wing, during a two-on-one rush, took a tape-to-tape pass from David Krejci (one of three helpers for the pivot, now officially the No. 2 center behind Marc Savard) and dumped a half-slapper behind Legace to give Boston a 1-0 lead.
Then after a tripping call on Milan Lucic (a penalty that should have been given to Fernandez), coach Claude Julien deployed Wheeler and Krejci on the kill. After Wheeler gained control of the puck, the wing looked back to Krejci, thinking he'd send a pass back to the center.
Krejci was gone.
"He kind of abandoned me," Wheeler said with a smile. "He went off for a change. So the only thing I could do was react."
You might call it that.
Wheeler stickhandled his way through half the population of greater St. Louis, and found himself one-on-one against Legace. The St. Louis netminder, in a replay of a successful stick save that Washington's Brent Johnson made on Wheeler Dec. 10, flashed out his lumber to get a piece of the rookie's initial shot. But Wheeler stayed on the puck and tapped his rebound home for a shortie that gave the Bruins a 2-0 lead.
"They go hand in hand for sure," Wheeler said of success and confidence. "Maybe earlier in the year, I would have just dumped it in. You never know. I think the way the coaching staff has handled me has been unbelievable. They want me to go out there and keep playing hard. As long as I bring my effort and intensity every night, that's all you can ask for. They realize I'm a young guy and I'm going to make mistakes out there. But my intentions are always good. I guess confidence comes when your team is having success. So far this year, we've been on a pretty good roll."
At 2:46 of the second, ex-Bruin Yan Stastny tied the game at 3-3 after Dennis Wideman, playing his first game at his old rink since being traded by the Blues, coughed up the puck in the neutral zone. It was Wideman's second goof of the night, the first a giveaway that led to forward Jay McClement's shorthanded goal at 16:51 of the first.
"Probably one of those nights where I'd seen him force plays as much as he has in a long time. I think it's pretty obvious why it was happening," said Julien, referencing Wideman's first appearance back at the Scottrade Center.
But after Michael Ryder netted a power-play goal, Wideman redeemed himself by sweeping the rebound of a Stastny shot off the goal line before Dan Hinote could swoop in for the tying goal. On the following rush, Savard gave the Bruins a two-goal cushion they'd never give up.
They make up for mistakes. They score goals. They stop pucks. They shrug off injuries. No wonder they're in first place.