Bruins regain power
When he arrived at TD Garden prior to last night’s game, Steve Begin was surprised to see his jersey hanging in his stall with some additional tailoring on the front: the “A’’ that had previously been on the sweater of Marco Sturm.
Patrice Bergeron is the permanent alternate captain. But Claude Julien, like he did last year, will rotate the other “A’’ among players he feels are deserving of such merit. Last season, Sturm, Andrew Ference, P.J. Axelsson, and Stephane Yelle took turns serving as the second alternate. Last night, even though he’s a first-year Bruin, it was Begin’s turn - Julien plans to rotate the captaincy every 15 games - to be recognized for his contributions.
“We were 15 games in and time to move it around, and I really felt Steve has been a real consistent, good, hard worker,’’ said the Bruins coach. “He’s exemplified the player deserving of that for the next 15 games.’’
While acknowledging surprise at the move, Begin brushed off the captaincy.
“Just a letter,’’ Begin said. “Just a stain.’’
Yet in those funny twists that seem to happen at the rink, the player who assumed the “A’’ assisted on the winning goal in the Bruins’ 4-2 win over Buffalo last night before 17,565 at TD Garden. And Sturm, the snakebitten Bruin who had gone 12 straight games without a goal, netted a momentum-shifting strike in the second - the Sabres, down by two, were creating havoc around Tuukka Rask - on the night he relinquished the letter’s stewardship.
Not to be overlooked in the win (the team’s first since last Saturday) was the emotional engagement that saw Shawn Thornton throw down twice, Mark Stuart dispatch Jochen Hecht in the third during a postwhistle scrum, and had the Bruins ratcheting up the surliness factor.
“We just showed more emotion,’’ said Julien. “It wasn’t about going out there and scrapping. It’s when we show emotion that we’re a better team.’’
Prior to the winning goal, Begin and Bitz threw a double-barreled forecheck behind the Buffalo net on Andrej Sekera, who had to get rid of the puck before being squashed. The puck went to Jason Pominville, who got a faceful of Thornton in the corner. Because of the pressure, Pominville coughed up the puck to Begin in the slot. The center fed Bitz in front, and the right wing dangled around Jhonas Enroth, who was making his NHL debut, and tucked the puck in at 1:22 to give his team a 3-0 lead.
After Derek Roy made it 3-1 and the Sabres continued to pour pucks on Rask (28 saves), Sturm put the game out of reach.
As Bergeron went one-on-one with Roy in the offensive zone, Sturm found a seam in front of the net. Bergeron cut back on Roy and found his longtime linemate in the slot, and Sturm canned a shot off iron and past Enroth (33 saves) at 18:31 to give the Bruins a 4-1 lead.
“We’ve waited a long time for this,’’ Sturm said of the win. “We’re happy but we still need to focus on the tough challenges.’’
Perhaps the biggest obstacle facing the Bruins coming into the game was their moribund power play, the worst in the league. The Bruins hadn’t scored a power-play goal since Oct. 22. They had been turned aside on 20 straight man-advantage opportunities.
Finally, the power play busted through on its first two chances last night. First, with Paul Gaustad serving a roughing minor, the Bruins set up when Zdeno Chara pulled the puck off the left wall and slid it across to Derek Morris.
Mark Recchi had been positioned in the slot near the left circle in case Chara let one loose from the left point. But when Chara passed, Recchi needed time to slide to his left in front of Chris Butler and put himself in the shooting lane. Instead of ripping off a shot, Morris waited for a split-second as Recchi got in position. When he saw that Recchi was set, Morris wristed a shot toward the net that the veteran tipped past Enroth at 3:17.
“He’s a good shooter,’’ Recchi said of Morris. “He shoots it for your stick and puts it at a good level. It’s really difficult for the goalie to guess whether he has to stand up or go in the butterfly. Great shot. I knew it was coming.’’
Later in the first, after Mike Grier was nabbed for tripping Blake Wheeler, Recchi and the power play struck again.
Chara cranked a slap shot from the point that Recchi tipped. Enroth made the stop, and Recchi jammed at the rebound with no luck. But Wheeler emerged with the puck and gave it back to Chara at the point. While Chara was winding up, Recchi engaged with Henrik Tallinder to regain net-front position.
Before Recchi, who was screening Enroth, had a chance to turn around, Chara had hammered a one-timer that skimmed off Tallinder and in at 16:31. It was the captain’s first goal of the season after netting a career-high 19 last year.
“I’m just happy with the way we played tonight,’’ Chara said, “because finally, everything is clicking.’’