Are Bruins finally ready to bear down?
OK, Bruins, are you guys ready to start playing now?
Understand what’s at stake. The Red Sox left us with the memory of that September stinkbomb. The Patriots have the look of a frilly team that, once again, will lack the proper playoff grit. The Celtics just . . . aren’t. Nothing to talk about there.
So it’s you guys who have the assigned task of keeping us engaged and entertained throughout the long New England winter. We were always willing to cut you guys a little post-Cup slack, especially since reasonable people knew you never were that much better than the next 10 teams in the evenly matched NHL to begin with. Three seventh-game victories out of four Stanley Cup series was a clear demonstration of that reality.
But accumulating a skimpy 6 points from your first 10 games in this new season - seven of them played at home - tested our patience.
You teased us with that 6-2 win over the Maple Leafs before going back into your coma. Come on, five goals in three games, all losses? We were starting to wonder whether you had any - hate to say it - pride. We were beginning to think you had all figured that, hey, one Cup is enough for a lifetime, which, considering the gusto with which you guys celebrated, might actually have been all you could handle.
Now then . . . what do we make of that 5-3 win over Ottawa Tuesday night?
“Everyone came to work and played the right way tonight,’’ said Shawn Thornton, who had a productive evening with lots of territorial establishment, an assist, and, befitting a man who knows what his job description entails as well as anyone on the team, a by-the-book fight with onetime minor league teammate Zenon Konopka, who likewise knows why he has been put on this earth.
If the implication of Thornton’s statement is obvious, so be it. Coach Claude Julien himself had made it clear he was less than pleased with his team’s commitment in Games 1 through 10 during his morning press briefing.
“We’ve got to play with some energy here,’’ he declared. “We just have to come and play with a little more energy than we have in both directions and, you know, the only way to get out of these kind of things is based on a work ethic.
“We’re not as good as we think we are, and we’re not as bad as we seem.’’
It was an interesting evening in many ways, starting with the fact that the game had begun in the kind of Murphy’s Law fashion that has marked the entire early season. The stat sheet proclaims that the first Ottawa goal, coming at 5:19 of the first period, was scored by Nick Foligno. In reality, there had been a scrum in front of Tim Thomas, and the puck actually appeared to find a mystifying route to the back of the net after bouncing off the chest of Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid.
In previous games, that might have been enough to plunge the Bruins into self-pity, dragging their whole game down. That might also have been the case when Senators rookie Jared Cowen tied the score at 3-3 on another fluky goal at 5:04 of Period 3.
This time things were different. Johnny Boychuk blasted one past Craig Anderson at 6:41. Thirty-seven seconds later, Thornton sprung Daniel Paille, who took it right down Main Street for a breakaway goal, and who cares if it trickled in off Anderson’s pads? Compared with the first Ottawa goal, it was a Monet and a Renoir rolled into one.
“Everyone was on the same page tonight, as far as not hanging our heads,’’ said Julien.
“We had the lead, and they tied it up,’’ agreed Thomas. “It didn’t seem to affect us.’’
Even when his team trailed, 1-0 and 2-1, Julien wasn’t concerned.
“I felt our whole team was there,’’ he explained. “I looked at that first goal as just being snakebitten, which has been the case all season. I just didn’t think it was going to be something we would let beat us.’’
What Julien was looking at all evening were the bits and pieces that create the kind of wins the Bruins made their specialty last spring. Jordan Caron, whose prior contributions had been close to nil, successfully screened goaltender Anderson on both the third goal, by Chris Kelly, and the fourth goal, the Boychuk slapper.
“Those are the things that create goals,’’ noted the mentor.
The final goal was another staple of last spring because it was provided by the grinding fourth line. Thornton was quite proud to be staring at a stat sheet that said goal No. 5 was “Paille, from Thornton and [Gregory] Campbell.’’ No one had seen much of that in those first 10 games.
“Everyone made a contribution,’’ Thornton said. “I know our line likes to be a part of that. It was nice to be able to contribute to the win tonight.’’
For one night, anyway, everything clicked. Everything seemed to make sense. That includes a first-period power-play goal on which aggressiveness, industriousness, and persistence led to a score as Milan Lucic got hold of a Zdeno Chara rebound and casually flipped in a backhander over Anderson’s shoulder.
The best seat in the house, of course, always belongs to the man watching it all unfold in front of him.
“It was our best game of the year,’’ confirmed Thomas. “We were controlling the play, controlling the puck.’’
Julien thought they played with more confidence, and, “Confidence leads to putting the puck in the net.’’
All right, boys. You brought back memories of last spring for one night. Was that a cruel tease, or has the 2011-12 season finally begun around here? Remember, you guys started something last spring. You can’t quit now.