Actually getting that complete effort for an entire game, though, has remained a challenge for the Bruins.
Things have gotten better of late. Boston's final home game before its current five-game road trip — a 4-1 win over the Thrashers — showed the blueprint for how the club has to approach each game, and what the Bruins can accomplish when they turn in that kind of effort.
Shawn Thornton set the tone when he dropped the gloves and slugged it out with Atlanta's Eric Boulton just 2 seconds into play, and Patrice Bergeron followed that up with a shorthanded goal three minutes in. The Bruins never let up that night.
For the most part, they've maintained the momentum from that potentially season-defining win, which was capped with a late line brawl as the Bruins pulled together and showed their willingness to stand up for each other.
They've followed that up by getting six of a possible eight points in the first three games of the trip, beating Florida and Tampa Bay before falling to the Thrashers in a shootout in the rematch in Atlanta and again in a shootout in Buffalo. But there have been some warning signs of the club falling back to bad habits.
They came out a bit sluggish against Florida, falling behind twice in the second period after a scoreless first. They rallied with an impressive effort in the third, tying the game then winning in a shootout, but it wasn't the complete effort Julien would have preferred, albeit the hangover effect of the Christmas break may have been at work.
The Tampa Bay game was as close to a complete effort as they've played, as Michael Ryder scored on a power play just 28 seconds in and, Mark Recchi pulled out the 4-3 win with another power-play strike with just 19.7 seconds left in regulation. In between, the Bruins played with consistent energy and focus for three full periods.
That wasn't quite the case in Thursday's rematch in Atlanta. Despite the emotions that should have carried over from the previous meeting, the Bruins came out flat at the start. They committed several lazy penalties, including a slashing call on Marc Savard that led to an early Atlanta power-play goal. It didn't take long for Boston to snap out of its funk and turn its intensity back up to the level it needs to play at, as the Bruins came on strong the rest of the way and could have easily earned the win if not for a strong performance by Thrashers goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who stopped all 18 shots he faced in the third and both Boston attempts in the shootout.
But that game should serve as a warning to the Bruins, as even the slightest lapse can cost the club a point — or more.
The margin for error is too slim for the Bruins, who still took just a one-point lead over Montreal for the division lead into Saturday's showdown with the Sabres, and the Habs are clinging to the final playoff spot in the East.
The Bruins have a solid team. They have the best goaltender in the league this year in Tim Thomas, who is putting together a truly historic season. They have depth down the middle few teams can match, a former Norris Trophy winner on defense and arguably the best fourth line in the NHL with Thornton, Greg Campbell and Brad Marchand.
Still, the Bruins aren't talented enough to be able to achieve anything without working for it. They need that elusive 60-minute effort to become a regular routine. As good as they've been late in games (outscoring opponents 45-18 in the third period), they can't expect to be able to just flip the switch and beat teams with one good period.
The fact that they have been able to do just that at times this season has led to a false sense of security and contributed to their occasional slumps, most notably the 1-3-1 slide that preceded their Dec. 23 awakening against Atlanta.
"It's almost a tease," forward Blake Wheeler said earlier this season of the team's tendency to put together partial efforts. "It almost makes it even more frustrating knowing that for 20 minutes you can turn it on and have the ice shifted completely in your favor."
The Bruins can't try to survive on spurts of occasional inspired play. They need complete efforts for the entire length of the game, and if they start putting in those 60-minute efforts now, they will have a chance to play a lot more of them in the spring.
Do you think the Bruins are capable of consistently turning in solid efforts for the full 60 minutes to get the most out of this roster? Share your thoughts below.
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