It was their third straight win, and their 17th in the last 20 games. It moved them even with Philadelphia for the most points in the Eastern Conference with 41. Boston actually has more wins, but the Flyers retain the top spot because they have played one less game.
And while no one is offering to give back the two points, this one was not quite as satisfying as most of those other wins. The Bruins know they were fortunate to get this victory, overcoming a sluggish start and some sloppy play.
Winning without putting forth your best effort is the sign of a very good team, one which can find a way to get results even when it really shouldn't be your night. But it can also be a dangerous proposition if that team starts thinking it can get away with such efforts on a regular basis.
Claude Julien did his best to quell those notions after the game, and the coming two days of practices in Ottawa before the team heads to Philadelphia for a first-place showdown on Saturday are certain to be interesting.
"They play [Thursday] night and we're going to watch them and see what they're all about," Julien said of the Flyers. "They've got some injuries as well and they're still winning hockey games and playing pretty well. We need to be a lot better than we were tonight if we expect to win a hockey game against Philadelphia right now. There's a lot of our game that can be better. The emotion is certainly one of [those parts]. When the emotion is there, the commitment and the effort follows."
The Bruins summoned that emotion in spurts Wednesday in Ottawa. They came out a bit flat, with the Senators outshooting them 9-1 early. But Milan Lucic gave them a spark with a heavyweight bout against Matt Carkner, and Rich Peverley scored the game's first goal just 24 seconds later.
Former Senator Chris Kelly answered an Ottawa goal with his 12th of the year in the second, and the Bruins finally took over in the third with breakaway goals by Patrice Bergeron and Daniel Paille 56 seconds apart, then another goal by Paille late to seal it.
"It was a lot better," Julien said of the third period. "The one thing that I know is that we're going through a tough patch right now and still winning hockey games. Again tonight, 40-some shots, closer to 50. That first period was a tough period to watch. We just didn't seem to be skating and we gave them a lot of room like we did [Tuesday against the Kings].
"We've just got to find a way to get our emotion back into our games here," Julien added. "I think that's a big part of it. As the season goes on you've got ups and downs, and we've been fortunate enough to win those hockey games, but I think we have to realize we have to be a lot better moving forward here."
The Bruins seemed to get the message, as was evidenced both in their play in the third and in their postgame comments.
"We realized that we were lucky to be up 2-1 with the way we played in the first two periods," Paille said. "We wanted to keep their shots to a minimum. Unfortunately we didn't get that goal, but we had great goaltending again tonight with Timmy [Thomas] and we were smarter on certain plays and realized when to take a chance."
Paille and Thomas were the stories of the night. It's been a rough year for Paille, who needed surgery last month after taking a slap shot to the face, then suffered a concussion on a hit to the head last Thursday. He missed just one game because of the concussion, but was still mired in a bit of a slump until scoring his first goal in eight games on a perfect stretch pass from Shawn Thornton.
"I'm feeling a lot better," Paille said. "When you get a couple goals you feel great. That was definitely a nice weight off the shoulders to get one early when they came back."
Thomas was the reason the Bruins were still ahead going into the third, and came up huge again in the final frame. After being pulled in his last start Saturday in Columbus, Thomas bounced back with a 47-save night. The Senators outshot Boston in every period, including 13-6 in the first and 22-10 in the third, but Ottawa never led thanks to Thomas.
Julien wasn't surprised to see Thomas back in top form, noting that Saturday's struggles were far from the norm and not likely to be repeated.
"He's always been good," Julien said. "That was uncharacteristic of Tim. He's been a good goalie and as consistent as we've seen. So it's not surprising that Tim has come back and played solid for us tonight. I think we gave him a pretty good warm-up in the first period so he was able to fill in the next two periods feeling pretty comfortable."
The key is for the Bruins not to get too comfortable. They got away with some lackadaisical play on Wednesday. That won't happen often, and they need to get back to their customary effort and execution if they want to take down the Flyers and continue racking up the wins.
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