The Bruins still have to venture out of the Garden a few more times this season, but venturing into unfamiliar territory should be a little more comfortable after enjoying some success on their most recent excursion.
The Bruins have three more road games on their schedule, but they are done with their extended trips after wrapping up their three-game West Coast swing Sunday in Anaheim. And with victories over the Kings and Ducks to close out that trip, the Bruins accomplished exactly what they needed out of their last long road expedition.
"It's ideal, especially after losing the first one in San Jose in a game where by all accounts we looked flat and Timmy [Thomas] probably made it look better than it was," Bruins goalie Marty Turco said. "The goal at the end of the day is probably [win] two out of three, especially with this kind of travel at the end of the year with the schedule we have.
"So it's a good feeling in the locker room right now to win on the road," Turco added. "We started to right the ship at home. The playoffs are right around the corner and these guys know all too well what it takes. We're starting to put the nose to the grindstone and show some determination. We saw a heck of a lot of that over the weekend."
The Bruins solidified their hold on the Northeast Division lead and the second seed in the Eastern Conference with their successful road trip. They have a five-point advantage on Ottawa in the division with just seven games to play. Boston also has a game in hand on Ottawa. That will grow to two games, though the lead may fall to three points after the Senators play in Winnipeg Monday night.
Buffalo's brief dalliance in the division race appears over with the Sabres now seven point back and the Bruins also holding a game in hand on them. Southeast Division-leading Florida is also now four points back in the battle for the second seed.
The Bruins come back to Boston with more than just a little added security in the standings. They also return with some newfound depth for the offensive attack. Rich Peverley returned on Sunday after missing 19 games with a knee injury. His return bolsters the top six, but it’s the emergence of a new third line that has really given Boston some scoring depth of late.
Benoit Pouliot, Chris Kelly and Brian Rolston have clicked as a unit, combining for nine goals, 17 assists, 26 points and a plus-23 rating over their last six games. Rolston, a trade deadline pickup from the Islanders, has been the surprising catalyst of the unit, posting 3-8-11 totals and a plus-8 in those six games, including the game-winner Sunday in Anaheim.
"He's always been a good skater," Bruins coach Claude Julien said of Rolston. "He doesn't look his age and he certainly doesn't play like his age. He's always had good speed and he's got a great shot. Right now he seems excited to be here and playing for us and that's line's been outstanding for us. It's pretty hard to break up a line that's scoring for you every night. Those three guys are building pretty good chemistry right now."
Rolston was quick to spread the credit to his linemates, particularly Kelly, who has 3-4-7 totals and a plus-8 with two game-winners of his own in the last six games.
"He's just a great player," Rolston said of Kelly. "He plays both ends of the ice. He never cheats. He can make plays. He's great defensively. He's pretty much the full package. He made two great plays on Benny's goal and on my goal."
Pouliot has also emerged out of Julien's doghouse after missing three games with a lower-body injury. That absence began when he surprisingly pulled himself from the lineup after warm-ups before a game against Washington. But Pouliot has more than made up for it with 3-5-8 totals and a plus-7 in the six games since his return.
The Bruins have also appeared to find the right mix on the blue line. Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg have been reunited for a dominant shutdown pairing, with Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk and Greg Zanon and Adam McQuaid providing two more dependable pairs that are strong in their own zone, limit mistakes and bring a physical presence to the game.
The Bruins have turned a corner, winning four of their last five games after dropping four straight to cap a frustrating two-month stretch of mediocrity. The back-to-back wins in Los Angeles and Anaheim were particularly important, as Boston had dropped each of its previous four games on the road and was just 5-9-1 in its last 15 road games before those victories. Still, there's a long way to go for the Bruins to get back to where they were last spring.
"We have games left," Chara said. "We want to continue improving our game and establishing our game going into the playoffs. We're playing some good teams, so it's going to be challenging for us."
The challenges begin this week at home, where Tuesday they'll face a Lightning team that beat them 6-1 in Tampa two weeks ago, followed Thursday by a Washington club battling for the final playoff spot in the East.
"We still feel we've got some work to do," Julien said. "Just because of the fact that we've been struggling the last couple of months. We're slowly turning the corner here. We've won four of the last five games, so that bodes well. But we don't get comfortable, and that's the strength of our team. We don't get comfortable and we go out every night and want to prove ourselves. That approach seems to be coming back, and I guess we'll find out when we get back home because that will be another big test after flying all day [Monday]."