BOSTON — Minutes after the Bruins’ regular-season schedule ended Sunday night in Boston, the club spoke about their eagerness to “turn the page” and start their second season, the Stanley Cup playoffs. Apparently the Bruins got themselves a whole new book.
Boston looked like a much, much different team Wednesday night in Game 1 of their first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, where the B’s left with an easy 4-1 win. Not only could they leave the building with the 1-0 series lead, but there’s no doubt they’re feeling good about finding their game in the process.
The Bruins got back to their gritty style of hockey, and they did so in more ways than one. They did so by embracing the physical aspect of the game, not backing down from anything or anyone and defending each other when needed. They had the gang mentality back, the same attitude and snarl that has made them so hard to play against in the past few years. They were also unafraid to go to the net, do the dirty things around the net and get their hands dirty on the forecheck.
Or, to put it another way, they did everything they haven’t been doing since March 1, a stretch in which they went just 15-12-4 after beginning the year on a 13-2-2 run.
Yet, despite what the results might say, the Bruins insist they didn’t flip some special switch once the playoffs started, instead saying this has been building over the last handful of games.
“Well, there was some signs,” Bruins head coach Claude Julien said. “Like I said, the last, probably, four games or so, we seemed to be turning the corner. But, as I’ve often said, when you’re on a winning streak and you keep winning, you start to see some things happening and it takes a while before you start paying the price for it. I think it was the same way, as far as our team is concerned. We were playing better, we weren’t getting rewarded with the wins. But you could see us turning the corner, so I think that’s one of the things. Today, our guys were focused, they were ready, and at the same time, we’ve been here before, there’s some experience behind it. I thought we played a solid game.”
The Bruins did show signs of turning things around in the last couple of weeks of the season, but they just weren’t able to put it all together. They certainly did that in Game 1, where they were more than willing to pay the price.
That’s what happened when Nathan Horton skated his lane, went to the net and parked himself in front of James Reimer late in the first period. Horton was rewarded as he was able to deflect a Wade Redden wrist shot by the Toronto goalie to give Boston a 2-1 lead in the final minute of the period.
It didn’t end there, though. The Bruins used a relentless forecheck (a tireless shift from the fourth line eventually led to a David Krejci goal) for much of the game, and they didn’t seem intent on sitting on any leads as they had down the stretch.
But again, it’s a new season. The Bruins have moved on from the issues that plagued them late in games late in the season.
“We’re a focused team from start to finish”, Julien said.”The first period was over and we were already talking about the second period and how we had to stick with our game plan and everything else. The guys did a great job of that. Same thing with the third period. We didn’t look at the scoreboard, we looked at our play in the third period, versus the goals that we scored or goals that we didn’t want to give them. So it was about going out there and finishing the job.”
It was more than enough to cripple a Maple Leafs team that looked a little intimidated by the bright lights of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Reimer was fighting the puck all night long, Phil Kessel had another no-show and just about the rest of the gang (aside from the groin-tapping James van Riemsdyk) looked like they were taking a leisurely spin around Frog Pond in the winter time.
These issues were all magnified up against a Bruins team that is battle-tested and used to making the transition from regular season to the postseason.
“It seemed like everyone was prepared and came to the rink in the right frame of mind,” Bruins forward Brad Marchand said. “Everyone bought into the system and we did what we had to do.
“It’s a different game. I’ve been through it, and it’s a completely different atmosphere. Obviously the game amps up a bit and it’s a little more physical and it can be a little more nerve-wracking. I know I was even nervous tonight. I’m sure there might be some nerves on some guys’ part, but they came out hard and really battled.”
If the Leafs really want to make a series out of this, the Bruins have set the bar as to where you’ll need to do battle. The page has been turned, the switch has been flipped, the pedal is to the metal and whatever else you want to say. The Bruins looked like a new team more than ready to begin a new season on Wednesday night, and it’s clear that’s all they care about right now.