BOSTON — The Bruins, for large parts of the regular season, struggled mightily to close out games in which they led after two periods. One season after going 32-0-0 (62-2-2 combined over the last two seasons) when leading after two periods, the Bruins were just 15-4-4 when entering the third with the lead in hand.
That seems like a long time ago now, as that secret Bruins switch has apparently been flipped for third periods as well. The B’s, leading 3-2 after two on Sunday, scored twice in the third period to cruise to a 5-2 win over the Rangers in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the New York Rangers.
The Bruins twisted the knife in the biggest way Sunday afternoon to ensure the third-period lead would stand up. All it took was 26 seconds for the B’s to strike in the third period as Brad Marchand took a pass from Patrice Bergeron and put it under Henrik Lundqvist. The goal blew the lid off TD Garden — at least for those who had returned from intermission beer breaks — and it gave the Bruins a soft two-goal cushion to sit on.
“Guys are really trying to stay focused on doing their job in the third period,” Marchand said, while also admitting the club has turned it on now that the playoffs are here.
“We know how important they are, especially after what we went through being down by a few goals. We know that it’s possible for any team to come back from any score, so we want to make sure we don’t let up.”
Perhaps most important for the Bruins in the third period was the fact that not only did they not sit on the one-goal lead, they didn’t sit on the two-goal lead. Milan Lucic scored at the 12:39 mark of the third period to turn it into a rout. Lucic showed no quit going to the net before jamming home a second-chance opportunity.
“We talked about it before we went out there in the third period, and we just had to make sure that we played to win,” Bruins head coach Claude Julien said. “I didn’t want our guys playing on their heels, and you hear me say that a lot. I don’t like our team when we play on our heels and we’re just trying to protect a one-goal lead.
“We’ve got to extend the lead and extend it even more before we even think about protecting it. But our guys are smart, they put pucks at the next, they went to the net hard, we won battles for those loose pucks, and we found a way to score those goals.”
In the process, the Bruins were also able to put the pressure on a Rangers team that seemed to be gaining momentum entering the third period. The Rangers spoke after the game about how they thought they played well in the second period, and the Bruins certainly put a stop to that early in the third period.
“We felt really good going into the third, and to have that type of goal go in on just a two-on-two, it hurts you,” admitted New York coach John Tortorella.
“It’s momentum swings, they gained a lot off of that,” New York captain Ryan Callahan added in regards to the Bruins’ quick start to the third. “You try to get it back, you try to keep pushing I thought we did a little bit, but then they get another one and obviously at that point it’s tough to come back from a three-goal deficit in the third period.”
The Bruins have done a lot of things better now that the regular season has given way to the playoffs. The B’s have been a better team in just about every aspect of the game, especially playing with a lead in the third period. At this time of the year, there’s no overstating how important that is in making a deep postseason run.