BOSTON — The more things change, the more they stay the same. Or at least that was the case for the Bruins on Thursday night in their season opener.
While Boston may have something of a revamped roster, the same principles that made them one of the best teams in hockey over the last half-decade or so proved to be beneficial once again. The Bruins were strong defensively, got good goaltending and used the penalty kill as an offensive weapon to come away with a 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Goalie Tuukka Rask, he of the new eight-year and $56 million contract, showed no signs of rust in beginning a new season. The Boston netminder was fantastic, making 32 saves en route to his first win of the season. He was especially impressive on the penalty kill, too, where the Bruins killed off all five Tampa Bay power plays, including a pair of 5-on-3 chances.
Rask was tested early and often as he was forced to stop 15 first-period shots, which included 1:49 of 5-on-3 penalty-kill time. The goalie made one big glove save on Steven Stamkos in the final minute of the period while the B’s killed off the 5-on-3 that set the tone for the rest of the game.
“Yeah well, you always have to make an extra effort when you’re down two guys,” Rask said. “And that’s something positive to see that our penalty kill was really good today, and the guys sacrifice out there. So that’s a good start for that.”
The penalty kill has been a strength of the Bruins for the last few years, and there’s no coincidence that the strength they find when down a man — or two — has come as Rask continues to improve.
“Your goaltender has to be the best penalty killer,” Chris Kelly said. “I’ll say that again, and again. Tuukka was outstanding when we needed him to and good sticks are important. Taking their time and space away I think we did a good job at preventing a lot of scene passes and getting them in position where we want them to be.”
Rask’s ability to come up with those big saves also allowed the Bruins to actually generate offense out of their PK. While the revamped power play looked more like the “old” power play more than anything else, the Bruins were able to get offense when down a man.
That all started during the Bruins’ first penalty kill following a Reilly Smith hooking penalty midway through the first. The B’s were able to get three breakaways out of the PK, one from Brad Marchand, one from Patrice Bergeron and another from Kelly. Marchand and Bergeron were stopped, and while Kelly was stopped as well, he was awarded a penalty shot after being brought down in the midst of a scoring chance.
The Bruins alternate captain then deked Tampa Bay goalie Anders Lindback out of his pads on his way to scoring the first Boston goal of the season. Not only was it the first Bruins penalty shot in a season opener in team history, Elias Sports says the Bruins became the first team in NHL history to score its first goal of the season on a penalty shot.
Boston added another shorthanded goal in the third period when Bergeron and Torey Krug actually worked a 2-on-1 out of the penalty kill. Bergeron ended up using a toe drag to get in position to shoot and beat Lindback with a shot that trickled through as Krug crashed the net.
“Our first job is to kill the penalty but if those offensive chances do appear, I think you want to take them,” Kelly said of the advantageous penalty kill. “I thought Torey [Krug] did a great job joining on that two on one—to make it a two on one to give [Bergeron] an opportunity to make that move or pass it over.”
It wasn’t the prettiest showing for the Bruins who proved even they still have plenty of room for improvement, but it’s hard to argue with two points on opening night — or any night for that matter.
And when the Bruins got the lead, they made sure they kept it. The third period was their best of the night, as they took any lasting electricity out of the Bolts while improving to 78-6-6 since the start of the 2010-11 when leading after two periods.
“It was nice to see our team get better as the game went on,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “Those 5-on-3’s, I thought the guys did a great job killing them. Tuukka made a couple of big saves when he had to. So those are really positive signs for our team and the fact that we were able to score a couple shorthanded goals as well.”
The Bruins will continue to try and work on some new things and become more accustomed to new teammates and new linemates. However, it must be good to know that they can call on the same old gameplan if need be.