BOSTON — The Bruins have pretty much seen it all over the last decade or so. There’s few situations they haven’t been in, not many types of different games they haven’t played and they have had plenty of both ups and downs over that time, especially in the Claude Julien era.
What they probably haven’t seen is, though, what they went through Monday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins. When Zdeno Chara scored with 5:15 to play in the third period, it looked like the Bruins would probably escape with a 3-2 win. It looked even more certain when Julien used his timeout with 1:10 to play, giving his team a rest as the Penguins pulled the goalie.
That’s when things got really weird, though. The Pens hemmed in the Bruins in their own zone and really put the pressure on in the closing seconds. With just a couple of ticks to play, Chris Kunitz wheeled in the slot and put the puck at the net. That’s where Sidney Crosby, with an inexplicable amount of room, tipped home the game-tying goal. Just as he did, the green light signaling time had run out went off behind the Boston net. Instant replay made it clear that Crosby’s game-tying goal crossed the goal line with 0.3 seconds to play and the game was headed to overtime.
Thirty-four seconds into overtime, Torey Krug scored the game-winning goal for the Bruins, and the Bruins had overcome their latest bout with adversity.
“We were OK,” Claude Julien said of his team’s mood in the first moments after Crosby tied the game. “We’ve been through these kinds of situations before. I think the experience of that has helped us out. We’re calm and we just got ourselves ready for the overtime. For me, when you get scored on like that late, it can be devastating for teams, but it just made us probably a little hungrier. We went out there, showed some character and ended it early.”
It’s true. For some teams, that sort of play would be a back-breaker, especially against a team like the Penguins. But there’s something to be said for all of that experience, which breeds mental toughness and confidence. That allowed the Bruins to turn the page and go into overtime looking for the win. It’s not like they had a choice in the matter.
“We were just getting ready for OT,” captain Zdeno Chara said. “Really, what can you do in that minute or whatever you have? So we just tried to get ready and stay sharp and really focus about what you are going to do on the ice.”
It was a fairly fitting end of what wasn’t the prettiest of wins for the Bruins, who are still in search of consistent 60-minute efforts. There are instances in which they show how good they can be, and the record — an Eastern Conference-leading 34 points — is something they can be happy with. But they’re still not where they need to be. They weren’t great on Monday night against a good team in the Penguins. The Bruins got a big effort out of Tuukka Rask in the first 10 minutes of the game where the goalie made 10 saves, seemingly all of them more difficult than the last.
That set the table for first-period goals from Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith, but the level of play that produced those goals couldn’t be sustained. Credit must be given to the Penguins as well, as they bounced back after giving up those two goals and then again after Chara’s go-ahead goal in the third period, but a better all-around effort would have almost certainly kept the Bruins from feeling the gut punch they felt with 0.3 ticks on the clock in the third.
“I think we’re taking steps in the right direction and trying to build that consistency that we’re really playing solid, 60-minute games,” Rask said. “It’s not easy, but at least our effort has been there in the past few weeks and we’re really moving in the right direction. That’s a good sign. Obviously, you get stretches during the season that you’re not playing at the top of your game, but in the past couple of weeks we have been taking steps in the right direction and finding our identity again.”
They’re not there, but they are getting there. Now they have to show that their latest adventure can make a positive difference moving forward.