The Bruins got contributions from throughout the lineup and rode another stellar performance from Tim Thomas in goal to cruise to a 4-1 win at New Jersey on Saturday.
That recipe put Boston atop the Eastern Conference two years ago, and this year’s squad could be even deeper than that group, which finished second in the league in goals scored and first in goals against.
The Bruins still have 79 more games to play to see where they’ll rank this time around, but after a slow start in the opener last Saturday, the last two efforts have given tangible support to the optimism that reigned this offseason after the club added the likes of Nathan Horton and Tyler Seguin.
Those two newcomers each chipped in an assist, but this night belonged to Thomas and a different rookie, as Jordan Caron scored his first NHL goal to put the Bruins on the board.
That came after New Jersey struck first 3:45 into the second period with a Dainius Zubrus goal. Caron answered at 5:38 as he set up shop in front of the net and banged a rebound of a Johnny Boychuk shot past Martin Brodeur.
“It’s a good feeling to score my first NHL goal,” said Caron. “Especially [to do it] against Brodeur. He’s a great goalie, maybe one of best ever, so it’s pretty nice to score against him.”
Caron, who won’t turn 20 until Nov. 2, can’t remember an NHL that didn’t feature the NHL’s all-time leader in wins (603) and shutouts (111), as he hadn’t even turned 2 when Brodeur made his NHL debut at the end of the 1991-92 season.
“I grew up watching him play and remember seeing him winning those Stanley Cups,” said Caron. “It’s pretty special to score against him.”
Caron’s goal opened the floodgates, as the Bruins scored three more times before the second period ended. Seguin wouldn’t let his fellow rookie get all the glory in this one, as he made a spectacular turnaround pass from the left boards to set up Michael Ryder’s first goal of the season at 10:44.
Seguin was paying Ryder back for sending him in alone for his first goal with a long outlet pass against Phoenix on Sunday, and Ryder made the most of the chance with a perfectly placed shot from the high slot that beat Brodeur to the glove side.
Then it was the fourth line’s turn, as Brad Marchand kept the puck in the zone and Greg Campbell fed it out from behind the net to Shawn Thornton. The Bruins’ tough guy fired it home from the right circle, scoring his first goal since the second game of last season.
“It was nice to see the fourth line score,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “We got a contribution from all four lines tonight, which was nice to see. We wanted to make sure we had improved depth and I think we feel that we have three good lines that can score on a consistent basis, and that fourth line has proven us a bit wrong because every game they’ve played so far they’ve had some great scoring chances. So hopefully they can score more goals as we go on here and make themselves a threat.”
The first line must have been feeling the pressure, as Milan Lucic closed out the scoring with his second of the year from David Krejci and Horton at 18:09 of the second.
“We got better as the game went on,” said Julien, whose club had not played since opening the season with two games in Prague against Phoenix last Saturday and Sunday. “Typical rust of a week off without playing, but all of the sudden we seemed to pick it up in the second as soon as they scored that first goal. After we got our first we seemed to gain some confidence and shot the puck a little bit better. It was a good game all around.”
The four goals were more than enough support for Thomas, who turned in his second straight strong effort. After posting a 29-save shutout of the Coyotes on Sunday, Thomas stopped 31 of the 32 shots he faced in this one.
“When we started to take the lead in the second it takes a lot of the pressure off the goaltender,” said Thomas. “It’s good to have the lead, obviously, and be in the spot we wanted to be in.”
Thomas was in the right spot most of the night, including a highlight-reel save to rob Devils’ star Ilya Kovalchuk of a goal during a Devils’ power play in the first minute of the second period. Patrik Elias sent Kovalchuk in alone down the middle, but Thomas was just able to flash out his pad for a stop at the left post.
“I saw the turnover and saw the play developing,” said Thomas. “I was trying to respect that shot, I didn’t want to give [Elias] an easy shot. But when he passed it over to Kovalchuk, it was kind of uh-oh time. He made a move and just by pure reaction I was able to get a toe on it.”
Thomas has allowed just one goal on 61 shots this year, and looks fully recovered from his offseason hip surgery and poised to return to his Vezina-winning form of two years ago.
He had plenty of help though, as 11 different Bruins each recorded a point and the Boston defense blocked 12 shots in front of Thomas, led by Mark Stuart’s four.
Stuart played with Dennis Seidenberg again, as Julien opted not to put Seidenberg back with Zdeno Chara to form a shutdown pairing against the Kovalchuk line. The Bruins didn’t need that, as both the Chara-Boychuk and Stuart-Seidenberg pairings turned in strong efforts, and the third pairing of Andrew Ference and Matt Hunwick, who struggled mightily in Prague, were each a team-best plus-2.
After getting a well-deserved day off on Sunday, the Bruins will try to carry their strong play into a busy week. They open a home-and-home series at Washington on Tuesday, then finally play at the Garden against the Capitals in the return engagement on Thursday, before hosting the New York Rangers on Saturday.