Through 24 games this season, the Bruins have outscored their opponents 38-16 in the third period. And it was another strong third period that helped the Bruins pull away from Toronto for a 4-1 victory Saturday night at the Garden.
For the second straight game against the Leafs, Boston led by just one going into the final frame. But on neither night did the Leafs ever threaten to rally. Instead, the Bruins extended the lead on both nights, winning 6-3 in Toronto on Wednesday and following up Saturday with another dominant third period to complete the home-and-home sweep and strengthen their hold on the top spot in the Northeast Division.
"The one thing we talked about was to make sure we don't sit on the lead," Julien said. "I don't want our guys going into the third period and playing on their heels and just trying to protect the lead and sitting back. You create the lead, [then] you extend the lead before you even think about protecting the lead. So we needed to get the next goal. We had to work hard at that and then make sure that we worked even harder to not let them get that next goal."
It was hard for the Leafs to try to get a goal when they couldn't even get the puck out of their own zone. The Bruins outshot Toronto 11-4 in the period, with Johnny Boychuk and Nathan Horton providing insurance goals to put the game away.
But it was a shift that the Bruins didn't score on that was the most impressive moment of the night. With 11:21 remaining and Boston up 3-1, David Krejci and the Bruins' top line took the ice and Krejci won a defensive-zone faceoff against former Bruins prospects Joe Colborne. The Bruins quickly gained the Toronto zone and did not leave until the Leafs finally took an icing with 8:50 left.
That shift lasted 2:31 and forced an exhausted Toronto team to take a timeout after being unable to change lines following the ice. During the break, the Bruins were feted with a standing ovation from a Garden crowd that appreciated the hustle and hard work they had just witnessed.
"Yeah, it kind of seemed like a moment where we were kind of silently saying 'try and hang with us,' kind of like a challenge and we were out there, you notice they're tired and it's kind of like a shark seeing blood in the water," Bruins defenseman Joe Corvo said. "We tried to take advantage of it and try and help keep them pinned in the zone. And those are fun moments for me. It's fun to be involved in that stuff and be involved in offense."
It was enjoyable even for the guys not on the ice.
"That was unbelievable," Boychuk said. "Just watching from the bench I was like, 'C'mon, change.' No, just watching them it was fun to see. They're so strong on the puck. When you have guys like that, it's hard to push them off the puck. They weren't forcing plays. They were just making smart decisions and that's what hemmed them in their zone for two minutes.
"When you see a line do that, it makes you want to go out there and try to do the same thing," Boychuk added. "It was just a dominant shift. It was fun to watch, that's for sure."
The Bruins didn't score on that shift, but they broke the Leafs' will with that display. On the top line's next shift, Horton did tally on a snipe from the top left circle off a feed from Krejci, ending any hopes of a Toronto rally.
"It's fun to watch when the guys cycle the puck and make really good passes," said Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, who made 21 saves for the win. "But it almost got to the point that we just wanted to pass around and not take any shots. Good thing Horty beared down on his shot."
The Bruins didn't need to take a lot of shots. They had control. Control of the puck and control of their emotions, which in turn gave them complete control of the game.
"I thought that as the game went on we were better and better and we were just controlling the puck," Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. "And then we were just really making smart plays without taking some risks. And we were basically controlling the game from that point. We were not making turnovers, we were not making blind passes. We were just making sure that when we do make a pass it was to an open guy, it wasn't just a gamble."
Nothing exemplified that better than that memorable shift that kept the Leafs hemmed in their own zone for 2:31 at a crucial point in the contest.
"It was a real good shift," Julien said. "I thought they did a great job. David [Krejci] eventually came off as the third man high and we were able to put a fresh guy out there and sustain the pressure. That was a real good shift for us in the third period. Horts and Looch are such strong individuals that they're hard to knock off the puck. When they feel like they want to protect the puck and they want to be strong on it, we can certainly spend a lot of time in the offensive zone playing that way."
And spending that much time in the offensive zone has helped the Bruins begin spending a lot more time atop the standings once again.
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