And for much of Wednesday's first game back in Phoenix, they looked like a team that had been away from the ice for awhile.
But despite some sloppy play and a few breakdowns, the Bruins still somehow found a way to add another notch in the win column, posting their seventh straight victory with a 2-1 decision over the Coyotes in overtime.
"I think it was one of those games where they had some great opportunities," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "I thought we struggled again through the neutral zone. We got spread out quite a bit and they were just going through us like Swiss cheese. We left a lot of areas there for them to skate through. I thought we got better in the third period. It was our first game back from having three days off so I don't think we were as sharp as we could have been, but we improved as the game went on and we found a way to win."
The Bruins scored on their first shot when David Krejci struck just 47 seconds in, but they didn't have another goal for more than 60 minutes. Phoenix, meanwhile, evened the game late in the first and threatened to add more throughout most of the night.
"I don't think it was our best effort, but give them credit," Bruins forward Chris Kelly said of the Coyotes. "I thought they played well. They controlled the neutral zone for the most part and had a lot of flow from that. I thought we got better as the game went on, especially in the neutral zone. It was one of those cases where we stuck with it and Tuuks [Tuukka Rask] kept us in the game and gave us a chance to win."
Rask was definitely a difference-maker in the game, but there was also something else very different about this Bruins team. Where past squads would have been satisfied to rest off the laurels of the six-game win streak Boston brought into the night or the dominant run they've had dating back to the start of November, this year's team isn't letting that success go to their heads or allowing their work ethic to slip in the slightest.
"We're winning because we're handling it a lot better than in the past when we probably would have sat on our wins and thought we were better than we were," Julien said. "But right now guys don't get satisfied. They keep pushing and trying to get better."
That pushing resulted in a 10-4 edge in shots in the third period and a 2-0 advantage in overtime, and finally produced that needed second goal 58 seconds into the extra session. It was a score that highlighted several of the key elements in the club's remarkable run. First, it began with a faceoff win by Kelly, continuing the Bruins' domination on draws. They lead the league in faceoff percentage at 55.6 on the season, and they continued that Wednesday by winning 60 percent (28-19).
The goal also showed the selflessness of this team, as Dennis Seidenberg was credited with the game-winning tally. It appeared that Kelly may have tipped it in front, but neither man was concerned with padding their individual stats as long as the Bruins got the victory.
"I'm not sure," Kelly said when asked if he deflected it. "I could care less. Either way, Seids scores that or I score that, it's two points."
Those two points put the Bruins back atop the East with 49 points at 24-9-1. They are now 21-2-1 since the start of November and have won seven straight, but they are still not satisfied.
"It's a humbling game, we don't get too high," Julien said. "We won tonight, but I think we could have been a better team and the other team was just as good if not better than we were tonight. We look at finding ways to win and we do that, but there's still lots of room for us to improve."
Finding a way to win without their best effort is still important, though. No team will be able to maintain a peak performance every night over the course of an 82-game slate. But finding ways to take two points on those nights when your game is slightly off is the sign of a truly elite team.
"We always try to say that to ourselves, that's what good teams do," Rask said. "They manage to find ways to win these kinds of games and today we proved it again. It's a good sign for our hockey team. We just have to build on this and get better on Saturday in Dallas."
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