The Bruins have spoken lately about a lack of favorable bounces. The “puck luck”, as they say, hasn’t been with Boston as of late.
The thing about luck, though, is it’s somewhat manufactured. The Bruins simply weren’t playing well enough or hard enough to earn those breaks, which have a way of evening themselves out depending on how you’re playing. But Boston played one of its best games in a while Saturday night and was rewarded with just enough luck to end its three-game road trip on a winning note.
The Bruins avoided going winless on a daunting swing through California with a 1-0 win over the San Jose Sharks. Getting back on the winning track certainly wasn’t easy for the Black and Gold. In beating the Sharks at SAP Center, the Bruins became just the second team all season to go into San Jose’s barn and win in regulation. Before Saturday night, the Sharks hadn’t lost at home in regulation since Nov. 7 against the Vancouver Canucks.
Righting the ship certainly wasn’t easy for the Atlantic Division-leading Bruins (29-14-2, 60 points). Saturday’s was a tight-checking affair in which open space and scoring chances were at a premium. The Bruins were the ones to eventually break through, though, thanks to one fortunate bounce.
Boston forward Loui Eriksson — playing in his first game since Dec. 7 — tried to put a shot on net with about seven and a half minutes to play in the third period. That shot attempt never made it through to the San Jose net, and it ended up being a blessing in disguise. Scott Hannan blocked Eriksson’s shot, but the deflection went right to Carl Soderberg, who was moving toward the slot. Soderberg quickly pounced on the carom and put the puck on net, where he beat Antti Niemi for what was the game’s only goal.
This Bruins win wasn’t all about luck, though. Boston played its strongest defensive game in a long time and was able to limit San Jose’s chances, especially after the second period. The Bruins withstood a pretty good charge from the Sharks in the first period, which is something a lot of teams haven’t been fortunate enough to say this season. San Jose came into Saturday’s game as the NHL’s best first-period team, holding a 51-22 advantage in first-period scoring.
Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, who bounced back in a big way after being pulled Thursday night in Los Angeles, stopped all 12 first-period shots he saw. He tied career highs by notching his 22nd win and his fifth shutout in the process. After looking especially leaky to begin the road trip by allowing eight goals in the first two games, Rask was back to his normal self against the Sharks. He didn’t have to make too many highlight-reel saves, but he once again looked comfortable and wasn’t fighting the puck as much as he had in his previous starts.
Rask’s performance wasn’t alone in being worth of praise — Eriksson looked really good in his first game in just about five weeks. He stepped right in and didn’t miss a beat with Soderberg and Ryan Spooner, as that trio was the Bruins’ best of the night. Eriksson also chipped in on the penalty kill, helping stabilize a unit (albeit on only one kill) that has struggled lately.
The Bruins also received strong play from Kevan Miller, who was inserted into the lineup after Johnny Boychuk returned to Boston for personal reasons. The rookie blue-liner stepped up and tried to spark his team with his first career fight, and he played with an undeniable snarl all night long.
Those are the types of traits the Bruins have in surplus when they’re winning. They were opportunistic, defensive-minded, balanced, responsible and, at times, a little bit mean.
“It was a team win, from the back end to the front end,” Bruins coach Claude Julien told reporters afterward.
It also doesn’t hurt to get a little bit lucky every now and then, either.
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