(Photo: Alan Sullivan)
The Boston Bruins hosted the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night. Both teams came into the game having lost on Tuesday and for the Bruins it was important for them to right the ship and get back to playing Bruins hockey. Unwittingly the Wild may have lit the match, or in this case poked the bear, less than a minute into the game when Nate Prosser had a hit on Brad Marchand that forced Marchand into the boards in such a way that he hit his head. Rising from the ice, he latched onto Prosser and then Jimmy Hayes got into the fray. When it was all sorted out the Wild were on the power play, but the Bruins were building emotion.
The team often plays better when their emotions have been stoked a little and there would be a few instances during the game where things would get a little chippy, including some fisticuffs between Matt Beleskey and Brett Bulmer just four seconds after Marchand put the Bruins on the score board first with a nice wrap-around.
Bulmer gave Beleskey a little slash and Beleskey reciprocated with a cross check, and then the two decided to shed their gloves and get down to business. Each was assessed a minor for their stick work and a fighting major. But such responses from the Bruins are something that hasn’t been seen much this season, and that aggressive approach to the game is part of the fabric of what makes them a winning team. It is part of their identity and it helps to feed the emotion they need to play a full 60 minutes.
However, there were still a few mistakes, and though Jonas Gustavsson stood tall in the net for Boston in his first home game as a Bruin, he couldn’t stop Jason Zucker’s wrist shot a little over five minutes into the second period. The breakdown in play was a giveaway by Zdeno Chara which allowed Mikko Koivu to get a shot on goal. It was Gustavsson’s rebound that Zucker capitalized on.
Earlier games in this season would have seen the Bruins back off and in some ways hand the game to their opponent. Instead, the Bruins responded by getting an even strength goal just two and a half minutes later. Loui Eriksson put the Bruins up for the second time in the game, and while Minnesota would score a second goal, they would never again tie the Bruins during this one and Eriksson would go on to score two more goals for his third career hat trick and ensure that Dirty Water would play at TD Garden as the crowd exited the arena.
“[Loui’s] playing some great hockey for us and you know tonight is another one of those games where he was doing the little details right and he got rewarded with three big goals,” Patrice Bergeron shared after the win. “But he’s been playing well all year and he’s definitely a big part of our offense.”
Eriksson is often compared to Tyler Seguin because he came to Boston in the trade that sent Seguin to the Dallas Stars. Many have demanded that Eriksson play like Seguin, but he needs to play to his strengths and that’s what he did Thursday night.
“He’s not the same player as Tyler [Seguin] is, and the comparisons are not right. We shouldn’t be comparing those two players. They’re two different players,” head coach Claude Julien stressed postgame. “But what he does bring to our team, I think people are starting to realize that he may not score 40, 50 goals, but he did score three tonight, and he is a great player in all situations. When a coach has players that he trusts, that he can put on at the end of the game, he’s always one of those guys that’s on the list. So that says a lot about his game.”
The Bruins have scored goals in other games though and still come out the losers. Thursday night’s game differed in large part in how they reacted in their defensive zone. Instead of just letting the opposition skate in and set up shop in their defensive zone, the Bruins were actively getting in their way as soon as the Wild crossed the blue line. They were playing some smart hockey, forcing the Wild to the outside and getting their sticks in the way of passes, shots on goal and more. In the end they limited Minnesota to just 26 shots on goal and down at the other end they were outshooting the Wild in all but the first period in which the teams tied in shots.
There was chemistry, smart hockey, the continued success of the Bruins’ power play and Eriksson’s hat trick that all came together to give them the win. However, as Chara said after the game, focus needs to be on what’s ahead of them.
“It wasn’t an easy game, but I thought we handled it well and I think that we’re all thinking about the next game. That’s going to be a big challenge again for us, are we going to be able to respond after good games like we have before,” Chara said. “I think that we all are already thinking about next game, how we’re going to be playing, what we need to do.”
The Bruins host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday in a divisional game that is important on many levels. They need the points, but perhaps more importantly they need to show they can put two wins together. That has been a problem so far this season and they want to break the cycle of having a bad game after having a good game.