The Boston Bruins played their first home game since February 12. Just after their win over the Montreal Canadiens, they entered their bye week, and then headed west on a four-game road trip—taking six out of the eight points. Since the dismissal of Claude Julien and the appointment of Bruce Cassidy as Interim Head Coach, the Bruins had won six of their last seven games going into Tuesday night’s tilt against the Arizona Coyotes.
For Boston, this could have been one of those games they lost, if they were the same team that began the season. That first home game after a road trip tends to be a bit of a struggle for most teams. Add to that the fact that the Coyotes are in 13th place in the Western Conference, and the Bruins could have played like they have so often against teams that are lower in the standings. Such was not the case, though they did have to rely somewhat on Tuukka Rask while they found their rhythm.
Of those who spoke after the game, they all recognized that it wasn’t the prettiest of wins, and that they could do better. Undoubtedly that will be addressed at practice Wednesday morning. But perhaps what was different was how the team rallied—especially when the Coyotes tied things up three and half minutes into the middle frame on a power play.
“You know, we created some confidence on the road, and it seemed like we just told ourselves to go back to what’s been successful [for] us lately, which is keeping things simple and playing a hard game,” Patrice Bergeron shared. “And we did that after, like I said, that penalty kill and that goal, and it got us going, and after that, we were more poised with the puck but also more assertive, and it made a big difference.”
Indeed it did make a difference. As the horn signaled the end of the second, Riley Nash had scored what would become the game winning goal—shorthanded—which was followed by two even strength goals: one from David Backes high in the slot that beat Arizona’s goalie Mike Smith five hole, and then with just eleven seconds left on the clock, Brad Marchand got his 28th on the season on a wrap around.
As the teams came out in the third, Arizona’s head coach, Dave Tippett, elected to make a goalie change, putting in Louis Domingue for the final twenty minutes. Domingue would stop seven shots and prevent the Bruins from getting any more goals. It was clear that Smith was fighting the puck a bit and got beat on the final two goals from Backes and Marchand—goals that he feels he should have had, and he gave himself no excuses for his performance.
“Well, no save from your goaltender is the tide turning thing. I’m in a little funk right now and need to find a way to get out of it, get to work in practice, and start playing like I’m capable of playing,” Smith stated matter-of-factly. “It all starts with me back there. Get some saves early, the first goal goes under my pad, the third goal goes under my pad. You can’t let in goals like that and chase the game all the time.”
Chasing the game is a situation that Boston had familiarity with throughout many of their games—especially on home ice—through January. But having been able to now string some solid wins together, having only lost to the Anaheim Ducks since Cassidy took over behind the bench, it is clear that they are coming together.
“I think we’ve established a pretty good game plan, a pretty good recipe for how we’re going to have success as a whole team, picking each other up and doing the little things you do to win games. I don’t think the first two periods were pretty by any means, but you’ve got a 4-1 lead after two after you had a little sloppiness,” Backes explained. “Tuukka made some big saves. We were able to score a couple of goals there at the end of the second, and we just needed to go out there and play a solid third period. We were better in the third, but not great, and coming off of a road trip, I don’t know what it is, but that first game seems to be the toughest one. We got two points out of it. It wasn’t pretty, but we got the two points. We’ll get a good day of practice in [Wednesday], and be able to hit the ground running against a good Rangers team on Thursday.”
Home game success will be essential to the Bruins going into their final 19 games, as the majority of them are homestands. First up will be the New York Rangers on Thursday night—the first game night after the trade deadline for Boston. The Rangers played a home game Tuesday night, but were on the losing side of a 4-1 tally against the Washington Capitals, and will undoubtedly be looking to get back on the winning side.