BOSTON -- And then there were three.
After a 2-1 shootout victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday night at TD Garden, the Boston Bruins remain in playoff contention and are now in a three-way tie with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings with 95 points each. Even though those teams have a game in hand on the Bruins, Boston's victory Saturday keeps it three points ahead of the Ottawa Senators, who also pulled out an overtime win against the Washington Capitals.
Boston’s victory Saturday was its fifth in a row, but despite this latest winning streak, the Bruins still aren't playing their best hockey. They put up a total of 50 shots against the Maple Leafs and scored only once before the shootout win.
The lack of finish is a concern for the Bruins, but more important, they’re showing signs of finding their overall defensive game. This team is at its best when it’s shutting down the opponent and not allowing many scoring opportunities. In turn, that should translate into a potent offense, but that part of the Bruins’ game hasn't quite come around yet.
Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg would be the first to admit he hasn’t had the most consistent season. The entire team is in that same category. Overall, the entire defensive game is returning to form.
"Every [winning] streak, our average has been under two [goals allowed], and that has to do with us playing solid in front of our own net, taking care of rebounds and collapsing when needed," Seidenberg said. "Overall, it’s been OK, and we have to keep it up defensively."
Too many times this season the Bruins have imploded defensively, so it wasn't a good sign for a team built on defense, and it showed with the team’s lack of success. It has forced Boston into this situation in which these final games of the regular season will determine whether or not it can earn a postseason berth, which is uncharacteristic of this team.
"We should have been there a while ago, but stuff happens," Seidenberg said. "Now, we have to deal with the situation we’re in, and hopefully, we can figure it out.
"If you don’t give up any goals and score two, you still win, right? That’s been our motto the last few years, being a checking team that can score. We just have to keep finding a way to win, and hopefully, at the end, it’s enough."
Overall, the Bruins have tightened up in their own end and they’re taking away those second and third chances, which has helped goaltender Tuukka Rask.
All season Rask has been vital for the Bruins. If he hadn't played the way he has this season, especially of late, then Boston would be on the outside looking in.
"When Tuukks is our best player, then you know we have a good chance at winning a hockey game," Bruins defenseman Torey Krug said. "He's seeing the puck right now, and it’s good. Guys are also committed to defense, as well. It’s a combination of those two things, and we’re not going to give up many goals and that’s what it takes to win hockey games right now. That’s how the Boston Bruins win hockey games, by not giving up more than a couple of goals."
Once again, Rask secured Boston’s win Saturday with a pair of huge saves late in the third period with the game knotted at one. Toronto created solid pressure when a scrum ensued in front of Boston’s net, and Rask stacked the pads and stoned the Maple Leafs’ Joffrey Lupul.
"I saw he was by himself, so I just tried to take as much net away from him as possible. He took two shots then we cleared the puck, so we got lucky there," Rask said.
Since neither team capitalized in overtime, this one needed a shootout to decide the winner. The Bruins' Patrice Bergeron scored the would-be game winner.
"It’s big points for us this time of year, and we got the extra point that we wanted," Bergeron said. "So you know there’s definitely some things that we can learn from and be better, but that being said, we got the result."
With the playoffs still a strong possibility for the Bruins, Julien continues to tweak his lineup.
For the first time in his Bruins career, Gregory Campbell was a healthy scratch. Julien explained that now that he has a healthy lineup, he's using more of a rotation the past few games to get a better understanding of what will work best if Boston reaches the playoffs. He’s been trying different line combinations and defensive pairings of late.
"Soupy's [Campbell] one of our great faceoff guys, and he’s a good penalty killer. At the same time, I feel we’ve got a lot of players that can go in and out right now. That’s one of the reasons, but at the same time, I’m trying to create a little bit of competition here. I don’t want anybody comfortable, knowing that they’re automatics game in and game out."
Saturday’s game could have been the last one at home this season. With the three remaining games on the road against some tough opponents, the Bruins are in the driver’s seat, and if this grind-out kind of streak continues, Boston will clinch a playoff spot.
"If you go into a game worrying about what’s going to happen, then you’re going to sit back on your heels and we’re not going to play our style, which is a defensive game where we have our layers and then we get offensive opportunities because of our layers," Krug said. "So if we focus on ourselves, we’ll beat those teams, and we’ve just got to be sure we’re going to continue to stay on top of that."