BOSTON -- Better get used to it, because this is the type of hockey the Boston Bruins are going to play all season.
Forget the fact the Bruins lost to the St. Louis Blues 2-1 in a shootout Saturday night at TD Garden. Sure, it was a tough loss against a team that has won six straight and has one of the best goaltenders in the league, but Boston's play has been consistently solid in the early going here in 2010-11.
Coach Claude Julien is always looking for improvement, and there are some areas where the Bruins need to be better, but, more importantly, they are playing well as a group and sticking up for each other when needed.
That was the case again Saturday night.
Despite the loss, the Bruins received solid goaltending from Tuukka Rask. He made 34 saves in only his third start of the season. The way Tim Thomas has been playing, starts have been few and far between for Rask.
"Tuukka was good," Julien said. "You look at how he played tonight, and how hard they came at us in the first, and he did a good job. The only goal that got by him was one of our own mistakes when we turned the puck over right in the slot. I thought he was very good tonight."
As solid as Rask was, Blues netminder Jaroslav Halak was even better. Until the Bruins' Gregory Campbell scored his first goal of the season at 13:00 of the third period, Halak had not allowed a goal in his previous 153 minutes.
Although Halak made 33 saves, his friend the post also helped out.
The Bruins' Nathan Horton hit a pair of posts in regulation, and both shots were reviewed only to come back as no-goals. Even in the shootout, Patrice Bergeron and Michael Ryder rang their attempts off the bar.
"I thought we were snake-bit a little bit tonight, to be honest with you," Julien said.
The Bruins were playing for the second consecutive night, and after they were trying to get their legs going in the first period, they showed their character in the second period.
When the Blues' David Backes laid out Bruins veteran Mark Recchi with an open-ice hit at 4:01 of the second period, teammate Andrew Ference reacted appropriately. Ference -- 5-foot-11, 189 pounds -- chased down 6-3, 225-pound Backes and jumped him. The two dropped the gloves, and Ference fared well in the bout.
"He was a good teammate who stuck up for his team and his players," Julien said. "He took on a pretty big guy and did very well."
Ference admitted after the game that he didn't realize it was Recchi who was on the receiving end of the hit. All Ference saw was a teammate in a black and gold sweater get drilled.
"It was just because it was a teammate," he said. "It is just one of the parts of the game. It happened about five feet in front of me, so I couldn't really tell if it was dirty or clean. I just knew it was a big hit. [My reaction] was kind of spur of the moment type thing."
Unfortunately, he was given two minutes for instigating, five for fighting and a 10-minute misconduct.
The Bruins were pleased with the way Ference reacted, but they weren't too happy when the Blues' B.J. Crombeen acted in the same manner and wasn't penalized accordingly.
After Bruins defenseman Mark Stuart placed a clean open-ice hit on the Blues' Jay McClement, Crombeen jumped Stuart and the two dropped the gloves. Crombeen was assessed only a five-minute penalty for fighting.
Julien asked for an explanation why Crombeen wasn't given an instigator penalty, but the coach didn't seem satisfied with the answer.
"I don't know what to say," Julien said. "They always have a reason, so you've got to respect that. I really thought it was similar, but somehow we ended up on the short end of it."
More importantly, Stuart stuck up for himself at a time when Ference was still in the box.
"Hockey is one of those games," Julien said. "You're going to risk injuries every time you step on the ice. What you want to see from your team is to do the right thing. There will be a risk every time you do those kinds of things, and you have to accept those risks. He's standing up for himself, and I have no issues with that.
"It's the trend. As soon as there's a clean hit, there's somebody coming after somebody. He's sticking up for himself, and at least he's fighting his own battles, unlike other players we've seen in the past who have other people doing their dirty work."
After the loss, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara sat at his stall in the locker room and couldn't argue the fact it was a good hockey game. Even though Boston came out on the wrong end of it, the way the Bruins played continues to be encouraging.
"It was such a great hockey game," Chara said. "It was really up-and-down hockey. I think the fans probably didn't see a lot of goals, but I think they could see everything else -- a lot of good chances, big hits, good fights, a lot of battles, big saves from both goaltenders. It was just a great hockey game."
Get used to it.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins and Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.