CHICAGO -- The Boston Bruins' 3-2 shootout loss to the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks wasn't your typical regular-season game.
The first meeting between the teams since the Blackhawks hoisted the Stanley Cup on TD Garden ice last June 24 did not disappoint. The atmosphere at the United Center was playoff-like and the hockey was entertaining.
More importantly, it served as a benchmark game for the Bruins, a small reminder of how well they need to play against the best teams in the NHL in order to have success in the playoffs. Plus, they need to play with more consistency, and in the past two games the Bruins have been able to accomplish that.
"We looked at ourselves and told ourselves we needed to be better," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "We know we could be better and that's just about going out there and showing it. We don't have to prove anything, we just have to show that we're a good team night in and night out -- it's as simple as that."
After a 4-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs Tuesday at TD Garden, the Bruins posted a 4-2 win over the Dallas Stars Thursday night at American Airlines Center in Dallas, and Boston followed that with another strong game against the Blackhawks.
"The last two games we've battled and we've done the little things right around the rink, in our zone defensively, and tonight was a good effort," said Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron.
"It shows you how good teams are and you've got to be on your game every night," added Bergeron. "That was a great team we played tonight and I thought we also played pretty well. We matched up pretty well against them, but that being said, we need some more of that to get the results in games and hopefully it goes our way next time."
With the Blackhawks controlling much of the first period, the Bruins responded when Brad Marchand scored with 18.9 seconds remaining in the opening frame to tie the game at 1-1. He kept that momentum going and gave Boston a 2-1 lead only 50 seconds into the second period.
Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask then let in a weak goal at 9:44 of the second as Chicago tied it at 2-2. The Blackhawks' Brandon Bollig put the puck on net from a bad angle and it snuck past Rask on the short side. Rask appeared stunned that the puck went in.
"Ha, good question," Rask said. "I had the post covered, my skate was there and I was ready. It just somehow went over. I don't know if it bounced over my skate or something. I tried to look at the replay but you couldn't really tell. I saw it barely got over but it's a goal. You'd rather let in one of those because you know there's really nothing else you could have done. Sometimes those weak goals from the wing and stuff like that they hurt more than those kinds of goals, but it was a tough break."
Chicago's Patrick Kane converted the game-winning goal in the shootout, but despite the loss, Rask was pleased with the team's overall game against the Blackhawks, a team that is talented and deep.
"It was a good test for us," Rask said. "We knew they are a great team. We've had our struggles lately. Last game, in Dallas, we thought we played good and wanted to keep that going and today we showed that when we play our game we can play with everybody. It was a great game, just the end result wasn't what we wanted but it was a good job."
Julien said he doesn't put too much emphasis on a shootout loss, but win or lose the coach was pleased with the way the team has played the past two games.
"As a game, it was a great game," Julien said. "I thought both teams played well, both teams competed hard. I thought it was pretty even of a game. We had some chances you wish you could have buried. I guess it just continues to be the same as it was last year, need overtime to resolve these games against us. I thought it was a real good test, as far as our team is concerned. With the way we've played lately, we've gotten better and tonight was another step in the right direction, so we just got to continue playing that way. I'm real happy with the effort."
The Bruins also have experience on their side. After winning the Stanley Cup in 2011, this team has been through a lot. The Bruins have become a perennial Cup contender and even though they fell short of the ultimate goal last season, if they can continue to play as they did on Sunday against one of the top teams in the Western Conference, they should be fine.
"It's about us continuing to play like we did," Julien said. "I don't think we have to look over our shoulders or over-respect anybody. We just gotta go out there and show that we're part of that group and we are. Our game slipped and we struggled through some of that stuff. We're a good team. We just gotta play the way we know we can and you have those types of games like tonight."
After gaining three of four points in the past two games on the road, the Bruins return home to host the Los Angeles Kings Monday afternoon at TD Garden. Boston recently lost to the Kings 4-2 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, but the Bruins seem to have turned things around in the past two games.
"You want to be as consistent as you possibly can and lately consistency hasn't been our strength," Rask said. "After that game against Toronto, we wanted to come out hard in Dallas and start building and we've had two good games, so far, and we have to keep that going and not take those steps back anymore."