Don't look now but the defending Stanley Cup champions appear to have found their form just in time for a crucial stretch of the 2011-12 season.
The Boston Bruins are suddenly playing the two-way, north-south brand of hockey that helped them catch lightning in a bottle and win the franchise's first Stanley Cup in 39 years last June. And speaking of lightning, the Bruins have put together their current three-game winning streak -- on the heels of a three-game losing streak -- with quick strikes and scoring in bunches, totaling 18 tallies in the trio of wins.
In their 5-3 win over the Ottawa Senators on Nov. 1, the Bruins broke a 3-3 tie in the third period with two goals in 37 seconds. Then in their 7-0 rout of the Toronto Maple Leafs this past Saturday, Boston scored two goals in eight seconds in the second period, then two goals in 28 seconds in the third period. The clustered scoring continued on Monday against the New York Islanders -- a 6-2 win -- as the Bruins scored two goals in 29 seconds in the first period, then broke open a 3-2 game in the third with two goals in 49 seconds.
This wasn't exactly what coach Claude Julien has been drawing up in practice, but he said he believes it is a result of the team playing within its system and not letting up after scoring or taking a lead.
"I designed that," Julien joked after Monday's win. "We've really put a lot of emphasis on following up with a strong shift after a goal scored or after a goal against because it's about holding on to the momentum or regaining it. We're at the stage now where we've been together for a long time, so you keep pushing the little details on the guys, and every year, you try and add some things, and it just hopefully gets better. That's an area right now that we've responded well to.
"We've always emphasized how important that shift following the goal for or against is. Our guys just have been good at responding when they go back, and they get off to a real good shift. It's just paying attention to little details and what every part of the game means to your hockey club, and our guys are just responding to that right now."
Winger Milan Lucic, who has a four-game goal streak and scored seven goals in his last seven games, concurred with his head coach and thinks it has been a matter of returning to basics and the Bruins' bread and butter, a neutral-zone attack-and-transition game with responsible defensive play.
"We've addressed a lot of the problems and the mistakes that we were making and a lot of it came from our neutral-zone play and our defensive-zone play and in our effort and our puck pursuit to get it back and make good decisions," Lucic said. "It has been much better and I think that's ultimately what's helped us get the 18 goals in the last three games.
"We're starting to find that level of play that we want to play at and it wasn't easy to get to this point. We had to work really hard to get out of that funk and we're going to have to work even harder to keep it going."
For whatever reason, the Bruins weren't playing this way in their first 10 games, but the frustration and Stanley Cup hangover apparently have worn off as the Bruins are playing the hockey they pride themselves in.
"I think it's about playing our game and going hard on the forecheck, causing some turnovers, and it wears down the other team," center Patrice Bergeron said. "I think when we're moving our feet like we are and putting the puck in deep, we're playing our game and that's when we're having the most success."
With the Bruins hosting the NHL's hottest team, the high-flying Edmonton Oilers, Thursday as part of an important five-game homestand, Julien said the players must approach each game the way they're approaching their shifts after each goal.
"We talked about how important that was," Julien said Monday. "We'd won a couple of games in a row, and this was an opportunity to start the week off on the right foot and build through it. That's Stage 1 of the three stages we have to go through this week, so we need to focus on a young team that has a lot of explosiveness coming in on Thursday, and a team that's off to a really good start. No reason for us to kind of put ourselves in cruise now. We've just got to keep going and battling through it."
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.