BOSTON -- Even before the Boston Bruins posted a 4-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals Wednesday night at TD Garden, Bruins coach Claude Julien said he felt the team was more focused than it has been in a while.
Most coaches would say that about their team after a win like this, but the Bruins showcased that focus throughout the lineup en route to victory. This was the team and the style of play we've come to expect -- but haven't seen -- for much of the lockout-shortened season.
For the first game of the series, the Bruins showed up and played their successful brand of hockey. Similar to the Stanley Cup run in 2011, Boston had contributions from each line and also received solid goaltending.
"We haven't had many of those, but it felt good -- the full 60 minutes," Bruins forward David Krejci said. "We got good play from all four lines. We've got to just keep going."
"When David is skating and he's also pretty intense, he's not afraid to finish his hits, not afraid to go into the corner and battle for pucks, because he's one of those players that fears nothing -- he never has," Bruins coach Claude Julien said.
"When he really gets his mind set to compete hard and get involved, he's a really great player. He's been pretty good lately and not just tonight but before that, so I felt his game turned a corner as well. He was getting better and he was good again tonight."
Boston's top line will get most of the credit, but before anyone goes gushing over that line's offensive spark, props must be given to the team's energy line of Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton.
Time and again, that trio wore down Toronto's defense with a fierce forecheck. That line's job is to create energy or change momentum when needed, and at one point in particular, with Boston holding a 2-1 lead in the second period, Paille, Campbell and Thornton applied such sustained pressure on Toronto that it couldn't change lines. That allowed Boston's top trio to jump on the ice and capitalize when Krejci scored at 10:25 for a critical 3-1 advantage.
"It's part of our job to be an energetic line," Campbell said. "It's not necessarily about contributing on the scoreboard, but we had that shift and it translated into the next shift. If we can do that, it's part of the job."
Normally in the playoffs, Julien does not single out any individual or line. He always gives a "we're a team" speech after both wins and losses. But given the Bruins' all-around success in Game 1, the coach gave credit where credit was due.
"That line seems to relish that role," Julien said of the energy line. "They get excited and pumped for playoff hockey. They really enjoy the role that's given to them."
Julien revisited the job that line did against the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup finals in 2011 when he matched the trio against the opponent's top line that included the Sedin twins.
"That's how much confidence I had in them," Julien said. "When they're at the top of their game and they play a smart game, most of the time they keep the other lines bottled in their D zone. They certainly helped us."
As any good coach would, Julien then credited the rest of the team.
"At the same time, I thought our other lines did a great job, so it was a real good effort on our part to have all the lines contributing the way they were," he said. "I didn't feel like our team sagged at any time in the game and we kept the tempo and control where we wanted it."
For the past two weeks, despite the team's inconsistent play and struggles, Julien said time and again he felt things were turning around. Through it all, he tweaked his lineup and tried just about everything to help snap his team out of its funk. Maybe the arrival of the Stanley Cup playoffs was all the Bruins needed.
"We were playing better," Julien said. "We weren't getting rewarded with the wins, but you could see us turning the corner. Today our guys were focused. They were ready. At the same time, we've been here before and there's some experience behind it. I thought we played a solid game."
Boston's playoff experience showed. Every player in the lineup Wednesday night has playoff experience, while 12 players for Toronto made their postseason debuts. This was a typical playoff game. It was fast. It was physical. The level of play seemed like it caught the Maple Leafs by surprise. It was as though they weren't mentally prepared for this type of game.
"Our group has been a pretty resilient group all year," Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said. "We've had performances that we're not happy with, and there's always going to be a concern. The one thing that's in the back of our minds, it's we know we can play better than we did tonight. We've got to practice and play at a higher level than we did tonight, that's for sure."
Other than defenseman Wade Redden, who scored Boston's first goal, and forwards Kaspars Daugavins and Jaromir Jagr, every other Bruin in Wednesday's lineup has played together in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Jagr, a future Hall of Famer, said after the regular season ended that he was still waiting to see how good this team could be.
He saw it Wednesday, but also was realistic in his description of the performance.
"It's only one game," Jagr said. "We have it in our hands, so it's the best scenario you can have. We didn't have the start we wanted to when they scored the power-play goal right away, but after that we stuck to our plan and we had four lines and that's important in the playoffs. Every line had a job to do, and they did it and that's the way it should be."
Because the Bruins had a three-goal lead in the third period, Julien did not have to shorten his bench and still was able to roll out four lines, which likely will prove crucial in terms of preserving some of the players' energy for the rest of the series.
"It was an opportunity to utilize my bench a little bit more," Julien said.
From a physical standpoint, both teams were trying to get the edge. When the Maple Leafs tried to send a message, the Bruins responded. In the waning minutes of the game, with the outcome no longer in doubt, the Leafs' James Van Riemsdyk caught Bruins forward Brad Marchand with his stick.
"He speared me in the privates so I kind of reacted, plain and simple," Marchand said. "It's the end of the game, we're up by a couple of goals and I think they were just trying to send a message, but that stuff happens in hockey."
It certainly will happen in the Stanley Cup playoffs and neither coach complained about the physical aspect of the game.
"This is playoff hockey and two tough teams playing each other and whatever happens out there on the ice, we've been pretty good at handling that stuff. That stuff doesn't bother us," Julien said. "We've been on the other side of it and whether it was message-sending, or whatever the case is, it doesn't really matter.
"I thought our team reacted well and defended our team when we had to and we were disciplined when we had to be. That's all that matters right now and we're certainly not going to get into crying about the other team. It was a good, hard-fought game tonight."
If the Bruins are looking to build off this early momentum, they'll have to wait another until Saturday night before Game 2 at TD Garden. It was a good start for Boston, the type of game it has been searching for all season.
"We were a focused team from start to finish," Julien said simply.