BOSTON – It’s a rare occasion this year that the Bruins have found themselves trailing in the third period.
|Bruins winger Milan Lucic tied things up at three goals apiece when he beat Predators goalie Pekka Rinne with 1:07 left in regulation. (Getty)|
They’ve been behind at the start of the third period just 18 times, with a 6-11-1 record in those games, and entering Saturday’s game against Nashville had outscored opponents by a whopping 74-38 margin in the final frame.
So it had to seem like a given that the Bruins would run away with the matinee after Daniel Paille worked a nice give-and-go with Shawn Thornton to take a one-goal lead 2:55 into the third Saturday. By the same token, it seemed doubtful at best that the Bruins would come back after surrendering the next two goals.
Yet they kept digging, extended their shot advantage to 41-22, and forced overtime with Milan Lucic’s equalizer off a hard Rich Peverley rebound from the end boards behind Pekka Rinne, setting up Boston’s 4-3 shootout win.
Asked about the attitude on the Bruins’ bench after Nashville took a 3-2 lead on Mike Fisher’s wraparound backhander that inexplicably beat Tim Thomas, Shawn Thornton said it was simple.
“Positive. We knew we were playing the right way so we were fairly determined tonight,” Thornton said. “I think we did a pretty good job of not putting our heads down and trying to get back, and obviously (Rich Peverley) a great job getting it in there and (Lucic) burying that chance to get us back where we need to be.”
The Bruins entered the game in their worst slump since their dreadful October – though “slump” is a dramatic word for a 4-5-1 stretch over 10 games, compared to some of the lowest points of that first month – and last time out had been skated off the ice in a 6-0 loss at Buffalo.
The first period lead Patrice Bergeron staked the Bruins to with a shorthanded goal disappeared in the trail blazed by Shea Weber’s power play blast 7:32 into the second. And in the third, the Bruins looked headed for their fifth loss in seven games after Patric Hornqvist tied it midway through and Fisher gave Nashville the lead with 3:32 to go.
Yet positivity reigned, even when it looked like the game might slip away.
“We talked all game long about staying on the course we were on, and it worked out for us,” Lucic said.
With 1:07 to go, Peverley drove down the middle of the ice and fired a shot wide to Rinne’s left. The shot seemed to flummox the Finn, who went into a hard split trying to recover, and Lucic raced to the rebound off the end boards, backhanding it in to tie the game.
“Even when they’d score and tie the game, we just said, ‘Come on, we just got to go back,’” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “The only time I sensed that (was) when our momentum kind of slipped away a little bit in the second period is when they scored that power play goal, and it just kind of seemed to sink a little bit.
“But then it was important for us that we came back in the third and created a lead again, and when they scored it was about staying positive and making it happen, even when they made it 3-2. We were paying well enough that we couldn’t afford to hang our heads, and we had to battle through it. It could have, but we didn’t let it happen.”
The positivity paid off further in the shootout, with Tyler Seguin and Patrice Bergeron converting and Tim Thomas stopping Sergei Kostitsyn and Martin Erat to give the Bruins the victory.
Had it gone the other way, Julien suggested the Bruins still would have been happy with their effort – especially after two days of intense practice following the disastrous showing in Buffalo.
“I think that’s what we told our players before the game, that it would be a shame if we wasted all that good effort in the last two days and not come out with the same thing this afternoon,” he said. “I liked our game. Not what the score was, the game was a good one from our end. I’d say maybe for four or five minutes in the second period, near the end, they kind of seemed to pick up the momentum and take it away from us a little bit, but other than that, I thought we played a real solid 60-minute game.”
With 29 games left on the schedule and a tight playoff race ahead, the strong efforts need to come early and often over the final third of the season, Julien told his charges.
“As I was telling the players on the bench, we were playing so well, it was a 1-1 hockey game, it’s like, ‘This is what you’re going to be facing from here on in.’ We can’t expect to have blowouts like we did earlier in the season,” he said. “They’re going to be tight games, and we need to learn to win those types of games.”
Andrew Merritt can be reached at MerrittNEHJ@gmail.com