SUNRISE, FLORIDA — If the last two games are any indication of the direction that the Bruins are heading, they can surprise a lot of people.
During their first three games of the season, all losses, the Bruins allowed 16 goals. Tuukka Rask struggled, Matt Irwin (a minus-five in that span) was sent down to Providence and the rest of Boston’s blue line had a difficult time stopping opposing offenses.
Fast forward a few weeks later and you’ll find yourself watching a much different Bruins team, or a much different Rask and defense I should say.
On Tuesday, Rask and the Bruins defense put forth their best effort of the young season as they blanked the Arizona Coyotes, 6-0, for their first win inside of TD Garden in 2015-16. The shutout was Rask’s first of the season.
Equally as important as the win was, was the confidence gained by Rask and the six defensemen that are paid to make their goalies life easier. That confidence was on full display Friday night as the Bruins continued to stay hot with their third win in a row, and fifth win in their last six contests.
In their 3-1 win over the Panthers, the Bruins came out on their heels a bit, but Rask was up to the task. Facing six Panthers shots in the periods first 6:45, including breakaway chances by Nick Bjugstad and Quinton Howden, Rask kept the Black and Gold afloat in a game that could have easily seen Florida jump out to an early, multi-goal lead.
Instead, the Bruins would go on to score the game’s next three goals off the stick of Brad Marchand (twice) and Zdeno Chara.
“Yeah, I think in the first period I really felt that the chances we gave them are self-inflicted,” said Bruins head coach Claude Julien. “We kept giving them those opportunities by not making the best decisions, but he stood tall, and he allowed us to stay in the game at zero-zero and then we finally got that goal, and it gave us the lead. As you know, it’s always a good sign when you can get the lead on the road in the first period and work from there.”
Despite allowing a five-on-three power play goal to Bjugstad, the Bruins defense did their job, holding the Panthers to 14 shots through two periods and 32 overall.
After Jonas Gustavsson looked sharp in a 5-3 win over the New York Islanders a week ago, many wondered how a struggling Rask would respond.
Responded, he has.
Allowing just one goal in his last two games, both of which he has won, Rask is showing that his early season struggles are nothing to worry about. Rask’s confidence goes a long way not only for himself, but for the Bruins defensemen as well.
“Yeah you know these last two games he’s been great and when he is seeing the puck like he is right now it helps us because we’re not second guessing our decisions, so we know that if we do get caught being aggressive he’s there to back us up,” said Bruins blue-liner, Torey Krug who picked up his eighth assist of the season in the win. “So he’s been great for us these last couple of game.”
Defensively the Bruins have been much better. Gone of late has been the episodes of mass confusion in front of their own net. Gone of late has been the poor decisions with the puck that through the season’s first few games would often lead to the puck ending up in their own net.
All in all things are looking up for a surging Bruins team that seems to be more confident and comfortable in each game.
“I think we feel comfortable with both of our goalies,” said captain Zdeno Chara. “But obviously Tuukka is a guy who has more experience, and he’s that kind of guy that always takes it personally and when he is not playing well, he is doing everything he can to improve his game. We can see he is getting to that.”
Help could be on the way for the blue line as Dennis Seidenberg joined his teammates on the ice Thursday before they jetted south for two in the Sunshine State. The veteran defenseman is currently recovering from back surgery and will only help a young Bruins defensive core.