Something had to give Saturday afternoon.
In their last five games neither the Bruins nor the Islanders had lost a game. Boston at 3-0-2; New York a point better at 4-0-1. Add that in their last 10 games, both were also tight as ticks at 6-2-2 and 7-1-2.
Maybe that pesky stat stuck out most: Boston’s season-long struggle to get to .500 at home. Likely no better time than Game No. 70, given that six of the next seven contests are away from TD Garden, including next week’s grueling trek through San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles.
But, this is the year where that other significant stat has saved the season from total collapse: 23-7-3 on the road.
Boston led the NHL with six players scoring 45 or more points – Patrice Bergeron (61), Brad Marchand (54), David Krejci (51), Loui Eriksson (50), Lee Stempniak (47), and Ryan Spooner (45). Colorado and Dallas next with five each. While GM Don Sweeney’s swindling of Lee Stempniak and John-Michael Liles at the trade deadline helped to give the Bruins the most points (10) since.
Was Saturday a statement game before heading out Monday?
“I always don’t like those words, statements and stuff,” Julien said at his pregame press conference. “Play your game, and be the team that you want to be, with consistency on every night. You’d like to be a little bit better than you were the other night.
“Leaving home here with a win would be nice.”
Which Boston does in the 3-1 win. Here’s what we learned.
Finally, at 16-16-5 — .500 at home
It took 70 games — 37 at home – for Boston to get to .500 at home for the first time all season.
“It’s the right time,” Kevan Miller said about reaching .500, “and things need to kind of head toward that direction. I think we’ve put a pretty good emphasis on it; you know, the last 10 games.”
Loui gets Boston off and running
Eriksson got Boston off and running at 18:26 of the first period on the power play. Ryan Spooner sent a pass to a solo Eriksson at the left post. He waltzed around Thomas Greiss before slipping it past the Isles’ goaltender for his 26th of the season.
“He was patient on that,” Julien said about Eriksson’s goal. “He brought it right to the other side of the net and was able to slide it in.”
John Tavares tied the game at 10:48 of the second period with a backhand past Tuukka Rask on New York’s 10th shot on goal. Kyle Okposo assisted to give the team-leading duo 107 points so far.
With seconds left in the period — and just after the Iles missed a golden opportunity with a bang-bang play in Rask’s crease — the Islanders allowed David Krejci to go public skating in their end. Krejci, after a 360-degree twirl, found David Pastrnak alone from 10 feet out. A tape-to-tape pass ended in the back of the net for a 2-1 lead with just nine seconds left for Pastrnak’s 11th of the season.
“It’s about playing the game the proper way at the right time,” Julien said about his talented 19-year-old. “He’s learning that part of it and tonight I thought he was better than he had been some of these other nights where I had to take some of his ice time away, but he’s learning, and we are going to stick with him and continue to give him opportunities to get better.”
When leading after two periods, Boston was 24-4-1 this season with only 14 losses in their last 193 games.
With the Islanders poised to pull Greiss, they turned it over and Pastrnak launched a rocket for his 12th payday at 17:26 to ice the game with Eriksson assisting.
Fourth line makes a statement
Since Sweeney gave the call to Noel Acciari to join the team from Providence — while signing Stempniak and shipping Zac Rinaldo out of town — Julien shifted Stempniak into Brett Connolly’s slot on the first line with Begeron and Marchand. While Connolly, Acciari and Landon Ferraro have been developing into a consistent unit through six games together.
“It’s been good so far,” Ferraro said about his line’s progress. “We just need to make sure that we keep that going, don’t get too comfortable or start trying to do too much. Make sure that we get our chances but we get the pucks out.”
Against arguably the best fourth line in the NHL, Saturday’s matchup was their biggest test thus far.
“They are getting used to playing with each other,” Julien said postgame. “I think Noel [Acciari] is doing a great job in our d-zone as far as really being reliable, closing quickly. On the offensive side, those other two guys are skating and creating some opportunities there. I knew tonight was probably going to be one of their biggest tests. The Islanders fourth line is probably arguably one of the best in the league, production wise, and I thought they held their own tonight.”
Miller – and Boychuk – return
The Bruins welcomed Miller back after missing three games with a shoulder injury, while the fans welcomed favorite Johnny Boychuk. In 55 games with the Isles, he has seven goals and 15 assists for 22 points and a plus-15. The Bruins were leaning on Miller to fill Boychuk’s skates. Miller, a 5-13-18 total with an identical plus-15 in 60 games.
7th Player vote begins
Voting began Saturday for NESN’s 7th Player Award that goes to the Bruins player who has performed above and beyond expectations. Last year, David Pastrnak was named the winner. Seems a wide-open field for the 2016 award with Adam McQuaid and Ryan Spooner the leading candidates.
The road ahead
So, here we are on March 12 and Boston is in first place with a long road trip to California ahead.
“We’ll bring our ‘A’ game,” Eriksson assured. “We get started against San Jose on Tuesday, so everyone’s looking forward to that one.”