Sometimes in hockey, offense sets the tone for a game early. Sometimes, defense does. In Thursday night’s tilt, it was just hard work that set the tone.
Two first-period Toronto penalties led to Bruins goals and Chris Kelly’s work sticking with the puck late in the period made it a 3-1 advantage for the Black and Gold heading into the first intermission as they took advantage of a tired Toronto team that didn’t get to Boston until nearly 3 AM Thursday morning.
Claude Julien’s new lines sparkled early, with the Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Nathan Horton line dominating physically and outpacing the Leafs, who struggled to possess the puck through all three zones for most of the period.
But it was the return of David Krejci to the Bruins’ rotation at center that had perhaps the biggest impact. Krejci, looking ready to make up for lost time, won seven of his eight first-period faceoffs and was third among Bruins’ forwards in time on ice in the period.
As the game went on, Toronto wasn’t able to find the legs that carried them the previous night to a come-from-behind victory over the Jets. The second period was sloppy and the third period, save for a way-too-late goal from Mikhail Grabovski just got away from them, the way games usually get away from teams that don’t play much defense.
In a matter of minutes, Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin all tallied goals to quiet their naysayers and put the game well in hand heading into the final eight minutes of play.
It was a night that started tenuously for the Bruins, but wound up being a statement game. Down early, the Big, Bad B’s beat up a smaller team, out-skated a more tired team and just out-worked a less disciplined team.
We’ve said for the past two weeks that the first couple weeks aren’t enough time to tell just how good this team will be. But as long as we’re dealing with small sample sizes, after tonight’s composting of the Leafs, it’s just as easy to say that the Bruins – last year’s Bruins, the Stanley Cup Champion Bruins – are back.