The Bruins had every reason to come out swinging. They had lost five of their last six. They were embarrassed against their heated rivals hosting the Winter Classic. They were slowly declining down the standings.
Friday's showing was anything but a letdown.
The Bruins started their five-game road trip with an emphatic win over the New Jersey Devils, 4-1, at the Prudential Center. Boston took advantaged of a depleted Devils roster and shared the workload, with goals coming from Frank Vatrano, Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes, and Colin Miller. Jonas Gustavsson, making his first start since Dec. 26, earned the win with 19 saves.
Spooner gave the Bruins a 2-0 lead at 4:49 of the second. Dennis Seidenberg sent the puck down deep in the offensive zone riding around the wall. From the left side of the ice, Zach Trotman pounced on the wall and rubbed off Stefan Matteau and caused a turnover. The play created space for Spooner to control the puck and work off the check to carry the puck from nearly the point. Matt Beleskey was able to position himself with net-front presence ahead of Cory Schneider and screened the goaltender as the puck sailed into the net.
The Devils made it a one-goal game moments later at 11:57. Bobby Franham took advantage of an up ice Zdeno Chara and a chasing Miller to break away for an odd-man rush. Franham snapped a wrist shot from his weak side past Gustavsson for his only blemish.
Boston's net-front presence was active again for Hayes' goal at 18:35 on the power play. With Paul Thompson serving a tripping penalty, Chara sent a slapper through a cluster of bodies that redirected off Hayes' stick past Schneider to make it a 3-1 game heading into the final period.
The Bruins controlled the first period by dominating the boards and netting the only goal of the period. The third line, which outplayed New Jersey's third pairing of Stefan Matteau - Jim O'Brien - Paul Thompson, started the scoring sequence. Joonas Kemppainen carried the puck into the offensive zone and delivered it to Hayes. Schneider controlled Hayes' shot, but Miller controlled the rebound and carried with him four Devils defensemen into the high slot. Miller put another shot on Schneider, but was also turned away.
Miller ripped a third shot on Schneider after Eric Gelinas tried to clear the puck off the left-side boards. Vatrano was able to crash the net and break free from Stephen Gionta to score off the rebound at 2:02.
The Devils, missing seven starters with injuries, were outworked and outpaced against the Bruins missing the likes of Patrik Elias, Michael Cammalleri, Tyler Kennedy, Tuomo Ruutu, David Schlemko, John Moore, and Ryane Clowe
The win puts the Bruins ahead of New Jersey with the No. 1 wild card spot. The Bruins will next play Ottawa on Saturday in the second game of their five-game road trip.
Christopher Bokum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisBokum