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Monday, February 23, 2015

Just As Nobody Predicted: Bruins End Nightmare Road Trip with 6-2 Blowout Win in Chicago

There are a million reasons why we watch sports: the competition, escape, entertainment, etc. However, today's Bruins-Blackhawks game was another underrated point: the unexpected. Riding a season-long six-game losing streak (0-4-2) into Chicago (35-20-5), Boston (29-21-9) closed out its brutal five-game road trip with a thrilling 6-2 victory this afternoon at the United Center. To say that no one saw that result coming would be the understatement of the season. Also, I really don't think that it is hyperbole (something I despise) to say that this win could have saved (at least temporarily) Boston's season.

So how did the B's do it? They knocked off one of the top teams in the NHL by getting the type of team-wide production (six different goal-scorers, 12 guys with points) that they have been missing for most of this up and down campaign. Boston scored a season-high in goals and tied for their biggest win (4-0 at Buffalo on Oct. 18) while tying the most goals that Chicago has allowed and their largest margin of defeat. The amazing part is that they did all that without the services of David Krejci who is out with his "upper-body" (knee?) injury.

The Bruins jumped out to a 1-0 lead just three minutes into the game as Patrice Bergeron crashed the net to re-direct a beautiful spinning backhand pass from Reilly Smith. Brad Marchand had the second assist on Bergeron's team-leading (tied with Marchand) 17th goal of the season. It was 2-0 at 14:03 as Loui Eriksson tipped in Torey Krug's shot for a power-play goal. Dougie Hamilton had the second assist on Eriksson's 14th goal of the season.

Everything has been a chore lately for the B's so naturally we expected the worst when Tuukka Rask (26 saves) took a penalty with eight seconds left in the first for delay of game (going outside of the lines behind the net). Jonathan Toews scored with two seconds left, the power-play goal cutting it to 2-1. What felt even more frustrating (maybe) was that Rask was tagged with yet another penalty after slamming his stick against the post following Toews' 17th goal of the season (assisted by Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith). Kris Versteeg took a Canadiens-like flop after Rask's stick barely touched him. Honestly, he should be fined for that garbage.

Luckily Boston killed off that second penalty on Rask and they used that momentum to hit Chicago with four goals in the second period. That's right, the Bruins outscored the Blackhawks 4-0 in the second on their home ice. Shocking, I know. Milan Lucic snapped a seven-game goalless streak by batting the puck in from close range at 6:18. His 12th goal of the season was assisted by David Pastrnak and Ryan Spooner (who was called up today from Providence while Malcolm Subban was sent down). Adam McQuaid and Daniel Carcillo had a lengthy bout shortly after that but it didn't spark Chicago one bit. In fact, Gregory Campbell scored from the slot (his 6th goal of the season) at 12:19 from Brian Ferlin and Dennis Seidenberg which ended Corey Crawford's day (10 saves) a tad early.

Poor Antti Raanta (14 saves) wasn't much help either as he gave up a soft goal to Dougie Hamilton at 17:27 (his 10th of the season, 5th on the PP) from Bergeron. Then Smith answered Chicago's last-second goal from the first with his own with four seconds left in the frame. His 12th of the season, from Bergeron, gave Boston an incredible 6-1 lead after two periods. Haha still given the way that they had blown a three-goal lead earlier in the trip at Calgary, B's fans didn't feel safe until there was only a few minutes left in regulation.

Bryan Bickell had a garbage goal in the third period for the Blackhawks but nothing at that point could derail some long overdue happiness for the Black and Gold. The trade deadline is a week from tomorrow so who knows if this saved any Bruins' jobs or not? After two weeks away, they finally return to TD Garden on Tuesday (7, NESN) to play Vancouver (34-22-3) who blew them out 5-2 to start the trip on Feb. 13. However, their star goaltender Ryan Miller got hurt today vs. Islanders so it looks like he'll miss that one. After that, Boston goes to New Jersey (24-26-9) on Friday (7, NESN) then hosts Arizona (20-32-7) on Saturday (5:30, NESN). I'm not predicting a win-streak here for the Bruins but let's admit this looks like a favorable week for them-on paper at least.

Florida is three points behind Boston for eighth-place in the Eastern Conference and Philadelphia has closed to within four (although they've played one more game) so every point is vital from here on out. Today was proof that the B's still have something left, now the question is how to bring that type of effort more consistently.

UPDATE 2/24: Many injuries to report for the Bruins. Kevan Miller is done for the season after shoulder surgery, Krejci is out for 4-6 weeks with a partially torn MCL in his left knee and Gregory Campbell is out for a week (or more?) with an upper-body injury.

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