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The Hat Trick: Defense gets Bruins back on track

11.11.09 at 7:18 am ET
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Michael Ryder and goalie Tim Thomas celebrate the Bruins' 3-0 win over the Penguins Tuesday night. (AP)

Michael Ryder congratulates goalie Tim Thomas at the conclusion of the Bruins' 3-0 win over the Penguins Tuesday night. (AP)

It was sort of a frozen version of the tortoise and the hare.

While the Bruins meandered through the early season looking to build something resembling momentum, the Penguins swiftly began defense of their Stanley Cup championship by winning 11 of their first 13 games.

As the Bruins struggled to score goals and secure victories, the Pens were clicking and posting seven straight road wins to start the season.

But which team seems to be heading in the right direction now?

The Bruins’ 3-0 victory over the defending Cup champs Tuesday night marked the seventh straight game Boston has held the opposition to two goals or less.

With Tim Thomas making 27 saves — and his teammates blocking 22 more Pittsburgh shots — Boston was able to build on Saturday’s 4-2 win over Buffalo by shutting out the Penguins and securing its first back-to-back wins this season.

“It’s too bad it happened for the first time after 18 games, but tonight we showed if we play like we are right now, we can play extremely well,” said captain Zdeno Chara.

While the Bruins have started to round into form, the Penguins suddenly are not playing well. They have dropped three straight, failed to score in their past two games and given up 12 goals in the three losses.

Even when the Bruins were struggling to score, the team’s defense remained sound.

That defense will be the key as Boston looks to close the gap with the Penguins and Capitals atop the Eastern Conference.

“We had that little streak where we couldn’t score goals. It was frustrating for everybody, but the one positive we took out of that time was that we weren’t giving up much defensively,” Chara said. “We never got away from our game.”

Early season blowout losses to the Capitals and Ducks have given way to a return to the form that helped Boston generate the best goals-against average in the league last season.

“Everybody is always looking for a great start [to the season]. If it doesn’t happen, everybody starts to get down,” veteran Mark Recchi said. “But now we are starting to build something.  We’ve got that defensive structure, the offense is coming and we’re going to get some bodies back.”

While the Penguins were skating Tuesday without Evgeni Malkin, Maxime Talbot, Sergei Gonchar and Kris Letang, there was still plenty of firepower in the Pittsburgh lineup, led by Sidney Crosby.

Meanwhile, the Bruins will take the modest winning streak.

“It does [feel good],” Thomas said. “It’s something we’ve had a hard time getting this year and it’s something we talked about before this game, that we needed to start putting some wins together, and we were able to accomplish that tonight.”

Aside from a strong goaltending effort from Thomas, the Bruins’ commitment to blocking shots also was a big reason for the win.

“Our defense did a good job of fronting those. We had some big blocks, they’re a team that shoots well from the back,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said.  “They obviously have some talent up front to bang those loose pucks in. Our guys did a good job in that area.”

Here are two more things we learned from last night’s win.

HELP ARRIVES VIA THE BLUE LINE

It’s also probably not a coincidence that the Bruins’ modest wining streak has coincided with increased offense from the team’s defensemen.

Early in the second period Tuesday, Matt Hunwick bolted with the puck from the right point and cut sharply to the net. Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made the initial save, but Hunwick got the rebound on the opposite side of the crease and lofted in a backhand shot.

Although replay was needed to confirm it, the goal was Hunwick’s fourth of the season and his first point in seven games. Fellow defender Dennis Wideman picked up his first point in more than a month, assisting on the goal. Wideman also assisted on an empty-net goal by Patrice Bergeron in the final seconds.

Bruins defensemen have started to do their part to help the team generate much-needed offense.

“It’s good to see we are getting production from the back end,” said Chara, who netted his first of the season Saturday. Chara has three points in his last three games. Derek Morris has a pair of assists in his last three.

“That’s what we need to do, the defense has to help out [with scoring],” Chara said. “If there’s a chance to jump up, we have to do it.”

THAT RECCHI GUY ALSO CAN PASS THE PUCK

If you manage to score better than 500 NHL goals, there’s a good chance people will view you as a goal-scorer.

But Mark Recchi provided a pretty stark reminder he has plenty of skill passing the puck, too. His second-period strike from the B’s defensive zone leading to a breakaway goal by Daniel Paille was the 900th assist of his career and as sharp as pass you’ll see.

“He’s a tremendous, heads-up player,” Paille said. “He saw me there and it was a tape-to-tape pass, that’s how he is.”

Scoring milestones are nothing new to Recchi, a 21-year veteran with 1,448 points (548 goals, 900 assists), but he did have an interesting take on his achievement Tuesday.

“It took forever to get it,” joked Recchi, who had gone 10 games without an assist. “My kids have already texted me, they’re real happy for me more than anything. It’s kind of neat.”

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