EDMONTON, Alberta — The Boston Bruins barely had enough gas to make it to the finish line, but they still managed to get there two goals faster than the Edmonton Oilers.
The injured and flu-stricken Bruins were seriously short-staffed when they arrived in Edmonton, but summoned enough energy to build a 3-0 lead and cling to it for dear life, and the final 40 minutes of a 4-2 victory at Rexall Place.
“I told the guys that they would come back hard on us,” said Boston coach Claude Julien. “I didn’t like the goals we gave up for what we expect of our team. They were sloppy, but credit to them. They skated and showed their skill level and gave us a really tough game.
“At the end we were just hanging on. Our bench is short and we have been struggling with the health of our team and you could see that it was a matter of winning it in regulation or I don’t think we come out of here with a win.”
A game between the first place team in the East (Boston is 22-8-2) and last place in the West (the Oilers are 11-19-3) wasn’t the blowout many predicted.
The Oilers fought back to make it 3-2 after 40 minutes and pressed furiously in the third, out-shooting Boston 13-3, but couldn’t complete the last step of the comeback. It wasn’t over until right winger Jarome Iginla sealed it into an empty net with 44 seconds left in the game.
“We had a great start to the game, but you have to give the Oilers credit,” said Iginla. “They are a dynamic young team and they create lots of chances. When they start feeling it, they can really get it going.
“But we also probably didn’t have the same legs we have had at different times. The most important thing is that we found a way to win a game that wasn’t perfect or that pretty.”
After going 7-3-1 in their previous 11 starts, the Oilers were anxious to see how they stood up against one of the better teams in the NHL.
They didn’t like the answer much in the first period, as Boston scored three goals in less than eight minutes to put the home team in an early hole.
The Bruins opened with a lucky one, defenceman Dennis Seidenberg’s floater from the blue line at 10:25, made it 2-0 on a bullet of a one-timer from Iginla at 16:11 and took a 3-0 lead into the first intermission when right winger Brad Marchand scored short-handed at 18:17.
The Oilers have given up a league-leading seven short-handed goals this season.
“I don’t know if we won a single battle in the first period,” said Oilers coach Dallas Eakins. “I don’t know if we thought, ‘It’s the Boston Bruins, they’re one of the top teams in the league, we have to be cautious,’ or what. But you can’t play cautious against anybody or you’ll get killed.”
Goaltender Devan Dubnyk got the hook during the first intermission, leaving back-up Jason LaBarbera to mop up the final 40 minutes.
“I just thought it was time for a change,” said Eakins. “It wasn’t a mercy pull, it wasn’t because that first one went in from far out. I just thought we needed a change. Usually that change gives everyone a kick in the butt.”
It appeared to, as Edmonton fought back hard in the second period, led by left winger David Perron, who has been the heart and soul of Edmonton’s recent surge.
Perron closed the gap to 3-1 at 3:25 and made it a one-goal game with his second of the night at 17:27 to set up the third period drama.
“We played with them in the second and the third, and I actually thought our first wasn’t as bad as the score looked,” said Perron, pointing out that Edmonton had 41 shots in the loss. “It was frustrating that we weren’t able to come all the way back. I think the most frustrating thing was hitting the post in the last minute. I think I’m going to have nightmares about that one.”