TORONTO – Alex Auld’s new Boston Bruins teammates barely know him, but they cheered loudly when, with sweat dripping off his brow after his winning performance, he made his way into the dressing room.
Auld won his first start for the Bruins, 2-1 over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night, two days after they acquired him from Phoenix.
“That’s the great thing about hockey,” said Auld. “All the players know what different players go through and how tough it can be when you get bounced around.
“Everyone has been so welcoming. I didn’t know many guys on this team but everyone has made me feel right at home, and that’s great.”
Boston traded for the 26-year-old native of Thunder Bay, Ont., after Tim Thomas was injured. He was the backup in a 4-2 home loss to Montreal the day of the trade. To get his first start for the Bruins in Air Canada Centre was a treat.
“Coming from Ontario, it was the team I grew up watching,” said Auld. “It’s pretty special to come in here and get the win, and getting my first win with my new team feels great. It’s an awesome feeling.”
The six-foot-five goalie became expendable in Phoenix when the Coyotes acquired Ilya Bryzgalov from Anaheim last month. They sent Auld to the AHL team in San Antonio, Tex. His wife, who is 8 1-2 months pregnant, remains there.
The last 18 months have been frustrating, to say the least, for Auld.
“It’s been crazy pretty much, in all honesty, since I was traded to Florida (by Vancouver),” he explained. “It’s been so up and down”.
“You’ve just got to keep battling and believe in what you can do. That’s probably the biggest thing. You keep getting pushed down but you’ve got to bounce back up and keep showing what you can do.”
He was a healthy scratch in an AHL game last Sunday.
“It’s crazy the way things can go,” he said. “It’s great to be back in a league I believe I belong in.
“This is an opportunity I want to take full advantage of and prove to everyone that I belong here.”
Auld’s goaltending, suffocating checking and goals from Chuck Kobasew and Dennis Wideman earned the Bruins the victory.
“It was our best checking effort of the season,” said assistant coach Craig Ramsay.
Auld was told by the head coach during their initial briefing that he’d get plenty of checking support.
“That’s one of the first things Claude Julien told me when I joined the team, that it was going to be a system that was conducive to goaltenders,” said Auld. “That’s great”.
“There’s very little scrambling in our end. Even when we get hemmed in, we stay really poised. I felt good. I felt that I was seeing the puck well. That’s so important. Our system in our end makes it that much easier.
“The guys really collapse in front of the net and pick up the rebounds. That makes my job a little bit easier in that regard.”
Jason Blake scored the game’s first goal but that’s all the Leafs could muster. They outshot Boston 26-20 and might have beat the Bruins had their power play not gone 0-for-6.
It’s been a continuous problem for the Leafs, who entered the game ranked 28th in the league on manpower advantages. Boston was 1-for-4.
Vesa Toskala played well but was saddled with the goaltending loss. Toronto had won four in a row.
“It’s obviously frustrating,” Blake said of the loss. “We had some chances but (Auld) played great.
“We can’t let this loss linger too long. We’ve got a tough game against Tampa Bay on Monday night, and we’ve just got to get right back at it.”
The Bruins entered the game one point ahead of the Leafs and they’re three up now.
Every time a Leaf touched the puck, there was a Bruin all over him. With the Leafs trying to match the Bruins’ defensive diligence, there wasn’t much for the 19,441 eyewitnesses to cheer about.
“They’re a very defensive hockey team,” said Toskala. “They just sit back and wait for those turnovers.
“There were long periods where I didn’t touch the puck.”
Alexei Ponikarovsky couldn’t get a shot on Auld.
“That’s what the Boston team is all about,” he said. “They’re always trying to frustrate you and when they get the chance they just burst and go the other way and try to get odd-man rushes. They’re playing trap like (the) New Jersey Devils. It’s hard to get through in the neutral zone.”
It was Boston’s third straight win over Toronto this season. The Leafs haven’t beaten the Bruins since last Jan. 4.
“We knew what to expect,” said Kyle Wellwood. “They’d beaten us twice already playing that style, so we were really focused on beating them.
“We thought we played okay but the power play just didn’t come through. We weren’t skating fast enough and, when we were getting the puck, we were making bad decisions. We really need to start getting open for each other.”
Mats Sundin’s club-record points streak from the start of a season ended at 16 games.
Notes: Darcy Tucker was back in the lineup after sitting out the 6-2 win over the Rangers in New York on Thursday with a sore shoulder, but he remained ineffective. Tucker has paid a physical price for his aggressive play over the years and it is looking a lot like he has little left . . . The Bruins blocked 12 shots and the Leafs 6 . . . Blake’s four shots were the most by any Leaf and Marco Strum’s four were tops for Boston . . . C John Pohl and LW Bates Battaglia were healthy Leaf scratches . . . The Leafs’ average age is 29.4 years, and average size is six-feet-two and 209 pounds . . . Nik Antropov’s natural hat trick in the win in New York was the first by a Leaf since Sundin did it November 1998 . . . The Leafs stay home to play Tampa Bay on Monday. They then play seven consecutive road games beginning in Atlanta on Friday.