Bruins coach Claude Julien gave his players an unscheduled day off yesterday to rest their legs and minds with the hope their hands will return for tonight’s huge matchup against the Montreal Canadiens.

On Monday night, the B’s huffed and puffed and grinded their way to a 3-2 shootout win over a Toronto Maple Leafs team that no longer shakes in skates at the sight of black and gold.

We’ll find out tonight if the victory represented a real step forward or just a brief respite from their slump. While the Bruins again failed to capitalize on their many scoring chances, there was an urgency to their game that had been lacking. That needed desperation was brought to the forefront by the aggressive play of the defensemen.

From the outset, captain Zdeno Chara pushed the issue in the offensive zone, trying to take the play to the opponent. Andrew Ference, Dougie Hamilton and the rest of the blueliners followed suit. Aaron Johnson was the only defenseman not to register a shot on net, and he had maybe the best scoring chance when a loose puck came to him in the high slot and he sailed it over the net.

The offensive-zone play of the ‘D’ finally paid off in the third period when Hamilton went behind the Leafs net, beat Jake Gardiner in a puck battle and fed Patrice Bergeron for the equalizer.

“Every time you have a chance to support and maybe sometimes lead the attack, you have to do that,” Chara said after the game. “It’s not always easy on forwards, and that’s when you have to jump up and help them. (Monday night’s game) was a great example. We were trying to talk as much as we could, especially on the offensive side.”

Julien liked what he saw.

“It was good, we mentioned that on the bench,” said Julien, who should have the more spry team tonight considering Montreal played in Pittsburgh last night.