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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Down 4-3 Going Into the 3rd Period, the B's Rally For a Thrilling 7-4 Game 7 Win vs. the Leafs

Survive and advance, that's all that matters in the NHL playoffs. In a first-round series that featured more twists and turns than a road in San Francisco, the Bruins outlasted the Maple Leafs 7-4 in Game 7 tonight at TD Garden. Toronto scored first (the team scoring 1st had been 5-1) and actually led 4-3 going into the third period (teams leading after 2 had been 3-0 in the series) but they couldn't hang on as Boston followed up probably its worst frame of the season with undoubtedly the best, outscoring the stunned Leafs 4-0 to advance to the second round vs. top-seeded Tampa Bay. Game 1 is Saturday afternoon at 3 pm on NBC from Tampa Bay.

This was the only Game 7 in the first round of the playoffs this year and it certainly lived up to the sizable hype. The first period was bonkers as it featured five goals and non-stop highlight reel plays. Patrick Marleau gave Toronto a 1-0 lead just 2:05 into regulation as he tipped in a Jake Gardiner shot for a power play goal. William Nylander had the second assist on Marleau's third goal of the series. Countless times in this airtight series, the Leafs had scored right after the B's had lit the lamp. This time, Boston turned the tables on them as Jake DeBrusk scored a power play goal at 4:47. He tipped in a shot/pass by David Pastrnak for his fourth goal of the series with David Krejci notching the second assist.

An ugly turnover by Torey Krug in his own end led to another goal by Marleau at 6:12 of the first. Mitch Marner extended his point-streak to six games with the lone assist on the tally. Rookie Danton Heinen subbed in for veteran Tommy Wingels in Game 7 and Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy's instinctual move paid off immediately as Heinen tied things at two at 9:10 of the first. Krejci and Rick Nash had the assists on Heinen's first career playoff goal. Patrice Bergeron gave Boston its first lead of the night at 19:23 of the first after Kevan Miller smartly shot the puck intentionally wide of the net for Bergy to tap it in. His first goal of the series was also assisted by David Backes.

Both Tuukka Rask (20 saves) and Frederik Andersen (29 saves) got off to rough starts in this do-or-die tilt but only Boston's goaltender was able to recover in time. It also helped that Boston's defense wasn't the complete sieve that Toronto's was for much of the series (particularly at the Garden). The Leafs tied it at three as Travis Dermott's shot through traffic found its way into the net for his first career NHL playoff goal at 2:07 of the second period. The ghost of Roman Polak (who was a stiff to begin with) and Nylander had the assists on another goal that Rask really didn't have much of a chance to stop. Things really weren't going Boston's way as they squandered a power play opportunity and even worse, Kasperi Kapanen skated in on a breakaway (after Brad Marchand fell down) before beating Rask for a shorthanded goal (his 1st of the series) and 4-3 advantage at 6:05.

With their season on the line and on the verge of blowing a 3-1 lead in the series, the B's showed their mettle and winning mentality with a third period for the history books. Torey Krug tied it at four with a blast from the point, his second goal of the series was assisted by Miller and Bergeron. Boston never looked back from there as DeBrusk put his team ahead for good with an unforgettable speed rush up the right side. He got his shot off before Jake Gardiner crushed him but I'm sure he didn't care one bit as the Bruins were up 5-4 at 5:25 of the third period. Krejci recorded his third assist on what has to be the biggest goal of DeBrusk's young life. Pasta had started off the series so brilliantly so it was poetic that he also ended it (basically) with another sick goal. Boston's top line had been held scoreless for Games 5 and 6 but they all came to play in Game 7. Pasta's fifth goal of the series, from Bergeron and Marchand came at 11:39 as it gave the Bruins a 6-4 lead. Marchand's empty-netter with 50.9 seconds left in the contest allowed Bruins fans around New England, the United States and the world to finally exhale. On the other side, the Leafs continued to be some of the biggest big game losers in the NHL-year after year and decade after decade (their last Stanley Cup came in 1967).

As crazy as it sounds, I'm actually more confident for the Bruins heading into this meeting with the Lightning since they simply match up better with their other Atlantic Division rival (Boston went 3-1 vs TB in the regular season) that reached the playoffs in 2017-18. Game 2 is on Monday (7, NBCSN) with Games 3 and 4 coming back to Boston on Wednesday (7, NBCSN) and Friday (7, NBCSN). This was Boston's first playoff series win since 2014 and you'll remember that in that campaign, they fell in seven games to Montreal in the second round despite having won the meaningless Presidents Trophy. Pittsburgh vs. Washington is the other Eastern Conference series with Las Vegas-San Jose and Winnipeg-Nashville in the Western Conference. At least on paper, all of those series have the potential to be classics.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Maple Leafs Never Trailed In Game 5, Stave Off Elimination With a White-Knuckle 4-3 Victory

Unlike the NBA playoffs where most teams pack it in when they are down two or three games, they say that the toughest thing to do in the NHL playoffs is to eliminate a team and while that old adage is somewhat flawed, it was definitely the case on Saturday night at TD Garden as Toronto beat Boston 4-3 to cut the Bruins' series lead to 3-2. Game 6 shifts back to the Air Canada Centre on Monday (7, NESN). When you look at the final stats, it's hard to believe that the B's lost: they outshot the Leafs 45-21 (including 20-5 in the 3rd) and had six power plays to one for Toronto.

Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen (42 saves, 2nd win of the series) was the star for Toronto and he was also helped by the fact that his teammates gave him multiple two-goal leads (2-0 and 3-1) and even a three-goal advantage to play with (4-1). You couldn't help but think of the epic 2013 playoff series between these clubs as Boston cut it to 4-3 early in the third period on Noel Acciari's goal but it wasn't to be as the Leafs held on for the improbable win. After Tuukka Rask was so brilliant in Game 4 (31 saves), it was only befitting of the roller coaster nature of the postseason that the next time out he was nothing like that. He made nine saves and allowed four goals before being pulled although to be fair, you can't really fault him for any of those tallies. At that point, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy was just looking for a way to spark his club and it helped as Anton Khudobin stopped all eight shots he faced in his NHL playoff debut. Before you can say goalie controversy, there is no doubt in the universe that Rask will start Game 6. Haha hopefully playing half of Game 5 will give him a little more energy.

The team that has scored the first goal has won every game of the series and that continued this evening as Connor Brown notched his first career NHL playoff goal at 6:36 of the first period. He batted the puck out of mid-air, assisted by Auston Matthews and Zach Hyman. Before the Bruins knew what hit them, it was 2-0 Toronto as Andreas Johnsson also bagged his first career playoff goal, assisted by Nazem Kadri (who returned from being suspended for Games 2-4) and Jake Gardiner at 10:12. Boston had only trailed once after the first period in the series and that came in Game 3 (their only loss).

The B's had outshot Toronto 15-6 in the first period but things seem to break their way when Jake DeBrusk's shot went wide of the net but David Backes was there to tap it in for an easy power play goal at 9:45 of the second period. Backes' second goal of the series was also assisted by Torey Krug. The problem was that Toronto responded 51 seconds later with a tally from Tyler Bozak (his 2nd of the series), assisted by Morgan Rielly and James van Riemsdyk. It was a backbreaking goal for the B's after it looked like they had swung the momentum back in their favor. JVR roofed one past Rask at 11:55 of the second which ended Rask's night (he basically sprinted to Boston's dressing room after getting off the ice). Mitch Marner (who's been Toronto's best player all series) and Bozak had the helpers on what turned out to be a game-winning goal for the UNH product (JVR).

Sean Kuraly potted a one-timer off a nifty backhander feed from Matt Grzelcyk at 17:18 of the second period. Kuraly's second goal of the series was also assisted by Acciari. Toronto was their own worst enemy for much of this contest as they repeatedly got stupid penalties to put Boston's top ranked power play (in the postseason) back on the ice. In fact, they survived a two-man advantage for 1:34 that ended shortly before Kuraly's goal. Boston was down two goals headed into the third period but with 33 seconds remaining on yet another power play, they had more than a flicker of hope. Boston couldn't have dominated the third in every facet (except on the scoreboard) any more as they outshot Toronto 20-5. Andersen didn't exactly make every save look routine or easy but credit to him for getting the job done. Acciari's classic fourth-liner goal (his 1st of the series; assisted by Tim Schaller and Krug) at 5:58 cut it to 4-3 Leafs but that's how it would end.

Tampa Bay did their job earlier today by knocking out New Jersey (3-1 in Game 5) when they had the first opportunity to do so. That means that regardless of who wins this series, the Lightning are looking at a few days off in the Florida sun. That doesn't sound so bad, huh? You could say that Rask and the B's stole Game 4 in Toronto and despite all the big leads, I think you could also say the same for the Leafs in Game 5. It was in Boston's best interest to end things tonight so needless to say, they really want no part of a Game 7 even though it would be back in Boston on Wednesday. When you have a chance end a series, you have to go for it (see: Winnipeg last night vs. Minnesota).

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Behind Pastrnak's Transcendent Night (3 goals, 3 assists), B's Take a 2-0 Lead In the Series vs. Leafs

It can't possibly be this easy right? Through the first two games of what was expected to be a very tight, competitive series, the Bruins have looked like world-beaters while the Maple Leafs have been anything but ready for primetime. Similar to Game 1, tonight in Game 2 Boston won by four goals yet again (7-3) but this was a little spicier dish at TD Garden as David Pastrnak (3 goals, 3 assists) had the first six-point performance by a Bruin in the playoffs since Rick Middleton (2 goals, 4 assists) on April 18, 1983 vs. Buffalo. The B's took a 2-0 series lead as similar themes from Thursday continued: Boston's power play is unstoppable (2-for-4 tonight and 5-for-10 in the series) and the same can be said for their top line of Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron (4 assists) and Brad Marchand (4 assists) who have already combined for 20 (!) points.

Minus forward Nazem Kadri who was suspended three games for his gutless hit on Tommy Wingels in Game 1, you figured that Toronto would respond with a more solid performance. Haha not so much as the Bruins scored four goals in the first 15 minutes of the contest and they simply cruised from there. Pasta began his bonanza with a sweet spin-o-rama into a backhander for a 1-0 B's lead at 5:26. Torey Krug (3 assists) and Bergeron had the helpers on that highlight reel tally. Jake DeBrusk went hard to the net and was rewarded with his first career NHL playoff goal at 9:46, tipping in a zipped pass from Krug with Bergeron picking up the second assist. Before you could blink, it was 3-0 Bruins at 12:13 as Kevan Miller bagged his first career playoff goal by throwing the puck toward the net and watching it go in off of Nikita Zaitsev's skate. That was all she wrote for Frederik Andersen who faced five shots on goal and saw three of them go by him. Backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney (4 goals allowed, 23 saves) did not fare much better so I'm sure that Leafs head coach Mike Babcock will go back to Andersen to start the must-win Game 3 on Monday (7, NESN) at Air Canada Centre.

DeBrusk's goal was on the power play and Boston's man advantage cashed in again as Rick Nash deposited your garden variety rebound at 15:00 of the first. Nash's first career playoff goal as a Bruin was assisted by Pastrnak and Krug. Toronto actually outplayed Boston in the second period (outshooting them 16-14) and outscored them 2-1 but Tuukka Rask (30 saves) made enough quality stops to keep the B's safely in front. Mitch Marner got the Maple Leafs on the board at 1:22 of the second when he re-directed a pass from Zach Hyman for his first goal of the postseason. David Krejci restored that four-goal Boston lead a few minutes later as he tipped in a shot by Pastrnak for his second goal of the postseason with Marchand providing the second assist. Toronto played with an urgency that they lacked for the first four periods of the series and Tyler Bozak notched his first goal of the playoffs with a sneaky little one-timer from Connor Brown and Morgan Rielly at 9:02 of the second.

Things got a little loose in the third period as Maple Leafs left wing Leo Komarov left with an upper-body injury. Pastrnak completed his hat trick, sandwiched around a meaningless power play goal by James van Riemsdyk (his 1st goal of the series). Anybody seen Auston Matthews? The young Leafs superstar was -2 and so far, he has been held without a point in the first two games. Pasta's hat trick was the first by a Bruin in the playoffs since Krejci did the deed on May 8, 2013 vs. Toronto.

At some point, the real Maple Leafs are going to show up in this series. Maybe? All the pressure is on them now since Boston held serve at home with authority. Things could quickly change if Toronto can win Game 3 and climb back from this pit of misery. However, if the B's can find a way to pull out a victory on Monday, it feels like the Leafs will fold up shop and get ready for the off-season. We were all so scared of this team and thus far, they have been nothing but frauds. What happens in Game 3 should tell us plenty about the mental makeup of the Toronto since all Boston really needs is a split North of the border to return here with a chance to close things out in a Game 5 on Saturday.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Bruins Rolled to a Surprisingly Easy 5-1 Victory in Game 1 of the 1st Round vs. Maple Leafs

The easiest thing to do after a blowout win (especially in the playoffs) is to overreact and think that things will continue to be that easy. Haha yeah right dummy, get real. The first round of the 2018 NHL playoffs began for the Bruins tonight at TD Garden and what was expected to be a tight contest turned into a laugher as they drubbed the Maple Leafs 5-1. After Toronto tied it late in the first period, Boston took off with a pair of goals in the second period and another pair in the third. The Bruins power play was humming to the tune of 3-for-6 while their penalty kill was 3-for-3.

Leafs center Nazem Kadri should be hearing from the NHL's Department of Player Safety as he destroyed Tommy Wingels in the third period with a very dirty and reckless hit along the boards that was ruled to be charging (major) and a 10-minute game misconduct. Wingels didn't return and it doesn't take a doctor to guess that he probably suffered a concussion (hello, Ryan Donato). Toronto's goaltender Frederik Andersen (35 saves) entered with a 10-1-0 all-time record against Boston but like his teammates, he just wasn't up to the task in Game 1. The Bruins had lost their last three games in the regular season but a few days off seemed to put plenty of jump back in their collective steps. Another reason that the meetings earlier this year probably mean very little: Toronto had been 3-1 against the B's before this evening.

Boston's top forward line of Brad Marchand (goal, assist), Patrice Bergeron (assist) and David Pastrnak (goal, 2 assists) was dominant all night. Marchand entered with no goals in his last 16 home playoff games but he put that lengthy drought to bed quickly with a pretty backhander just 5:28 into the first period. Torey Krug and Pastrnak had the assists on Marchand's 18th career playoff tally and first power play strike of the tilt. The Maple Leafs tied it on a similar goal at 16:52 of the first: a backhander by Zach Hyman after he sped past David Krejci and Charlie McAvoy. Connor Brown and Morgan Rielly (who spells it like that?) had the assists on what turned out to be high-powered Toronto's only goal. After that, the Bruins' superior defense and goaltender Tuukka Rask (26 saves) locked things down.

Boston outshot Toronto 9-7 in the even first frame but they started to take control in the second by outshooting their Original Six foe 16-11. David Backes put the B's ahead for good at 15:43 of the second period when he cleaned up a loose puck by kicking it to his stick blade and lifting it over Andersen. Backes' 14th career playoff goal was assisted by Krejci and McAvoy. The biggest goal of the game and backbreaker to the Leafs was the one that they allowed with 38 seconds left in the second: Pastrnak took a feed from Marchand (and Bergeron) and sniped a shot over Andersen's blocker side before he even had time to fully react. Pastrnak's third career playoff goal was a beauty, a fitting way to firmly take control of the game.

Credit to the Bruins for not taking their feet off the gas in the third as they outshot the Leafs 15-9 and scored two more memorable goals. Sean Kuraly had missed the last seven games of the regular season with an upper-body injury but he announced his postseason presence with a highlight reel goal-Sidney Crosby style-where he basically bunted the puck out of mid-air after Pastrnak had driven to the net and caused a huge pileup. Kuraly's third career playoff goal was also assisted by Chara. Toronto head coach Mike Babcock stuck with Andersen the whole way, even after he gave up a goal to Krejci at 11:29 that went five-hole on him when the Bruins center was behind the net. It was that kind of a mess for Toronto as Krejci bagged his 30th career playoff goal, assisted by Jake DeBrusk (1st career playoff point) and Krug.

I'd be shocked if Saturday's Game 2 (8, NESN) resembles Game 1 in any shape or form. The Maple Leafs will be desperate to get a split at the Garden so expect a much better effort from them (Andersen I'm looking at you). Kadri's likely suspension won't help matters since he's their second line center that plays in every situation, he's basically a poor man's version of Marchand. Likewise, the Bruins are sure to face a little more adversity than they did in this cakewalk. Still, if they can find a way to win Game 2, this series could be over much earlier than anyone would have expected. PS what's better than playoff hockey? I know I say this every year but it's so great to have it back in our lives, the crowd for Game 1 was superb.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

B's Choke Away the Atlantic Division Title & #1 Seed in the East So They'll Face Leafs in Rd. 1

It's been an unexpectedly wonderful 2017-18 regular season for your Boston Bruins (50-20-12) but there is no way to sugarcoat tonight's result: their 4-2 loss to the Panthers (44-30-8) at TD Garden was an unmitigated disaster that ultimately could cost them the chance at the Stanley Cup this spring/summer. A win would have netted the B's many nice things: the Atlantic Division title, the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference (with home ice throughout) and perhaps most importantly, a first-round date with New Jersey (44-29-9), a team that they went 3-0 against this season and is undoubtedly the worst outfit to make it from the East. Instead, Boston finished second in the Atlantic Division which means that they'll face Toronto (49-26-7)-one of the best teams in the NHL and a club that went 3-1 vs. their Original Six rivals during this campaign.

The oddest part of this evening is that with so much on the line, the Black and Gold came out flat yet again (an all too common theme lately). Panthers rookie Henrik Borgstrom (who just a few weeks ago was playing at the University of Denver) scored his first NHL goal at 1:22 of the first period, assisted by former Bruins great Frank Vatrano. The Bruins seemed to wake up less than seven minutes later as David Backes deposited a rebound by James Reimer (33 saves, 2 goals allowed). Kevan Miller and David Krejci had the assists on Backes' 14th goal of the season. Vatrano is apparently becoming something of a Bruins killer as he bagged a goal in his second straight game vs. Boston. His one-timer at 16:46 of the first period restored Florida's lead while Jared McCann and Jamie McGinn (say that ten times fast) provided the assists on Vatrano's seventh goal of the season.

The B's successfully flushed a crappy (get it?!) first period down the toilet last night against Ottawa (28-43-11) but it proved to be not nearly as easy against the Panthers who have to be one of the best non-playoff teams in NHL history (they had 96 points, only one less than Columbus and New Jersey). Something called Maxim Mamin (what a great name!) beat Tuukka Rask (22 saves) with another one-timer at 13:33 of the second period for a 3-1 Florida advantage. Reimer stopped Jake DeBrusk on a breakaway later in the frame as the Bruins were still down two goals when the second had mercifully ended.

Boston finally woke up in the third period but it was much too late. Jonathan Huberdeau's double-minor for high sticking on Zdeno Chara sparked a short-lived comeback attempt by the B's as David Pastrnak cashed in with a power-play goal at 9:54. Pasta's team-best and career-high 35th goal of the season was assisted by Patrice Bergeron (3 goals, 6 assists in his last 9 games) and Ryan Donato. Reimer actually left late in the third with a leg injury but Roberto Luongo (8 saves) of all people managed to hang on for the win. Evgenii Dadonov sent Bruins fans running to the exits when he put in a juicy rebound at 18:11. McCann assisted on Dadonov's 28th goal of the season which handed their Sunshine State neighbors (Tampa Bay) the Atlantic Division and top seed in the East.

In the last week or so, the Bruins appeared to be understandably gassed. They lost four out of their last five games which is not exactly what you want to see from a team that will be expected to make a deep playoff run. Still, it sounds like the Nashes (Rick and Riley) should hopefully be back for Game 1 vs. Toronto on Thursday (7, NESN) which would give their forward lines some additional quality depth. Game 2 is Saturday night (8, NESN) with the series shifting to Toronto for Game 3 on Patriots Day (7, NESN) and next Thursday (7, NESN).

Thankfully, I'm not in the prediction business but you are crazy if you think that Bruins-Maple Leafs will be decided either way by a sweep or in five games. This has epic six or seven-game tight playoff series written all over it. Besides Tampa Bay (54-23-5) vs. New Jersey, the other Eastern Conference series are Washington (49-26-7) vs. Columbus (45-30-7) and Pittsburgh (47-29-6) vs. Philadelphia (42-26-14). I would argue that there is nothing in sports better than the Stanley Cup Playoffs so you have to savor all of them that you can get. Like the Bruins, we all could use a little rest before the fun begins on Wednesday for some teams and Thursday for them. See you then.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Everything Left to Play For In Game 82: B's Win & Lightning Lose in OT So Boston Can Be #1 Seed

In such an arduous regular season (82 games), it is always ironic when so much can still hinge on the finale. The Bruins (50-19-12) are happy to find themselves in that enviable position though as the eyes of the entire NHL will be on them tomorrow night since they host Florida (43-30-8) in the last game before the playoffs begin on Wednesday. Boston got off to a slow start but woke up with plenty of time left to beat hapless Ottawa (28-43-11) 5-2 this evening at TD Garden. Minutes later, things got much more interesting for the B's as Tampa Bay (54-23-5) lost 3-2 in overtime at Carolina (36-35-11) leaving the Lightning with only one more point than Boston. That means any type of win for the Black and Gold (in regulation, overtime or a shootout) will give them the Atlantic Division crown, the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and perhaps most importantly, they would avoid Toronto (49-26-7) in the first round.

After the Bruins had lost their last three games in a row, it felt like they were destined to finish second in the Atlantic Division and thus meet the Maple Leafs in what would be a very difficult battle. Instead in keeping with the general magic of this campaign overall, they took care of their business while Tampa Bay simultaneously peed down their collective legs. Only Buffalo (25-45-12) finished with a worse record than Ottawa in 2017-18, making last season's improbable postseason run feel like it was a decade ago. Superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson (9 goals, 53 assists) could be gone this summer and if that's the case, talk about a franchise without a direction. All that Ottawa could do tonight was play spoiler and they did that well enough, for about 20 minutes of game action.

My man Ryan Dzingel staked the Senators to a 1-0 lead in the first period as he finished a passing sequence from Matt Duchene and BC's Colin White for his 22nd goal of the season at 12:31. That's really all that happened in the first frame as Ottawa outshot Boston 10-9 and the B's looked completely lifeless. Under former head coach Claude Julien, that might have extended for the next period or the rest of the tilt but Bruce Cassidy's guys have a way of almost always responding to adversity (even that which has been created solely by themselves).

The Bruins scored three unanswered goals in the second to take a commanding 3-1 lead. David Pastrnak tied it with a one-timer and power-play goal at 8:08, his 34th goal of the season (tying Brad Marchand for the team lead) was assisted by Patrice Bergeron and Torey Krug. 51 seconds later, Tommy Wingels put Boston ahead as his shot hit the post and then Ottawa's third-string goaltender Daniel Taylor (30 saves) had the puck bounce into the net off his glove. Wingels' ninth goal of the season was unassisted. After Anton Khudobin (26 saves in his 16th win of the season) made an absurd save with a full split, rookie Danton Heinen's wicked snap shot gave Boston a 3-1 advantage at 17:01. Talk about scoring depth, his 16th goal of the season was assisted by Brian Gionta and Adam McQuaid.

Dzingel cut it to 3-2 at 7:07 of the third period with a nifty move, assisted again by White and another rookie-defenseman Christian Wolanin-who just turned pro out of the University of North Dakota. The fourth line for the Bruins has been really solid and dependable all year so it was fitting that they provided what basically amounted to the clinching goal. Noel Acciari was sent in on a breakaway by his fellow PC Friar Tim Schaller and he beat Taylor for his 10th goal of the season. Zdeno Chara had the secondary assist on the huge insurance tally at 18:09. Another guy-David Backes-that deserved a goal after all that he's been through this season had the honor of sending the Senators home for good with an empty-netter at 19:17. His 13th goal of the season was assisted by Heinen.

The Panthers were officially eliminated from playoff contention earlier on Saturday so I doubt that their minds will be really too focused tomorrow night what with vacations to plan (although if you live in Florida, do you really need to get away?) and off-seasons to begin as soon as possible. Boston last earned the top seed in the East in 2013 when they captured that cursed Presidents' Trophy. No need to worry about that since Nashville (53-18-11) already wrapped it up days ago. More than just a label or a number, tomorrow's contest means so much because a win would allow the B's to open against the Devils (44-29-9), the second Wild Card (ie. the lowest seed) in the East. New Jersey has put together a very surprising season to reach the playoffs for the first time in six years but who would rather face Toronto than them? Outside of Taylor Hall who should be in the running for the Hart Memorial Trophy (NHL MVP), who else do you fear? The Bruins won't need any additional motivation as they take on the Panthers in front of their home crowd one more time before Game 1 versus whomever on Thursday.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Bruins Pummel the Panthers 5-1 to Clinch Home Ice In At Least the First Round of the Playoffs

With the finish line of the regular season in plain sight, the Bruins (49-17-11) are starting to set their laser-like focus on the playoffs while also making sure to get the requisite points that they need to hopefully rest key guys at some juncture in the final week. Boston allowed the first goal of the game this afternoon at TD Garden against the desperate Panthers (39-30-8) but from there, the B's hit them with five straight goals (not to mention countless literal punches to the face) to come away with a satisfying 5-1 victory. With the win, the Black and Gold regained first-place in the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division from Tampa Bay (52-22-4) who had destroyed the Rangers (33-36-9) 7-3 last night. The B's also still own a game in hand against the Lightning plus they meet one more time on Tuesday (7:30, NESN) in the Sunshine State as Boston goes for the season sweep (right now they're 3-0 vs. TB).

The only negative part of the contest for Boston was that they somehow suffered two more injuries to important players: center Riley Nash left in the second period after taking a Torey Krug shot to the ear, he received stitches (ouch!) and didn't return. In the third period defenseman Brandon Carlo went down in a heap with the dreaded non-contact injury. He lunged at the puck with his right skate and his right leg/knee seemed to give out. Ugh, it just so happened to occur right by the corner with the paramedics stationed nearby so he was wheeled out on a stretcher.

Jamie McGinn gave Florida a 1-0 lead at 4:59 of the first period after jamming in the puck past Tuukka Rask (30 saves, 34-11-5; 10-0-1 in his last 11 starts). Milton native Keith Yandle (5-game point streak) and Vincent Trocheck had the assists on McGinn's 13th goal of the season. The Bruins responded with two goals later in the first period and three goals in the second to put this away early. Center David Krejci (3 assists) was the catalyst for the B's offense along with rookie winger Jake DeBrusk (2 goals, 1 assist) who returned after missing eight games with an upper-body injury to play on Krejci's line with fellow rookie Ryan Donato (goal, assist).

Nick Holden's 1st goal as a Bruin (4th of the season overall) tied it at 11:15 as he went to the net and Krejci whirled around to put the puck right on his stick for a sweet re-direct with DeBrusk picking up the second helper. An aggressive forecheck all day by the B's paid off with a couple goals: Panthers defenseman Alexander Petrovic lost the puck behind his own net and Donato was on it to feed DeBrusk for a nifty one-timer at 14:06. Krejci had the second assist on DeBrusk's 15th goal of the season.

It was another tough day at the Garden for James Reimer (15 saves, 5 goals allowed) as Donato made it 3-1 at 1:32 of the second period after Krejci caused a turnover and passed it to the rookie for his fourth goal in seven NHL games. Adam McQuaid fought Michael Haley after that goal but much like in the game itself, the Panthers were beaten in that matchup as well. Reimer allowed a pair of goals that he should have stopped as Patrice Bergeron banged in a rebound at 13:40 of the second (similar to McGinn's goal) for his 29th goal of the season, assisted by David Backes and David Pastrnak (200th NHL point). Good old Roberto Luongo came in after Reimer gave up another leaky tally as he couldn't squeeze Kevan Miller's shot and DeBrusk was on the spot to tap it in at 16:32. It was all Hockey East alums on the assists as Matt Grzelcyk provided the second helper.

Noel Acciari had surprisingly never been in an NHL bout so he got that out of the way in the third period vs. something named MacKenzie Weegar. The Bruins got out of the building fast since they have to play the Flyers (39-25-14) tomorrow afternoon (12:30, NBC) on Easter Sunday. Expect Anton Khudobin to get the start in goal for Boston, I'm not sure if Riley Nash will be back but I highly doubt that Carlo could be available anytime soon. Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy (who won NESN's 7th player award before today's tilt) have both inched closer to a return this week and by chance, the Providence Bruins are in Pennsylvania playing the Lehigh Valley Phantoms so perhaps Paul Postma or another Providence defenseman could be recalled. Head coach Bruce Cassidy mentioned Brian Gionta (who was a healthy scratch today) as somebody that could take Riley's place if he can't go against Philadelphia who currently lead the Wild Card race in the Eastern Conference.

Boston only has two home games left, vs. Ottawa (27-39-11) next Saturday night (7, NESN) and against Florida on Sunday night (7:30, NESN)-the makeup game from the snowstorm in January that postponed the game until the last day of the regular season. The Bruins and Panthers had plenty of scrums today and that should be a theme as they also meet in Sunrise, FL on Thursday (7:30, NESN). Today's loss pushed Florida further out of the playoff race as they fell to three points behind New Jersey (40-28-9) for the second Wild Card in the East. Needless to say, the Panthers really needed at least a point today and not only did they fail to get that but they also were humiliated by a determined opponent.