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Monday, March 19, 2018

Donato's Debut Was Everything You Could Have Hoped For (G, 2 As) but Columbus Wins In OT

Normally, a Monday night in mid-March against Columbus (40-28-5) isn't a typical setting for a memorable moment in Bruins (45-17-9) history but fans at TD Garden were treated to something special this evening. Boston's prized prospect Ryan Donato (son of Ted) skipped his senior season at Harvard to sign a two-year entry-level deal with the Bruins on Sunday night and wouldn't you know, there he was on the second forward line vs. the Blue Jackets with David Krejci and Danton Heinen after Rick Nash was a late scratch with an upper-body injury. Wearing Milan Lucic's old #17 jersey, the Scituate MA native and Dexter alum put together quite an NHL debut as he scored a goal and had two assists as Columbus pulled out a wild 5-4 victory in overtime. He's the first Bruin to have a multi-point outing in his first NHL game since Jarno Kultanen had three assists on Oct. 5, 2000. It was the eighth straight win for the Blue Jackets that also snapped a seven-game home win streak for the Bruins.

The Blue Jackets improved to an incredible 8-1 in overtime this season while the Bruins fell to 5-7 in the extra session. Coming off their best win of 2017-18 (3-0 at Tampa Bay on Saturday night), Boston couldn't match that masterful defensive effort as Columbus rallied from a 3-1 deficit and picked up two vital points as they took over the top Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. The single point for the B's left them three points behind the Lightning (49-19-4) with a game in hand. Columbus struck first as Bruins killer Thomas Vanek as always made his presence felt by stealing the puck and feeding Boone Jenner who had the good fortune of deflecting the puck in off his knee at 4:15 of the first period for his 11th goal of the season (6-game point streak).

Boston trailed 1-0 after the first period but they came out flying in the second with three straight goals. Donato wasted no time bagging his first NHL goal as he worked a perfect give-and-go with Torey Krug and Heinen for a wicked one-timer at 5:41. Less than two minutes later, Brad Marchand gave the Bruins a 2-1 lead with a beautiful backhander that went top shelf on Columbus' backup goaltender Joonas Korpisalo (34 saves, 8-7-0) for his team-leading 31st goal of the season, assisted by David Pastrnak and Kevan Miller. It looked to be Boston's night when Riley Nash banged in a rebound for a power play goal at 16:32, his 15th tally of the season. Donato and Marchand had the assists for what has to be the recipient of NESN's 7th Player Award this season. Who has overachieved more than Riley Nash in this campaign, particularly with Patrice Bergeron out? The Blue Jackets answered 25 seconds later though as BC dropout Sonny Milano tapped in a pass from Ryan Murray. Captain Nick Foligno had the second assist on Milano's 12th goal of the season.

Simply so they don't have to continue to face his wrath, the Bruins should consider signing Vanek at some point in his career. I feel like he's a free agent every summer and/or available at each NHL trade deadline. He tied it at three at 5:38 of the third period with a textbook re-direct of Markus Nutivaara's shot. Jenner had the secondary assist on Vanek's 20th goal of the season. The Blue Jackets kept the momentum going as former Blackhawk Artemi Panarin whipped a shot by Tuukka Rask (20 saves, 30-11-5) at 11:30 for his 22nd goal of the season after a clean faceoff win by Foligno went right to his linemate. It didn't take the Bruins long to bounce back (hi Big Sean!) since David Krejci tied it 20 seconds later on a nifty little one-timer from Donato and Heinen for his 17th goal of the season.

Marchand had a breakaway early in overtime but despite plenty of contact from Columbus rookie forward Pierre-Luc Dubois, there was no penalty shot or even an infraction called. I say this as a fan of hockey not just a honk for the Bruins but what other player wouldn't have drawn a whistle there? That seemed like a perfect example of Marchand's checkered history costing him in a pivotal moment which is a shame to say the least. Former BC star Cam Atkinson won it for the Blue Jackets at 2:55, his 17th goal of the season (13 points in his last 12 games) was assisted by Murray and Alexander Wennberg.

Boston barely had time to unpack at home for a few days as they head right back on the road for another four-game road trip. They begin with two teams right outside the Western Conference playoff picture (at St. Louis on Wednesday then at Dallas on Friday) before closing with two teams that are more firmly situated in there (at Minnesota on Sunday night and at Winnipeg next Tuesday). The Bruins' next home game isn't until a week from Thursday (7, NESN) when they host Tampa Bay in what should be another huge matchup that could go a long way towards determining who wins the Atlantic Division. Bergeron (broken foot) skated today and while he, Zdeno Chara (upper-body) and David Backes (laceration behind his right knee) are out against the Blues (39-28-5), it sounds like they might return at some point on this trip.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

No Matter the Obstacle Thrown In Front of Them This Season, The B's Keep Racking Up the Wins

Not to sound like your grandpa or some internet contrarian but it wasn't always like this with the Bruins (42-15-8). For many years, they weren't exactly known for exciting games let alone routinely pulling off insane comebacks or finishes to grab two points like they're going out of style. Yet here we are: with Patrice Bergeron (broken foot), Charlie McAvoy (sprained knee) and David Backes (suspended 3 games) all out, Boston continues to get the job done despite mounting odds against them. Tonight at TD Garden, they allowed a power play goal to the Flyers (34-23-11) only 1:38 into the contest. Also, they gave up a shorthanded goal but who cares? They still came out on top, 3-2, thanks to Brad Marchand's third straight game-winning tally-this time with 22 seconds left in regulation. It's been that kind of homestand for the B's who will try to go a perfect 6-for-6 when this wraps up on Saturday afternoon (1, NESN) vs. Chicago (29-31-8).

Tuukka Rask (31 saves, 27-11-4) had missed the last two games with a lower-body injury but he returned to face a team that he absolutely owns (now 14-2-3). Meanwhile, Boston improved to 11-1-2 in their last 14 games vs. Philadelphia including two victories this season with one more in the city of Brotherly Love coming up. Philly had lost to Pittsburgh (39-25-4) 5-2 last night so they entered on the second half of a back-to-back, meaning that rookie backup goaltender Alex Lyon (24 saves, 2-2-0)-the pride of Yale-got the start for them. The Flyers put forth a legitimate effort though, outshooting Boston 33-27 and playing well enough to beat most NHL teams with a similar performance. It's unlikely to happen but how happy would the Black and Gold be to meet the Flyguys in the playoffs this spring?

Kevan Miller got called for a high-sticking double minor right off the bat and the Flyers' No. 17 ranked power play converted nine seconds later. Jakub Voracek put in a rebound for his 16th goal of the season, assisted by rookie Nolan Patrick (No. 2 pick last summer) and Claude Giroux (tied for NHL lead along with Voracek for assists-57). Riley Nash should receive the 7th Player Award for the B's this season since who saw this kind of production coming from him? Since Bergeron went down last week, he has not been out of place at all with Marchand and David Pastrnak on Boston's top forward line. Life of Riley tied it up at 9:14 when he backhanded a loose puck a split second before Pastrnak could do the same. Miller had the second assist on Nash's career-high 13th goal of the season.

Speaking of random guys coming out of nowhere, who thought that Brian Gionta had anything left after you saw him in the Pyeongchang Olympics on the mediocre Team USA full of has-beens and never-weres? He has four points (1 goal, 3 assists) in his first four games in a Bruins sweater. Tonight, he put them ahead-2-1-late in the first period (at 19:34) with a breakaway goal from the other grey beard-Zdeno Chara with Tommy Wingels picking up the other helper. Gionta's first goal as a Bruin was a pretty one too as he beat Lyon with a backhander.

Jori Lehtera somehow found tons of space on the penalty kill nearly midway (at 7:21) through the second period and he went right at Rask before jamming it between his pads. Lehtera's third goal of the season was assisted by Valtteri Filppula and that goon Radko Gudas. Each goaltender made some solid saves after that (Lyon on Rick Nash and Rask on Ivan Provorov) but not much else really transpired until Marchand's late game heroics. Philly head coach Dave Hakstol challenged the last goal for offsides but it was ruled onside. Marchand got right to the net so he was in prime position when the puck squirted along the goal-line, all he had to do was tap it in for his team-leading 29th goal of the season. Pastrnak-who also had a chance to knock it in-and Chara provided the assists on what has to be an NHL 1st Star of the Week campaign for Mr. Marchand.

Back-to-backs are never easy, especially when you play the same team two days in a row but that's the challenge facing the B's when they take on the low-flying Hawks this weekend including Sunday in the Chi (12:30, NBC). Other than Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith, you probably won't recognize most of the players on Chicago this ill-fated season. They are rebuilding and therefore look nothing like the dynasty from earlier this decade. As always, they serve as a fine lesson that you have to enjoy these special teams in sports when you get them since you don't know exactly when the next one might show up (it could be years or even decades later).

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The B's Are Suddenly Unbeatable In OT As They Sweep Another Season Series, This Time Vs. Wings

Without Patrice Bergeron (broken foot), Charlie McAvoy (sprained MCL) and Tuukka Rask (lower-body injury), the Bruins (41-15-8) are understandably a little lacking right now at least in terms of top-notch talent. Don't misconstrue that for lack of compete level as they continue to find ways to get wins (4 in a row), tonight they outlasted Detroit (26-29-11) 6-5 in overtime at TD Garden (3 of their last 4 have gone to OT) thanks to yet another Brad Marchand (3rd career hat trick, 2 assists; tying a career-high for points in a contest) game-winner (his 2nd straight game and 11th regular season OT tally of his career). It helps that they have been at home for the past week plus, a better location to stabilize things amidst all these changes to the lineup seemingly every game.

Boston swept the four-game season series with Detroit for the first time since 2008-2009 and improved to 14-1-1 in their last 16 games against the Red Wings who are destined for another spring without the playoffs in the place formerly known as "Hockey Town." Besides the extra hockey that they've been kindly giving their fans during this homestand, the B's are also rewarding those that are in their seats before the first puck drop. This evening, they scored two goals in the first 52 seconds and by the time the Firewagon Hockey first period was over, there were already five total goals on the scoreboard.

Torey Krug had a memorable performance as well, setting a new career-high with four points (2 goals, 2 assists) so he began the barrage of pucks into the net only 37 seconds into regulation. His blast from the point-his 12th goal of the season-was assisted by Nick Holden (3 assists in 3 games as a Bruin) and Marchand. Poor Jared Coreau was making his first start of the season for Detroit and it wasn't a long one since he got pulled early in the second period after allowing four goals on 16 shots. Before you could say "Where are You Chris Osgood?", the Bruins had made it 2-0. Jake DeBrusk's attempted centering pass deflected in off a Red Wings defenseman for an unassisted goal (his 14th of the season) which gave him a four-game point streak.

I will give Detroit credit for one thing: they might be mediocre at best and headed nowhere but the NHL Draft this summer but they play harder than you would think (or at least that was the case tonight). Bruins killer Frans Nielsen hopped on a loose puck for a power play goal (his 14th of the season) at 2:16 of the first period from Henrik Zetterberg who I believe has been a Red Wing for 40 years. Anton Khudobin (30 saves, 15-4-4) wasn't even that bad but without McAvoy and by taking too many penalties, Boston's defense was a mess. Mike Green tied it up with another shot from close range (his 7th goal of the season) at 7:53 thanks to a nifty drop pass by Anthony Athanasiou with the other assist going to Anthony Mantha (2 goals, 2 assists). Boston answered with its first of two power play goals: Krug from Marchand and David Pastrnak (3 assists-a career-high, including the 100th of his career) at 13:48.

If you thought that things might perhaps slow down a bit in the second period, well you'd be wrong my friend. Marchand's power play goal at 3:27 chased Coreau for Maine alum Jimmy Howard (19 saves, 2 goals allowed). Krug and Pastrnak had the assists on a beautiful play that ended with a wicked one-timer from Marchand. Those three guys had a spectacular game together, it felt like they were in on every scoring play for the B's (which basically they were). The Red Wings could have easily rolled over at this point but Mantha cut it to a one-goal lead for the home team when he gathered a rebound and put in a backhander at 12:05 after Green's blast was deflected. Seconds earlier, Detroit's power play had expired. Tyler Bertuzzi had the second assist on Mantha's team-leading 22nd goal of the season. 1:13 after that, Marchand comically banked the puck off of Howard's leg right after he had missed the net with another shot. Pastrnak and Riley Nash had the helpers on the tally that gave Boston a 5-3 advantage. Mantha produced another goal after the Bruins' defense was nowhere to be seen at 15:50. Justin Abdelkader and Dylan Larkin had the assists as Boston only led 5-4 after two bonkers periods.

Boston blew its second two-goal lead when Detroit struck right after a power play went by the wayside yet again. Martin Frk who has one of the most interesting last names in the universe tied it at 9:46 on his 11th goal of the season from Bertuzzi and Mantha. As recently as the start of last week, the B's were a woeful 2-6 in overtime. Now, 5-6 doesn't look too bad does it? On the other end of the spectrum, the Wings fell to 3-10 (!) in OT including two losses to these Bruins. Unlike the individual masterclass put on by Marchand to beat Montreal (25-30-11) on Saturday night, this overtime goal was much simpler as Riley Nash drove to the net and dished to Krug. His initial shot was stopped but Howard left a juicy rebound on a platter for Marchand who waited for a beat then finished things off with a top-shelf backhander.

The Bruins can't afford this many mistakes on Thursday (7, NESN) when the Flyers (34-21-11) come for a visit. Unlike the Canadiens or Red Wings, Philadelphia is actually a legit playoff team this season and as such, they need to be respected (6-2-2 in their last 10 games). Unfortunately for the Flyguys, they have to host the Penguins (38-25-4) in their usual blood war on Wednesday (Rivalry Night bitches!) before taking the short trip up the East Coast to Boston (plus they will have to fly through the snow storm). Assuming that we all survive another New England weather spectacular, that should be an entertaining tilt. Haha the B's haven't faced the Flyers since Super Bowl 52 so maybe they can exact some revenge on a Philly team for their football brothers (Patriots). Too soon?

Saturday, March 3, 2018

The Bruins Played Possum With The Canadiens, Tying It Up Late Then Beating Them In Overtime

It had been 23 years since the Bruins (40-15-8) swept the season series with the Canadiens (25-29-11) so Boston took care of some history with their better-late-than-never thrilling 2-1 overtime victory tonight at TD Garden. The B's finished 4-0 against Claude Julien's hapless Habs thanks to an overtime goal by Brad Marchand and 27 saves by Anton Khudobin (14-4-4). Montreal's goaltender Antti Niemi (48 saves, 4-6-3) deserved a better fate as he stood on his head for almost the entire contest before Jake DeBrusk tied it up with a power play goal at 17:15 of the third period.

One of the standard elements of this wonderful season for the Bruins has been numerous guys going down with injuries, only to have countless other teammates step up in their absence. Tuukka Rask was a late scratch with what B's head coach Bruce Cassidy termed a "very minor injury" so Khudobin was a last-minute starter. More worrisome was that rookie stud defenseman Charlie McAvoy skated a grand total of one shift (for 37 seconds) before calling it a night with a lower-body injury. The team has a scheduled day off on Sunday so we'll have to wait and see if he's out there for practice on Monday. Props to the remaining five defenseman for Boston who all played at least 20:04 (Brandon Carlo) and as much as 24:46 (Torey Krug since there were 6 Bruins power plays).

The Canadiens took a 1-0 lead at 9:16 of the first period as Kevan Miller threw an outlet pass right to Brendan Gallagher aka Dollar Store Marchand and he buried a shot past Khudobin for his 23rd goal of the season. Khudobin certainly wasn't as busy as Niemi, Montreal outshot Boston 12-10 in the first but proceeded to get bombarded (40-16) over the final 42:06 of action. It was more of a quality over quantity type night for Khudobin who at one point late in the third period had to ditch his mask (to get a whistle) because two of the straps had snapped.

Boston has now won its last six games overall vs. Montreal and they huffed and puffed for most of this one to earn the two points. David Pastrnak hit the post early in the first when the Bruins had a 3-on-1. Boston trailed 1-0 after the first period and couldn't convert a 2-man advantage that they had for 44 seconds in the second period. Going into the third, the records did not favor the home team since they were 2-13-3 when trailing after two while Montreal was 17-1-1 when leading after two. Jonathan Drouin was called for delay of game for flipping the puck over the glass in his own end which finally broke his team's back. Nick Holden played a perfect slap pass to DeBrusk to tip in for his 13th goal of the season with Torey Krug picking up the second assist.

The Bruins continued to dominate in the extra frame as they outshot the Canadiens 4-0 as they never really let Montreal gain possession of the puck. Ironically, Marchand's goal came about with Cassidy shuffling some new players onto the ice. He showed all the power in his small frame by wheeling around the net to gain a good shooting angle where he fired a low shot by Niemi in traffic. Krug and Brian Gionta had the assists on Marchand's 25th goal of the season and his 10th career regular season overtime game-winner.

Boston went 3-0 this week at home without Patrice Bergeron (including 2 OT wins) and they'll try to go 3-0 next week as well with Detroit (26-28-10) coming here on Tuesday (7, NESN) followed by Philadelphia (34-20-11) on Thursday (7, NESN) and Chicago (28-29-8) wrapping things up on Saturday afternoon (1, NESN). It's hard not to feel really good about this team, considering how many of these seemingly improbable wins they have pulled out in 2017-18. The moves that they made at the trade deadline have only solidified a group that has legitimate Cup aspirations. Time to start drinking the Black and Gold Kool-Aid folks, it's delicious.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Winter Returns: The Bruins Hung a Snowman (8 Goals) On the Penguins In an Unexpected Blowout

You could watch every Bruins (39-15-8) game in 2017-18, hell probably in the entire NHL and I'm pretty sure that you wouldn't find a more exciting tilt than the one witnessed by all the lucky fans at TD Garden this evening. Pittsburgh's (36-25-4) Olli Maatta scored just 35 seconds into the contest but Boston scored five goals of their own in the first period which tied a season-high (1st period on Jan. 6 vs. Carolina) as they jumped out to a 5-3 lead after one. The B's cruised to an 8-4 win that featured a hat trick by David Krejci (the 4th of his NHL career), a fight of true giants (Zdeno Chara vs. 6-foot-7 Northeastern alum Jamie Oleksiak), three points for David Pastrnak (2 goals, assist), a pair of assists for Brian Gionta and a helper for Nick Holden in their Bruins debuts and another goal by Rick Nash.

Boston's power play was mired in an 0-for-18 slump (they hadn't scored in the past 6 games) and Pittsburgh entered with the top unit so naturally the Bruins potted a trio of tallies on the man-advantage while they held the Penguins' lethal power play silent (0-for-3). Pittsburgh's No. 1 goaltender Matt Murray (concussion) got hurt in practice the other day so right now, they have to rely on the less than imposing duo of UNH alum Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry. DeSmith allowed three goals on five shots in 5:27 so he understandably was pulled right away like he bombed a stand-up comedy routine at the Apollo. Jarry (28 saves, 5 goals allowed) didn't fare much better although truthfully, both guys in net at the same time likely wouldn't have made that much of a difference with the way that the Bruins were putting pressure on the visitors. Boston also improved to 7-0-1 in their last eight home games vs. Pittsburgh.

In three games together, Krejci and Rick Nash have already started to build some nice chemistry. Krejci got his memorable performance started by going to the net and tipping a pinpoint pass from Nash in at 1:45. Chara had the second assist on Krejci's 12th goal of the season. A New Hampshire native, DeSmith showed some nerves when Pastrnak's less than stellar shot fluttered past him and literally spun over the goal-line in slow motion at 2:53 for a 2-1 Bruins lead that they would never relinquish. Brad Marchand and Riley Nash had the assists on Pastrnak's 23rd goal of the season. Rick Nash got the power play party started with an easy tap-in from Torey Krug and Marchand at 5:27 for his 20th goal of the season.

Former Bruins great Phil Kessel scored a fluky goal from no-angle at 9:27 to get the Penguins back within a goal at 3-2 Bruins. Kessel's 27th goal of the season was assisted by Patric Hornqvist and Evgeni Malkin. Things continued at a haywire pace as David Backes sniped a shot top shelf at 12:49, his 11th goal of the season which was assisted by Gionta-BC's all-time leading scorer and the former Canadiens captain. Krug extended Boston's lead to 5-2 with a blast from distance at 16:07. Jarry must have been screened on Krug's 11th goal of the campaign, assisted by Pastrnak and Rick Nash. Earlier in the frame, Penguins center Riley Sheahan had scored a goal but it was called back when he obviously kicked it in. He exacted some revenge with 2.2 seconds left by blasting a shot past Tuukka Rask (22 saves; 26-11-4) for his ninth goal of the season, unassisted.

What normally could be a back-breaking goal to allow seemingly had no effect on the B's as Krejci registered a power-play goal of his own at 2:16 of the second period from Holden and Jake DeBrusk. It would be a beautiful thing if these teams met in the playoffs, we got a little taste of that this evening since they clearly still don't like each other. Charlie McAvoy took a hard hit from Hornqvist that left his nose and lip a bloody mess so later, Chara squared off with Oleksiak in what has to be one of the biggest fights (in terms of size of the combatants) in NHL history. Krejci bagged his hat trick by pouncing on a loose puck for another power-play strike at 14:33. Gionta and McAvoy had the assists as the ice was littered with a ton of Bruins hats. Pittsburgh's defense was non-existent as Pastrnak went to the net and scored Boston's final goal at 17:42 for a dream 8-3 lead. Chara and McAvoy had the assists on Pasta's second goal of the game. The third period was basically an open skate, with the only goal coming via a double deflection off two Bruins that started with Maata's harmless shot from the point.

Boston has enjoyed the first two games-both wins-of its six-game homestand and the good times should only continue on Saturday (5, NESN) as they host the long dead Canadiens (24-29-10). This Penguins massacre will be impossible to live up to but throwing a serious beating on Montreal never goes out of style, no matter the time or season. Tonight's win put the Bruins back in second-place in the Atlantic Division, ahead of idle Toronto (39-20-7) who has still played four more games than them. No doubt Rask will want to play better which shouldn't be too difficult of a task to complete since the Habs have scored the third fewest goals in the league (160). Bruins-Canadiens matchups are always fun, but especially on Saturday nights (forget the bizarre early start time) where people have all day to get ready (glug, glug).

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Newest Bruins Help Boston Continue Their Point-Streak (9-0-5 in last 14) vs. Carolina With OT Win

Franchise center Patrice Bergeron is out indefinitely with a small fracture in his right foot and the Bruins (38-15-8) had dropped their last two games of a disappointing 2-3 road trip so they returned to the Hub with a growing sense of frustration and perhaps a small dose of doubt as they come down the stretch in the regular season. Boston was greeted by their longest homestand of the season (6 games) and despite spotting Carolina (27-25-11) an early 3-1 lead in the first period at TD Garden, they managed to rally for a much-needed 4-3 overtime victory thanks to Charlie McAvoy's game-winning goal at 1:08 (his 7th goal of the season, assisted by Riley Nash).

It was a great night for some of the new guys as well with Tommy Wingels bagging a goal and assist in his Bruins debut while Rick Nash also scored a goal (his 1st as a Bruin) in his first home game for the Black and Yellow. The two points coupled with Toronto's (39-20-6) overtime loss at Florida (28-25-6) brought Boston back within a point of second-place in the Atlantic Division. The Leafs own 85 points and the B's have 84 points but Boston still has a whopping five games in hand over Toronto so that's something to bank on. The Bruins trail the Lightning (43-17-3) by five points with only two games in hand so that'll be much more of a challenge to ultimately overcome this spring.

The first period was about as good as it gets in a professional hockey game as the two teams combined for five goals including a pair on the power play (both for Carolina) and a tally with 2.9 seconds left in the frame. Brock McGinn gave the Hurricanes a 1-0 lead at 10:01 after he batted in a loose puck on the man advantage, Jeff Skinner and Justin Faulk had the assists on his 11th goal of the season. It only took Rick Nash two games into his Bruins career to find the scoresheet (he hit a post in Buffalo in Sunday's forgettable 4-1 loss) with a memorable goal-his 800th career NHL point-that tied it at one. His new linemates David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk provided the helpers on his 19th goal of the season overall at 11:41. After a turnover, Krejci found Nash wide open and he wasn't going to miss from there with Scott Darling (28 saves, 10-16-7) between the pipes.

The Bruins couldn't stay out of the box as David Pastrnak was nabbed for a high-sticking double-minor (4 minutes) and Carolina made them pay as Teuvo Teravainen went top shelf on Tuukka Rask (29 saves, 25-11-4) for a 2-1 Hurricanes lead. Faulk and Victor Rask had the assists on Teravainen's 16th goal of the season. An ugly defensive breakdown led to Sebastian Aho being all alone so Carolina's top scorer doubled his team's lead at 19:04. Teravainen and Derek Ryan assisted on Aho's 22nd goal of the season. Boston got a big boost from Riley Nash's goal at 19:57 which was the result of great patience by him to wait out Darling for a backhander and a killer forecheck by Wingels that started the whole sequence. Torey Krug somehow received a secondary assist (maybe his dad was tonight's official scorer?) on Riley's 11th goal of the season.

As you would expect, things slowed down considerably in the second period. Wingels tied it up with a snipe of his own at 5:34. DeBrusk and McAvoy assisted on his eighth goal of the season, congrats to the former Worcester Sharks legend. Carolina outshot Boston 15-12 in the second period and each club put up eight shots on goal in the third period. McAvoy's goal was the only shot on goal for either team in overtime. You'd be hard-pressed to find two worse overtime teams in the league, coming into this tilt Boston was 2-6 in the extra session while Carolina was 2-7. Keep in mind that Boston's mini-losing streak was nothing compared to the annual second-half tailspin for the Canes who have now lost six games in a row. If I know the Hurricanes though, they'll probably go on a crazy run right at the end but come up like a point or two short of the second Wild Card spot in the East.

The Bruins needed these two points for many reasons, not the least of which was the fact that mighty Pittsburgh (36-24-4) is up next on Thursday (7, NESN). As expected, the Penguins' midseason slump was just a mirage as they have been one of the hottest teams in the NHL for weeks (7-2-1 in their last 10 games after Tuesday's 3-2 loss to New Jersey). Boston-Pittsburgh is a playoff series that could very well become reality once again this spring and Thursday's matchup promises to provide a great atmosphere at the Garden (kudos to tonight's crowd that was much better than you'd expect for any game involving Carolina). The Penguins are still the defending two-time Stanley Cup champs so until further notice, they remain the team to beat in both the Eastern Conference and around the entire league. Haha please, I beg of you Hockey Gods, no Pittsburgh three-peat. It doesn't have to be the Bruins (although that would be hunky dory), just anyone but Sidney Crosby and the Pens.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

At 20-2-4 In The Last 26 Games: You Can't Stop the Bruins, You Can Only Hope to Contain Them

It's tough to guess how long this will last for but at this moment, it is time to embrace the fact that your Boston Bruins (35-12-8) are the best team in the NHL. What does this mean on Valentine's Day? Well nothing tangible but as they rack up all these wins (8-2-0 in their last 10 games) and own the best goal-differential in the league (+52), the expectations for what they can ultimately do this spring (which is all that really ever matters) likewise start to burst at the seams. Calgary (29-20-8) is a good team from the rugged Pacific Division that is fighting for every point that they can get just to sneak into the Western Conference playoffs. Boston spotted them an early 2-1 lead in the first period tonight at TD Garden but proceeded to reel off four straight goals en route to the somewhat misleading 5-2 victory.

Calgary's usual starting goaltender Mike Smith (23-16-6) got hurt in Sunday's 3-2 win against the Islanders (27-25-6) which meant that something named David Rittich (5-2-2) blessed us with his presence. I was hoping to see PC's own Jon Gillies (recently called up from the minors) between the pipes for the Flames but alas it wasn't meant to be. For awhile, this nameless character stood on his head (35 saves) as Boston scored first 28 seconds into the contest then tied it at two late in the second period. The Flames are the second-best road team in the league (16-7-5; behind the Bruins of course) but they predictably fell apart in the third period as the B's improved to 19-7-4 at the Garden.

Riley Nash and Patrice Bergeron both scored a pair of goals for the home team while David Backes (who moved up to the top line after David Pastrnak was temporarily demoted for his silly slashing penalty) had two assists. Nash gave the B's the 1-0 lead right off the bat by putting in a pass from Backes. Matt Grzelcyk had the second assist on Nash's ninth goal of the season. Grzelcyk returned the favor by coughing up the puck a few minutes later, leading to an easy tally for Calgary's Sam Bennett (his 8th of the season), assisted by Brown alum and Maine native Garnet Hathaway. It was a big night for local college hockey products since BC's Johnny Gaudreau gave the Flames their only lead of the entire game at 9:12 of the first period. Tuukka Rask (28 saves; 23-9-4) made two saves before Johnny Hockey was there to deposit a rebound for his 19th goal of the season (7-game point streak). Did you know that Gaudreau is the second-leading scorer in the league? I'd say that he's been a great pro thus far in his young professional career North of the border.

Nash tied his career-high with his 10th goal of the year at 16:20 of the second (he also had 10 for the Hurricanes in 2013-14). Tim Schaller and Charlie McAvoy assisted on the pretty goal for the Bruins who doubled up the Flames for shots on goal (16-8) in that frame. Bergeron is putting together the best season that he's ever had in his storied career so it was only fitting that he potted a power-play goal 1:15 into the third. Torey Krug had the stretch pass that sprung him on the breakaway that resulted in his 26th goal of 2017-18. A little over eight minutes later, he gave Boston a two-goal lead which basically equals curtains for the opponent. Bergeron tipped in a shot from Brad Marchand with Backes picking up the other helper. Zdeno Chara put the proverbial cherry on top of this delicious black and gold sundae with a 200-foot empty netter for his sixth goal of the season.

The Bruins' next home game isn't for two weeks (Feb. 27 vs. Carolina) so it was nice to see them head off on their long journey with another two points in their travel bags. Who knows, they could have a new player or two (pray that it's Rangers stud defenseman Ryan McDonagh) by the time that they get back to town since the NHL Trade Deadline is on February 26. Their upcoming five-game road trip doesn't begin until Saturday night (10, NESN) in Vancouver (22-28-6). From there, they work their way back from Western Canada with a President's Day matinee (4, NESN) in Calgary on Monday followed by a visit to Edmonton (23-28-4) the next night (9, NESN). They are in Toronto (34-19-5) on Saturday (7, NESN), February 24 and the road trip mercifully ends in Buffalo (17-30-10) on Sunday (5, NESN). Who needs to go to the West Coast or down South in the middle of the winter when you can go to all of these lovely places?

Tampa Bay (38-16-3) surprisingly lost 5-3 in Buffalo this evening which leaves Boston just one point behind the Lightning for the best record in the NHL with two games in hand. Vegas (37-15-4) still paces the Western Conference with Nashville (34-12-9) a point behind the Golden Knights for the best record in the West. Think about it: this is the lofty company that the Bruins currently keeps. The postseason remains off in the distance (still 2 months away) but this stuff has to be noted while we pass the time through the marathon that is known as an NHL regular season. The Celtics (40-18) rightfully got plenty of attention for the early part of their season as they were the best team in the Eastern Conference. Now that they have come back to Earth a bit-dropping to second in the East behind Toronto (40-16)-you can reasonably conclude that the B's actually present more of a threat in terms of championship contention this summer in their respective sport. This is something to keep in mind while you figure out which team to devote more of your precious attention to the rest of the way.