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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

After Hanging 7 Goals On Ottawa, I'd Say That Boston is Officially Ready for the Winter Classic

For a Tuesday night game in late December, you couldn't have asked for much more entertainment (that is if you support the home team) than Boston's (20-12-4) insane 7-3 victory over Ottawa (18-13-6) at TD Garden. Jimmy Hayes scored his first career NHL hat trick while Patrice Bergeron and Matt Beleskey each added two goals apiece. What's more, near the end of the contest there were five (count them five!) legitimate fights. It was a taste of Old Time Bruins Hockey as the B's can now fully turn their attention to Friday's (1, NBC) much-anticipated Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium vs. Montreal (21-15-3).

The Senators were coming off a 3-1 win against the Bruins on Sunday night in Ottawa but they looked nothing like that club as Boston scored a season-high four power play goals (their most since 4 on Oct. 3, 2009 vs. Carolina). Improbably, the B's top-ranked power play continues to chug along (they are 30 for 102 on the season = 29.4%) while their usually strong penalty kill is finally starting to catch up (4-for-4 tonight) and they began the game 13th in the league. The two points were important since it allowed Boston to go up two on Ottawa (with a game in hand). The Bruins are also one point ahead of Detroit, one behind Montreal and two behind first-place Florida. The top six teams in the Atlantic Division are only separated by six points.

It was the exact same goaltender matchup from Sunday as once again Craig Anderson (30 saves) took on Tuukka Rask (29). I guess that Ottawa really didn't want to play backup Andrew Hammond at all since Anderson was hung out to dry and kept in for the entire beating. Hayes fittingly opened the scoring at 8:01 when a good bounce allowed him to tap the puck in from close range. Kevan Miller assisted on Hayes' sixth goal of the season. One of the few things more improbable than a Hayes goal was Senators tough guy Chris Neil tying it at one but that's what he did at 12:31. Rask left him a juicy rebound and he deposited it for his second goal of the season with assists to Shane Prince (Tayshaun's little brother?) and Max McCormick. Bergeron got his first goal of the contest (and first on the power play) at 16:25 when he put in a shot from the slot. Torey Krug (back after missing one game with an undisclosed injury) and Ryan Spooner had the assists on Bergeron's 13th goal of the season.

Unlike Hayes, Beleskey created many chances earlier this season but similarly couldn't find the back of the net with much regularity. Hopefully that'll change as well as he scored a power play tally at 1:21 from Brett Connolly (1st point in 12 games!) and Brad Marchand (who could be suspended after a low bridge hit in the first period). Beleskey's sixth goal of the season was followed by Mika Zibanejad who cut it to 3-2 late in the second (17:51). Neil and Prince assisted on Zibanejad's seventh goal of the season.

Bergeron's second power play goal came at 2:38 of the third period and it gave Boston another two-goal lead (4-2). Krug picked up his second helper while Seth Griffith (called up today with David Krejci on IR) got his first point of the season. Mike Hoffman's shot went off Dennis Seidenberg's skate which confused Rask and trimmed Boston's advantage to 4-3 at 4:22. Hoffman has 18 goals (who knew?) while Eric Karlsson (32 assists) leads the NHL in assists with Marc Methot getting credit for the other apple. Hayes finished a 2-on-1 with Max Talbot at 15:49 then 51 seconds later, Beleskey smoked a one-timer from Spooner. Loui Eriksson sneakily got assists on both of those as he became the third Bruin to reach 20 assists this season (joining Krejci who has 22 and Bergeron who has 21). The hat trick came with 0.2 seconds left in regulation aka garbage time (haha also on a power play) but Hayes will certainly take it. Frank Vatrano and Dennis Seidenberg assisted on the goal that set off a steady stream of hats (ironically the team had given away winter hats today) onto the ice.

Bruins-Canadiens doesn't need an introduction and in case you need a little review on their storied history, turn on NESN, NBCSN or the NHL Network for the next few days. Friday's game is always the showcase event for the league on New Year's Day and with the College Football Playoff the night before, I predict this edition gets its best rating yet (if you're into that kind of thing, which you're probably not). A little snow would be nice but with temperatures expected to be in the low 40s, it should be a virtually perfect atmosphere for the best rivalry in the NHL and one of the greatest in professional sports.

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