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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

In Their First Home Game In Over Two Weeks, the Bruins Take Care of the AHL Coyotes 4-1

In the last few seasons under former head coach Claude Julien, tonight would have been a tailor-made trap game for the Bruins (33-24-6). They were coming off a very successful four-game road trip (3-1-0) and hadn't played at TD Garden in over two weeks (thanks to a bye week before the games in California and Texas) so it was refreshing to see them look like a completely different club in an easy 4-1 victory on First Responders Night. This is Boston's first four-game home winning streak since 2014-the last time that they made the playoffs. They are also unbeaten in their last 10 games vs. Arizona dating back to the 2010 opener in Prague that the Coyotes won 5-2.

Boston improved to a remarkable 7-1-0 under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy, seriously when do they give him some job security and ditch the cheesy title? Arizona (22-33-7) lived up or rather down to its advance billing as the second-worst team in the league. The crazy part is that they are still 14 points ahead of Colorado (17-41-3) who might as well have cancelled the season by now. Would anyone notice? Four different Bruins scored the goals (Colin Miller, Riley Nash, David Backes and Brad Marchand) as they continue to spread the offense around like any quality hockey team is known to do. Tuukka Rask (30-14-4) only had to make 22 saves as he has posted four straight 30+ win seasons.

Other than the paint by numbers two points for the B's, this game will be remembered most for the bone-crunching hit by Boston defenseman Colin Miller on Arizona center Alexander Burmistrov early in the second period. It left Burmistrov down on the ice for a long stretch before he was wheeled off on a stretcher. The good news is that after getting checked out at a hospital in Boston, he will rejoin his teammates later tonight. Miller was assessed a five-minute major for charging and a game-misconduct (10-minutes). For me, that was the type of hit that looks worse than it actually was intended to be. Burmistrov had his head down and was hunched over as he released the puck right before Miller caught him with a shoulder directly to his head. If the play should go to the NHL's Department of Player Safety, Miller could have a reasonable case based on his lack of previous dirty plays and the fact that he's an honest player in general.

Ironically, Colin Miller had begun the scoring with a goal just 3:06 into the first period. David Pastrnak and David Krejci had the assists on his fifth goal of the season. The B's have scored first-period goals in 10 straight games including notching the first goal in the past six games. Boston led 1-0 after the first period but Arizona tied it early in the second as Peter Holland wrapped around the net for a power play strike at 3:27. Something named Brendan Perlini (who sounds like an honorary resident of the North End) and Radim Vrbata (trade that man to a real team!) had the assists on Holland's second goal of the season.

As they have for much of 2016-17, Boston's penalty kill unit sparked them (they are tied for the NHL lead with 8 shorthanded goals) as Riley Nash of all people bagged his first career shorthanded goal in the NHL. Mike Smith (10 saves, 4 goals allowed) fumbled the puck to Patrice Bergeron who fed a wide open Nash for his fourth goal of the season at 7:07. The Bruins put it away from there with two more goals in a scintillating second period: David Backes beat Smith with a one-timer from Brad Marchand and Bergeron at 18:05 and then the backbreaker was Marchand getting his own wraparound goal with 11 seconds left in the frame (his team-leading 28th goal of the season).

Smith was pulled after the second in favor of his backup Louis Domingue and the Bruins settled in for a rare easy win at home where they are 16-13-0. Their focus now turns to Thursday (7, NESN) as they host the Rangers (40-21-2) who as usual are a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference this spring. Against the pathetic Coyotes, Boston was able to put it on cruise control for much of this one but they know they will need to be much better to continue this amazing stretch. An underrated factor for their remarkable turnaround has been their health: the Bruins don't have any significant injuries to speak of which is almost unheard of as the calendar flips to March. Don't forget to stay locked to Twitter and the NHL Network or NESN tomorrow as the NHL Trade Deadline comes at 3 p.m. I wouldn't expect the B's to do much but you never know, maybe GM Don Sweeney will make a surprise last-second move to add to his group that suddenly looks like a real playoff team.

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