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Saturday, March 4, 2017

B's Beat Devils 3-2 In Stafford's Debut For Boston

I have never been to that arctic hell hole known as Winnipeg but I can only assume that getting out of there for good has to be one of the best moments of your life. At least that's what new Bruins (34-25-6) right wing Drew Stafford would have you believe after he was named the first star of the game in his debut for Boston, a 3-2 win over New Jersey (25-27-12) tonight at TD Garden. Playing on the third line with Frank Vatrano and Ryan Spooner (Claude Julien's haters), Stafford had an assist, he was +1, a game-high seven shots on goal and four hits in a very productive 14:07 of ice time.

A Weekend at Bernie's style corpse would be an improvement over Jimmy Hayes (2 goals, 3 assists in 49 games this season!) so needless to say that Stafford is already a huge addition if only for the simple reason that it relegated Hayes to the ninth floor as a healthy scratch. Obviously Stafford won't be that good in every game, few teams are more pathetic than the Devils, but this was a promising start for the former Sabre. Also relevant to the B's besides the two points is that backup goaltender Anton Khudobin (15 saves) continued to not be a liability anymore (a drastic change from earlier this season) as he won his third straight start.

Boston improved to 8-2-0 under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy and I'm almost certain (and too lazy to check it) that they haven't had a better 10-game segment in 2016-17. You have to feel bad for Marblehead native and BC alum Cory Schneider (37 saves), besides a few years in Vancouver (where he was never the unquestioned No. 1 goaltender), he's been on a bunch of terrible teams. We think he's one of the best at his position in the NHL but it's hard to really assess when he has yet to compete in a single playoff game as a Devil. For as long as he's been in Dirty Jersey, the once-proud franchise has struggled to score goals which last time I checked is still relevant in terms of winning in hockey.

After a scoreless first period that should have been followed by partial refunds to all the fans in attendance (Boston outshot New Jersey 16-5), there was a flurry by that minimalist standard with three goals in the second frame. Torey Krug gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead at 7:06 when he hammered in a loose puck for a power play goal. David Pastrnak (5-game point-streak) and Patrice Bergeron had the assists on Krug's sixth goal of the season. The B's appeared to take a 2-0 lead shortly after that as Taylor Hall was in the penalty box for another tripping call. The funny thing is that Hall's penalty had negated a possible goal for his own team but then Stafford's power play goal was overturned for a shaky goaltender interference ruling. Schneider never seemed to control the puck and it was called a goal on the ice but after a lengthy review, the refs said no goal.

A few minutes later New Jersey tied it at one as big and slow Devante Smith-Pelly somehow got on a breakaway and beat Khudobin at 11:48. BC's Steve Santini and Kyle Palmieri had the helpers on Smith-Pelly's fourth goal of the season. The black and gold went ahead 2-1 at 18:25 of the second period as rookie Brandon Carlo got a lucky bounce. His weak backhander was tipped in by New Jersey defenseman Nick Lappin. Bergeron and David Backes assisted on Carlo's sixth goal of the season.

Down 2-1 going into the third period, the Devils didn't go away though as Palmieri tied it after a 2-on-1 with Hall following a blocked shot on Carlo. It was his twentieth goal of the season, giving the American back-to-back 20-goal campaigns which converted to New Jersey terms is like a 30-goal season with most other half-decent clubs. The B's responded quickly in their own right as Vatrano caused a turnover behind Schneider's net then passed to Stafford who fed Spooner for a pretty tap-in. Spooner's 11th goal of the season stood as the game-winner as the Devils never really threatened while the Bruins missed a pair of empty-netters.

When it comes to the jumbled Eastern Conference playoff picture, there won't be many bigger games down the stretch than Monday (7, NESN) as Boston travels to Ottawa (35-22-6). The Senators held off the Blue Jackets (40-17-6) 3-2 tonight so they will come in two points in front of the Bruins with two games in hand. Needless to say, a win by the B's (who are 17-11-6 on the road) would be huge while a Sens victory especially in regulation would be a blow to Boston's hopes of finishing above third in the Atlantic Division. Tuukka Rask (30-15-4) will be well-rested so it should be a good one, a little Monday Night Puck.

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