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Saturday, March 11, 2017

B's Stay Hot As Stafford Scores the Game-Winning Goal With 5.6 Seconds Left to Sink the Flyers 2-1

In any sport, to be considered a true contender and more than just a fringe playoff team at best, you have to win games in many different ways (low-scoring, high-scoring, etc.). Boston (36-26-6) outlasted Philadelphia (31-28-8) 2-1 this afternoon at TD Garden in a staring contest that fittingly ended with a very fluky goal. The newest Bruin-Drew Stafford-threw the puck at the net and Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning ended up deflecting it past his own goaltender Steve Mason (25 saves). That game-winning goal was Stafford's sixth tally of the season and second as a Bruin, he has four points (2 goals, 2 assists) in four games with the black and gold. In other words, nice trade deadline pickup by GM Don Sweeney.

Getting the two points and also not letting Philly have any (when they probably deserved at least one) was a huge result not just for the B's but many other Eastern Conference clubs. It brought Boston closer to a playoff berth, keeping them solidly in third-place in the Atlantic Division. For now, Boston is four points ahead of Toronto (30-22-14) who is playing tonight at Colorado (19-44-3) but the Leafs have two games in hand on the Bruins. Boston is three points ahead of the Islanders (32-23-11) who are in St. Louis (34-27-5) and also have two games in hand. Finally, the Lightning (31-26-9) and Panthers (29-26-11) meet tonight in Tampa Bay in essentially an elimination game. If either club loses in regulation (particularly Florida), you could cross them off the list of teams with a reasonable shot to sneak in the top-eight in the East.

This being a Bruins-Flyers game, even with a family friendly start time of 1 pm, you knew that there would be some physical play. Manning and Matt Beleskey ended up dropping the gloves just 2:02 into the contest. The hard hits continued throughout and Boston gained some serious momentum by killing a 5-on-3 Philadelphia power play that lasted for 1:43 in the first. A few minutes later, the Bruins jumped ahead 1-0 on David Pastrnak's power play goal (his 28th of the season). It was a picture perfect set up as he dumped the puck in and Brad Marchand won a battle behind Philly's net which allowed Patrice Bergeron to feed Pastrnak on the doorstep for the one-timer.

Philly had outshot Boston 14-11 in the first period but it was a relatively even frame despite the 1-0 Bruins advantage. The second period was dominated by the Flyers (outshooting the B's 9-4) but luckily for the home team, Tuukka Rask (26 saves) came to play. The Flyers tied it at one at 1:27 as Jordan Weal tapped the puck through Torey Krug's legs after some chaos around Rask (Brandon Carlo had fallen down). Head coach Bruce Cassidy (who is 10-3-0 by the way, 7-1 at home) challenged the play for a possible offside on Wayne Simmonds but it stood as Weal's third goal of the season, from Simmonds and Claude Giroux.

The black and gold turned up the pressure and started to look much better in the third period (after Cassidy had changed some lines with Austin Czarnik and Jimmy Hayes disappearing for all intents and purposes) as they outshot the Flyers 12-4. Beleskey was stuffed after a juicy rebound allowed by Mason early on and it looked like it would be decided in overtime or a shootout. Luckily, Stafford saved his team and their fans from more hockey on this day (keep in mind the Bruins are only 4-4 in OT and 2-2 in shootouts). Kevan Miller had the lone assist on the game-winning goal which came in truly bizarre fashion but the Bruins will obviously take it with a smile and move on.

Another reason why it was such an important result is because the Bruins are off to Canada for a four-game excursion: at Vancouver (28-30-9) on Monday (10:00, NESN), at Calgary (37-26-4) on Wednesday (9, NESN), at Edmonton (35-23-9) on Thursday (9, NESN) then wrapping up in Toronto (30-22-14) a week from Monday (7:30, NESN). The Bruins are still a great road team (17-12-6) and other than the Canucks, those other three teams have a good shot at reaching the postseason. Needless to say, that meeting with the Maple Leafs should be enormously important to both clubs.

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