The Bruins are continuing to win in spite of the rash of injuries, can they take the top spot in the Atlantic?
The Tampa Bay Lightning have been on top of the Atlantic Division for almost the entire season. As the season winds down, the Bruins might sneak in and steal the Divison crown from the bolts. The Bruins are only two points back of Tampa, with two games in hand and two more head to head matchups with the Lightning. It is certainly plausible that the Bruins take over the Atlantic Divison and get to play a wild-card team in the 1st round, rather than the Toronto Maple Leafs. It certainly would be nice to win the Atlantic Division. However, I don’t want that to mean that injured players get rushed back in an attempt to win it. This isn’t like last year where every point mattered to just get in the playoffs, the Bruins are pretty much guaranteed a playoff spot. There is no need to play these injured players until they are absolutely 100%.
A three-game road trip awaited the Bruins this week, and for the most part, they impressed. A dramatic comeback in Carolina, a disappointing result against Florida, and a domination in Tampa Bay capped off the road swing before heading back to Boston for a showdown with the Blue Jackets on Monday.
Game 1: Carolina Hurricanes
After the defeat in the Windy City, the black and gold traveled to Carolina to take on the Hurricanes. The Bruins forward core got a big boost for the game, as two impact players returned to the lineup. David Backes returned from his 3 game suspension, and Brad Marchand came back from his upper-body injury, only missing the previous tilt in Chicago. The game started rather slow as neither teams could manage any offensive pressure in the opening frame. That changes late in the period, as with under a minute to go, Tuukka Rask, stopped a Jeff Skinner chance from in tight. A couple seconds later, the Bruins developed their own chance on goal. Along the half-wall, Riley Nash sent the puck behind the net to David Pastrnak, Carolina’s defense collapsed on Pastrnak and his great backhand pass freed Brad Marchand to score short side to give the Bruins a 1-0 advantage after 20 minutes.
The middle frame was not so kind to the Bruins, as the Hurricanes would score three times in the period. In what can only be described as a lazy period, the Bruins were thoroughly outplayed and ‘Canes were in complete control. Carolina’s first two goals of the period were both on the powerplay, the second goal on a five on three advantage. Both powerplay goals were rockets from the right circle and were scored by Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen. With just over a minute to go, a lost defensive zone faceoff resulted in the Hurricanes third goal of the period. A quick shot would squeak by Rask, and while the puck was sitting in the crease, Justin Williams would tap it in for a 3-1 lead for the home team after two periods.
To open the third period, the Bruins were on the powerplay, and it was the ‘Canes who took advantage. David Pastrnak lost control of the puck at the blueline and Elias Lindholm came down the ice on a partial break, Rask would stone Lindholm’s bid, but Marchand overcommitted on his pursuit of Lindholm, and Brock McGinn scored on the rebound for a 4-1 Carolina lead.
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The Bruins were down 4-1 and finally said enough of this, and put their foot down. A strong play by Tim Schaller and Sean Kuraly along the benches sent in Matt Grzelcyk on a quick two on one rush and his shot beat Cam Ward, to cut the lead to 4-2. Under a minute later, after some good zone time by the 1st line, David Pastrnak sniped one past Ward from the right circle, and somehow we have a 1 goal game with 9 minutes remaining. Now, only 15 seconds later, David Krejci batted down a puck at center ice and broke into the zone on a two on one with Danton Heinen. Krejci’s pass connected with Heinen, who knocked it home to tie the game at 4.
With both squads knotted at four, both offenses traded odd-man rushes, but neither team could convert. Justin Faulk would flip the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty, and with four minutes remaining, the Bruins now have a late powerplay opportunity. David Pastrnak unleashed a huge slapper which flew by Ward, giving the Bruins a 5-4 lead late in the period. Down a goal, Carolina pulled the goalie looking for the equalizer. But, David Pastrnak would score on the empty net, completing his first career hat trick, capping the Bruins crazy comeback win 6-4.
Game 2: Florida Panthers
After the Carolina comeback, news broke the both Zdeno Chara and Jake DeBrusk would miss the final two games of the week, not good. The Bruins had a few early chances against James Reimer, but couldn’t convert. The first goal of the game belonged to the Cats as Aaron Ekblad would bat the puck past Anton Khudobin to take an early 1-0 lead. The Panthers later doubled their lead soon after. A three on two counterattack by the Cats resulted in Nick Bjugstad tucking the puck past Khudobin for a 2-0 lead over the Bruins.
Late in the period, David Backes unleashed a check on Vincent Trocheck and he was assessed a match penalty and he was ejected from the game. It was a questionable decision by the officials that the NESN broadcast team of Jack Edwards and Andy Brickley disagreed with the call, as they argued the principle point of contact was not the head and Backes should not have been ejected. The ejection put the Bruins at an even bigger disadvantage already down two goals, now having lost Backes for the remainder of the game.
Jumping to the second period, the Panthers would add their third tally of the game, this time on the powerplay. Vincent Trocheck would score from just inside the right circle, as a great screen in front blocked Khudobin’s line of sight on the play. As the rest of the game progressed, the Bruins generated some more chances, but James Reimer was not being beaten tonight, and his 46 save shutout catapulted the playoff hungry Cats to a 3-0 victory over the Bruins.
Game 3: Tampa Bay Lightning
After being shutout for just the second time this season, the Bruins came out goal hungry. Just three minutes into the game, the tandem of Riley Nash and Tommy Wingels won the puck along the boards and the puck was passed over to Torey Krug at the left point. Krug then found a streaking David Pastrnak who was able to tuck the puck past bolts goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, giving Boston an early 1-0 lead. The Bruins soon doubled their lead over the Atlantic Division leaders. On the powerplay, a Torey Krug point shot went wide of the cage, but the rebound bounced right to David Backes, and he converted to give the Bruins a 2-0 advantage in the opening 20 minutes. Both the Bruins and the Lightning would trade chances to end the period, but neither squad scored. The other major story to come out of the period was David Backes. With under one minute to go, a goalmouth collision in the Tampa zone ended with David Backes being cut by a skate and quickly skated to the bench on one leg in severe pain.
In the second, the Bruins would add another goal, again on the man advantage. Torey Krug got his third assist of the night, as his initial shot was saved but bounced out to Riley Nash, who jumped on the rebound and gave the Bruins a commanding 3-0 lead. Tampa Bay would up the pressure in the third period, but Tuukka Rask, who struggled as of late, kept the high powered Lightning off the scoreboard, and the Bruins rebound from being shutout in Sunrise, Florida, as the Bruins shutout the Lightning in Tampa Bay 3-0.
The Road Ahead:
Monday vs Columbus
Wednesday at St. Louis
Friday at Dallas
Sunday at Minnesota
All four games this week are against playoff caliber teams in both conferences. After an impressive last week, considering all the injuries the Bruins continue their current stretch of playing against tough competition. There’s a slight chance that Patrice Bergeron could join the team on the upcoming road trip, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up. The team needs him 100% for the playoffs, and they can’t rush him back because other players are dropping like flies. If Bergeron doesn’t return on the trip, they are down Bergeron, McAvoy, Chara, DeBrusk, and Backes and could be in for a tough week. But news broke Sunday night that highly touted prospect Ryan Donato signed his NHL contract and he is expected to make his debut on Monday night. Overall it will be a tough week for the Bruins, but they are a great team and will fight through it, and finish the week 2-2-0.