Drew Stafford 'dangerous' and productive in Bruins debut

Drew Stafford 'dangerous' and productive in Bruins debut

BOSTON – As debuts go for the Boston Bruins, Drew Stafford enjoyed a pretty solid one after joining the team following the NHL trade deadline. 

The 31-year-old veteran winger had a power play goal overturned in the second period and still ended up serving the primary assist on Boston’s game-winning goal in the third period of the Bruins 3-2 win over the New Jersey Devils at TD Garden. It was actually remarkable how much chemistry he had with Ryan Spooner and Frank Vatrano right off the bat after replacing Jimmy Hayes as the right wing on the third line, but it showed some of the possibilities with a player like Stafford that can keep up with them offensively.

“Our plan was to put him in with [Ryan] Spooner and [Frank] Vatrano, see how that fit, maybe mix him around. I think we set up the line a little bit – I thought he responded well and did the things that we expected,” said B’s interim head coach Bruce Cassidy. “When the puck was on his stick, he was dangerous tonight and that’s what we want from our offensive guys while still playing that 200-foot game. Like I said, he checked all the boxes tonight in terms of being a successful night for him.”

At the end of the night, Stafford led the Bruins with seven shots on net, had nine shot attempts overall and mixed in four registered hits as well in 14 plus minutes of ice time that mixed some good, old-fashioned physicality with a player that can also create some offense for himself. It was just too bad Stafford couldn’t have the goal as well after he bulled his way to the New Jersey net on the B’s power play, and shoveled home a second effort score after taking a solid centering feed from David Backes. 

It was ruled a goal on the ice, but a New Jersey coach’s challenge resulted in the goal getting overturned based on evidence that Stafford might have pushed Cory Schneider’s pad before the puck went into the net. 

It was an iffy goal reversal given the number of Devils defenders crashing into Schneider at the time of the score, and the fact it cancelled out Stafford’s efforts to crash hard toward the net with some blue collar ferocity. But it obviously didn’t stop Stafford, who kept plugging until the third line broke through with Ryan Spooner’s game-winner in the third period off a sweet dish from the former Winnipeg winger hanging out in the slot. 

“I don’t really know what happened. I was just battling in front trying to get something on it, and wasn’t really paying attention too much so I don’t know,” said Stafford. “The refs obviously made their decision. I’m not happy about it, but it is what it is. We were able to grind one out – big win for us, we needed that.

“I couldn’t ask for much more than that. Big win with the boys. It was still kind of a quick turnaround to jump in, but the boys have been great; very supportive – the coaching staff, everybody. I just had to go play and get back to how I know how to play and I was able to get an opportunity to kind of get back into the rhythm and the routine of the minutes and making plays. Those guys [on the third line] they can make those little plays and it’s great. Hopefully it can get better.”

Stafford comes to the Bruins with four goals and 13 points in 40 games this season where injuries and a youth movement in the Winnipeg lineup took away plenty of the production that’s been there for most of his NHL career. Instead, the Bruins hope that Stafford can tap into the skill and hard-nosed play that allowed him to score 21 goals for the Jets just a season ago, and now has him entering a B’s lineup where he’ll get plenty of chances moving forward as a third-liner that’s holding a major influence in the wins and losses these days.   

Backes escapes skate blade situation with deep cut that "wasn't too dangerous"

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Backes escapes skate blade situation with deep cut that "wasn't too dangerous"

TAMPA – David Backes certainly didn’t escape the scary situation with an errant skate blade unscathed, of course. 

The 33-year-old limped his way to the Bruins team bus out of Amalie Arena after Boston’s 3-0 shutout win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, and needed approximately 18 stitches to close up the gash on his right thigh. But Backes was still able to joke about it as he exited the dressing room while knowing that it could have been much, much worse with that kind of freak accident on the ice. 

"I'll play a second period one of these days,” said a smiling Backes, who was forced out of Saturday night’s loss with the skate blade cut in the last minute of the first period and exited the Florida loss as well after catching a match penalty in the first period as well. Luckily for him, there was no structural damage to Backes’ right leg after Yanni Gourde caught him in the thigh area as both players were down on the ice around the Tampa net.

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There was a lot of blood, however, as he quickly exited the ice, sped past the bench and headed right to the Bruins dressing room with Bruins trainer Donnie DelNegro trailing right behind. 

“I went in and saw him between periods. He’s okay. There’s no structural damage. There will be concern going forward about swelling or infection, but it looks like he’ll be okay. We’ll classify him as day-to-day, but I don’t know if he’ll be ready to play on Monday,” said Bruce Cassidy of Backes, who actually scored the second goal of the game for the Bruins as a power play strike. “You see a guy coming off like that and you see the blood pooling up, and you’re always worried they could hit an artery somewhere. He was able to get up. That was the first good sign and he was able to be tended to quickly. 

“It is scary. But we were told it would be a deep cut that would require some stitches, and it wasn’t too dangerous.”

For now it just becomes an eventful month for Backes where he’s been suspended, tossed out of a game with a match penalty and now forced out of a game after a freak skate blade incident, but there’s no doubt he’ll return better and stronger than ever in rapid fashion as he’s done through the last two seasons with the Bruins.


B's make a big statement to Tampa, rest of the NHL with gutsy win

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B's make a big statement to Tampa, rest of the NHL with gutsy win

TAMPA – One has to wonder what the Tampa Bay Lightning are thinking after Saturday night’s game. 

It’s probably something along the lines of “Oh crap” after the Bruins completely shut them down while missing their top defensemen pairing, their best all-around player and top line center, their most impactful rookie forward and also losing their best power forward, who was filling in as top line center, in the first period. The undermanned Bruins made a big, fat statement with their 3-0 win over the well-rested, healthy Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena at the end of a long, four-game road trip, and now sit just two points behind the Bolts with 12 games to play in the regular season. 

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It was impressive enough that the Black and Gold won at all against the NHL’s best team while missing so many of their top shelf players, but to do it while also totally shutting down Tampa’s offense was something worth remarking about. The Bruins defense and goaltending had been playing a bit fast and loose for the better part of a month, and had been bailed out time and again by an offense that’s been dropping big numbers lately. 

But the Bruins went into Saturday night determined to leave an impression with the Lightning about what awaits them next month once the playoffs start, and they did it with physical, gritty defense that left Tampa with little space to operate. Even better the Bruins defensemen moved the puck pretty much perfectly and swiftly all night, blocked shots with hard-nosed determination and proved they could do more than survive without Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy. 

That’s damned impressive when you consider the opponents from Tampa Bay lining up against them with a chance to clinch their playoff spot, and what’s on the line for both teams headed into the final three weeks of the regular season. 

“We were looking at it as more of a bounce-back against a really good team, and let’s see where we are. I thought we answered the bell,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “Probably the biggest win in a long time. We've had some nice comebacks and some high-scoring affairs, but it was nice to get a zero [goals allowed] in the column. It’s been a while. 

“It was just good, solid team defense…winning pucks. It was probably not the prettiest hockey, but I thought the goals we scored were pretty nice ones going to the net. It was playoff hockey. I thought we were better at it than they were tonight. Who knows how the next one is going to go, but we’re going to enjoy this.”

It was clear early on that the Bruins wanted to set the tone both physically and style of play-wise, and they did just that. The pounding physicality clearly bothered the Lightning as Steven Stamkos made an uncharacteristic choice to retaliate against Tim Schaller after he threw a heavy hit on the Tampa Bay star player. That landed Stamkos in the box and set the Bruins up for their first of two power play goals on the evening. 

Those two power play goals were proof enough that the Bruins had their special teams in good order, but it took just a combined 23 seconds of power play time to strike for those two scores against the Lightning penalty kill. That’s the kind of thing that’s going to keep Jon Cooper and the Tampa Bay coaching staff up at night before the final two meetings between these two teams. The suffocating defense, the stout physicality and the quick strike offense just completely overwhelmed the Lightning, and things went exactly according to the game plan that Bruce Cassidy had set out for them prior to the game. 

“We’re a confident group back there, and when we play the way we’re supposed to we can compete with anybody,” said Kevan Miller, who played a punishing, physical 21:41 of ice time in the win. “It’s that time of year where we’re pushing for the playoffs, we’re grinding away and we knew as a group after [the Florida loss] we needed to tighten things up. We did that. That’s a tough team over there, so you need to take time and space away from them. As a group we did a great job of that.”

About the only thing that didn’t go right for the Bruins early was David Backes exiting quickly at the end of the first after his right thigh got sliced by an errant skate blade. But even the 33-year-old Backes managed to avoid serious injury despite approximately 18 stitches to close the wound, and was cracking jokes about it as he limped to the Bruins bus postgame.

Clearly things can and will change with two games remaining between the two teams in the final three weeks of the regular season. The Bruins should theoretically be even better and more difficult to beat once they got all of their key players healthy, and that’s got to be a frightening prospect for the Lightning. 

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Then again perhaps the Bolts were a little rusty after three days off leading into Saturday night, and they needed to be kicked in the teeth by the Bruins to start getting that hunger back. Either way the Bruins are within a single win of pulling into a tie for the President’s Trophy and home ice throughout the entire Eastern Conference playoff bracket. Nobody should be surprised the Bruins did it once again while fighting through injuries and a brutal late season schedule, and that’s a testament to how stubbornly they’ve successfully plowed through adversity this season. 

The dominant win over Tampa on Saturday night just serves as another piece of compelling hockey evidence that something special is building with the Black and Gold. It’s become impossible to deny or ignore as the Bruins continue bucking the odds in a way that should have everybody else’s full attention around the NHL at this point.