The Boston Bruins could make or break the Stanley Cup playoff hopes for a number of teams, including their own, in their most important week of the regular season.
The Black and Gold will play four games next week beginning with Monday night’s road tilt at the Air Canada Centre against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team closest behind them in the Atlantic Division standings and currently holding down the second wild card spot. That makes the young, up-and-coming Leafs the biggest threat to overtake the B’s for the third spot in the division. Currently the Leafs trail the Bruins by three points with one game in hand, so a regulation loss could be a damaging blow for a struggling young hockey team that hasn’t beaten a team in playoff position in more than a month.
Following the Toronto showdown, the Bruins immediately set their sights on the second night of a back-to-back with a home date against an Ottawa Senators team that’s beaten the Bruins badly twice already this season. The Sens also look like a strong candidate to face the Bruins in the first round of the playoffs, and only four points separate the two teams when it comes to possible home ice advantage in a potential playoff series.
That’s looking ahead just a smidge, but the bottom line is that the Bruins have to start getting some confidence to bust through the Guy Boucher trap and generate the same level of offense that they do against just about everybody else. Those two divisional games would represent a challenging enough as it is, but the Black and Gold close out the week with games against the other two teams closely trailing them behind Toronto, the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders.
The Bolts have lost some momentum after a hot stretch and trail the Bruins by five points after losing to the Capitals on Saturday night, so a regulation win for the B’s over Tampa on Thursday night could all but eliminate their chances of catching up. The Bruins will finish off the week of playoff-level challenges with a trip to Brooklyn to face a reeling Islanders team that’s lost two in a row, and trails the Bruins by four points entering Sunday’s action.
Above and beyond the four worthy, desperate opponents with a taste of the playoffs in their mouths that the B’s are prepping for this week, this will also be an excellent playoff litmus test for Boston against the kind of teams they’ll be facing should they qualify for the postseason. It will make for intense, focused and physical hockey on the ice, and it will go a long way toward letting everybody know to expect out of these new-look Bruins this spring.
GOLD STAR: Every once in a while Brad Marchand wills the Bruins to a win that they probably wouldn’t have otherwise had, and that happened again on Friday night with a three-point explosion for No. 63 in the final 20 minutes. Marchand finished with a goal and three points in 19:57 of ice time along with a plus-2 rating, and played a key role in the three-goal outburst that allowed the B’s to vanquish a 2-0 deficit. It was Marchand that opted not to shoot from the face-off dot with a look at the net in the closing seconds, and instead dropped it down low to David Pastrnak as he curled around the net and pushed a puck past Kari Lehtonen for the game-winner. Marchand finished with two shots on net, eight total shot attempts and a number of big plays in the third period redirecting pucks in close, kicking off shorthanded scoring plays and then setting up clutch game-winners in the final 15 seconds of the game. It’s the kind of night where Marchand played like an MVP even if he isn’t going to get much of a sniff at the Hart Trophy.
BLACK EYE: Jamie Benn scored a shorthanded goal for the Dallas Stars, but he also jumped up in the air and clobbered Brad Marchand from behind with a completely unnecessary hit in the third period that went without a penalty being called. Instead it seemed to incense Marchand, who never gave up in the final sequence and ultimately fed a pass to David Pastrnak down low for the game-winner with just 11.1 seconds remaining in the game. Benn finished a minus-2 for Dallas while being on the ice for a pair of goals against, had a brutal 1-for-7 performance in the face-off dot and really acted like a punk on the play with Marchand in the third period. Benn is a better player than that and shouldn’t be resorting that level on a fellow star player like Marchand.
TURNING POINT: Once again the Bruins really turned things around in the third period while outscoring the Stars by a 3-0 margin, and really flooding the Dallas net with 10 of their 36 shots on net for the night. It all started with a relentless shift from Boston’s top line where Riley Nash made a pass from his knees before taking a big hit, and then Brad Marchand redirected a David Pastrnak shot from the slot off his leg and into the net for Boston’s first goal. That first score finally allowed the Bruins to begin building some momentum, score each of the next two goals as the game slipped away from Dallas and once again proved themselves as a hockey club that one doesn’t ever doubt in the third period.
HONORABLE MENTION: Tuukka Rask had a career-high 40 saves and turned away some really good looks from the Dallas offense while showing exactly what the Bruins can be capable of when their goaltending is on point. The only goals that beat Rask were a first period score with droves of traffic in front of the net, and a second period shorthanded score for Jamie Benn where he pulled one of those unconventional finishing moves on Rask at the very end. Rask made 11 saves on the Dallas power play alone during a trio of PP chances, and made a crucial leg pad save on Antoine Roussel in the third period that helped open things up for the goal-scoring outburst late in the game. Hopefully the strong, resounding performance from Rask answers some of the questions about some of his recent so-so performances between the pipes.
BY THE NUMBERS: 29 – the number of goals this season for David Pastrnak as he readies to become only the ninth Bruins player to hit the 30-goal plateau in back-to-back seasons over the last 35 years of franchise history.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “Resiliency. We didn’t want to go quietly for sure. We can live with the end result as long as we play the right way. The end result went our way again in the end, and I think that’s a credit to the guys.” –Bruce Cassidy to NESN about another comeback win for the Black and Gold.
DALLAS - David Pastrnak broke a tie with 12 seconds left and the Boston Bruins scored three straight goals in the third period to rally past the fading Dallas Stars 3-2 on Friday night.
A scramble followed a faceoff in the Dallas end, and Brad Marchand passed to Pastrnak in front. While falling down, he put the puck past Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen.
TALKING POINTS: B's resiliency on full display vs Stars
Tuukka Rask made a season-high 40 saves for the Bruins. Marchand scored Boston's first goal and also assisted on a short-handed goal by Tim Schaller that tied it midway through the third period.
The second-place Bruins won for the first time in three games (1-0-2) to move within four points of Atlantic Division leader Tampa Bay. Boston has already clinched a playoff berth.
The Stars are winless in their last seven games (0-5-2). They remained four points behind Colorado for the second Western Conference wild card.
Dallas led 2-0 on a first-period goal by Esa Lindell and Jamie Benn's short-handed score late in the second.
In the third, Marchand tipped in a shot by Pastrnak before Schaller scored on a 2-on-1 with Marchand.
Lehtonen finished with 33 saves.
Lindell scored 2:26 into the game. Jason Dickinson tried to deflect a shot from the right point into the net but the puck went wide right. Curtis McKenzie picked it up behind the goal line and passed to Lindell high in the left faceoff circle. His wrist shot went in off Rask's right arm.
Benn missed two good scoring opportunities early in the second period, but connected at 19:22. He took a pass from Tyler Seguin at the Dallas blue line and had a breakaway when Matt Grzelcyk fell down. Benn slid a backhand under Rask.