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Bruins snap Toronto's hold, give an encouraging playoff preview

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Bruins snap Toronto's hold, give an encouraging playoff preview

BOSTON – The Bruins went into Saturday night’s game hoping to break the stranglehold the Maple Leafs had held over them as of late.

That’s exactly what they did against a Toronto team that’s dominated them in recent years, and the Bruins did so in the same method they’ve dispatched nearly every other team over the last three months. The seven wins in a row for the Maple Leafs against the Black and Gold came to an abrupt end in Saturday night in Boston’s 4-1 one-sided domination of Toronto, and the Bruins are now five points ahead of Toronto for second place in the Atlantic Division.

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For a Bruins team that went into this weekend with a clear mandate to establish a higher ground against a Maple Leafs team they may see down the line in the playoffs, it was mission accomplished in a big way. With 30 plus games to go and the Bruins and Leafs seemingly on a collision course to meet in the first round of the playoffs, Saturday’s unmistakable result has to give the Leafs plenty of pause about potential matchups in the postseason.  

“We talked about it before the game. [The Maple Leafs] play really well. They get on top of you, they skate, they make simple plays – but very effective plays. But, obviously [on Saturday night] we were on top of them and I felt that we were skating really well,” said Zdeno Chara. “We were putting pucks where we could put a lot of pressure on them. We were on our toes and anticipating some plays and it obviously paid off and we scored some big goals – two power play goals were I think making the difference in the game – and guys did a great job. 

“And then we killed their power plays. Obviously the one was a very unfortunate bounce, but other than that, we did our job and we won the special teams. So, yeah, it was a great team effort and everybody really contributed. Everybody did their job.”   

It was a game where the Bruins never trailed after scoring a goal on a Patrice Bergeron one-timer in the first period, and eventually took over in the second period by extending the lead with a pair of power play strikes. It was a game that featured stellar goaltending from Tuukka Rask with 29 saves in 30 tries and only a fluky deflection off Charlie McAvoy’s stick that beat him, and it also featured some explosive special teams work with the aforementioned power play goals and some huge penalty kills in the game’s final period.

Mix that in with Boston’s suffocating defensive work where Chara and Patrice Bergeron shut down Auston Matthews (zero points, one shot on net, a minus-2 and three giveaways) like he was the Invisible Man on the ice, and the Bruins certainly gave the Leafs plenty to think about if they do meet in the postseason a few months from now. Part of it was about the Leafs probably not being at their best for their third game in four days, but a bigger part of it is about a Bruins team that looks fully prepared for what’s to come after a bit of a wakeup call vs. the Anaheim Ducks earlier this week.   

“There wasn’t a lot of down moments for us. Clearly our penalty kill with the backdoor plays is something we talked about. They were able to make one early on as Tuukka made a hell of a save, so we got away with it. We kind of straightened that out,” said Bruce Cassidy. “The battle level, the pace – like Toronto, when we played them, I remember last year, early this year, they were really skating. 

“I thought we out-skated them tonight. At least that’s the way I saw it. They’re on their third in four nights; could that have something to do with it? I don’t know. It seems like every team has a busy schedule, but I liked the way we skated. We were winning pucks, and we were killing plays in the neutral zone and getting back and re-attacking them. I thought that was the difference in the game, us being able to sustain that transition game where we’re back in their end, and eventually wear them down.”

Certainly the right now won’t mean as much as a possible postseason matchups down the road between Atlantic Division teams way ahead of everybody else not named the Tampa Bay Lightning. Instead it’s about finishing strong against the Leafs with one more regular season meeting in Toronto prior to the end of this month, and continuing to roll with a Bruins record that’s a ridiculous 25-4-4 since the middle of November. 

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Clearly Toronto had the drop on Boston earlier this season with the home-and-home sweep of the Black and Gold back in November, and they took advantage of a young, injury-ravaged Bruins group that was still finding their way. There was a different respect factor, perhaps, for the Black and Gold once Saturday night had been decided. 

“I really like [Boston’s] game. I think they play well,” said Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock. “I think they have got unbelievable leadership in Bergy, Chara and Krejci in key positions for them. Then, they’ve got kids; they are good players and do it right. 

“Marchand isn’t playing [but he’s] a star. Pastrnak is a real good player. They play fast; they play right, a good pace to them. So it should be fun. They don’t give you much.”

Now the Maple Leafs know what everybody else around the NHL has learned over the last three months: The Bruins are one of the best teams in the league this season, and are going to be a very difficult out once the postseason finally gets going in April.

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Brad Marchand scores in overtime, Bruins beat Flames 2-1

Brad Marchand scores in overtime, Bruins beat Flames 2-1

CALGARY, Alberta -- After a blip in Vancouver, the Boston Bruins got right back to business.

Brad Marchand scored his 22nd goal 3:36 into overtime to give Boston a 2-1 victory over the Calgary Flames on Monday, less than 48 hours after the Bruins lost 6-1 to the Canucks.

"We ran into a hot goalie in Vancouver. Their goalie played great tonight, but we were resilient," Marchand said. "We were much better in the defensive zone and had a better game overall."

David Pastrnak also scored for Boston (36-13-8), which moved within one point of Tampa Bay for first place in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference. The Bruins, who are 12-1-2 in their last 15 road games, have two games in hand on the Lightning.

Boston has lost only three times in regulation in the last 28 games (21-3-4).

"It starts at the top with leadership, and just having that constant belief we can do it, we can get the job done regardless of who we're playing against," Riley Nash said.

After TJ Brodie's turnover deep in the Flames end, Nash's pass sprung Marchand on a breakaway and he made no mistake, slipping the puck through the pads of rookie goaltender David Rittich for the ninth overtime goal of his career.

"(Nash) made a phenomenal defensive play," Marchand said. "I knew that they had three guys low and I just tried to get out of the zone. He made a great play to get it up."

Brodie accepted the blame.

"Tonight was on me," the Calgary defenseman said. "I tried to pass to Johnny (Gaudreau). I could have passed it to (Sean Monahan), I could have shot it. It's one of those things that looking back now, I definitely could have done something different."

Matthew Tkachuk scored for the Flames (30-21-9), who fell to 1-3-4 in their last eight home games. They began the day one point out of third place in the Pacific Division.

"It's like any slump - the harder you try, the more you grip the stick, the worse it is," Brodie said. "It's not like we've been playing bad at home. We've gotten chances. It's just one of those things where a bounce here and there, we could be talking about the same record as the road."

With the teams meeting for the second time in six days, Calgary was territorially outplayed by a wide margin in the first period but Rittich kept the Flames in it.

Calgary tied it 1-all at 5:28 of the second, scoring on the power play. Monahan's shot was stopped by Tuukka Rask, but as the puck lied at the feet of Zdeno Chara in the crease, Tkachuk knocked in his 22nd goal.

Rittich was starting his fourth game in a row, with veteran Mike Smith (lower body) still sidelined. Rittich was pulled Saturday night after giving up four goals on 15 shots.

"Huge bounce-back for Rittich," Flames coach Glen Gulutzan said. "That team is a hard team to beat. You look across the league, not many teams are beating them. You can't really beat them without goaltending and we got it tonight and it gave us a chance."

The 25-year-old Czech goalie was especially sharp in keeping the score even at 1.

A minute after Calgary tied it, Rittich slid across the crease to get a glove on Marchand's backhand out of midair after he was set up by Patrice Bergeron.

Late in the second, Rittich stabbed out his glove to rob Ryan Spooner on a breakaway. In the third, the goalie stared down Pastrnak on a breakaway and acrobatically got the toe of his left pad on a dangerous chance.

Rittich finished with 30 stops but fell to 6-3-3.

"It's frustrating," said Tkachuk, who has 14 goals in his last 22 games. "They're a really good team. Didn't give us many chances at all. The ones that we did get, we've got to capitalize."

Rask also was coming off a shortened outing in his previous start, pulled after giving up four goals on eight shots in the first period against Vancouver.

This time, he made 28 saves to improve to 24-10-4.

Boston struck first at 5:59 when Michael Frolik coughed up the puck along the sideboards in his own end and Pastrnak pounced on it, quickly firing a shot past Rittich on his blocker side.

NOTES: Flames D Travis Hamonic played in his 500th career game. ... Calgary LW Morgan Klimchuk, drafted in 2013, made his NHL debut on a line with C Matt Stajanand RW Curtis Lazar. Every player selected in the first round of that draft has now played an NHL game. ... The Bruins improved to 9-1-3 in their last 13 games against Calgary. ... Boston is 23-1-5 when scoring first.

UP NEXT

Bruins: Tuesday night at Edmonton.

Flames: Wednesday night at Vegas

Talking points: David Pastrnak bust out of slump in OT win over Flames

Talking points: David Pastrnak bust out of slump in OT win over Flames

GOLD STAR: David Pastrnak busted out of a mini-slump with a nice performance as he scored the B’s first goal of the game, and made a nice play picking up a loose puck off the side boards before curling to the net and beating David Rittich down low. Pastrnak finished with a team-high four shots on net, blocked a whopping three shots and generally played a committed, intense 18:38 of ice time after showing some quirks in his game over the last three or four weeks. Pastrnak still has just two goals in his last 12 games after Monday afternoon’s lamp-lighter, so the Bruins could use their 21-year-old right winger going on a scoring binge now that he’s broken through.

BLACK EYE: It was a pretty well-played game on both sides, so there aren’t a lot of easy, ready-made candidates, so Michael Frolik gets it by process of elimination. Frolik was stripped of the puck along the side boards by Patrice Bergeron, and that kicked a loose puck out to David Pastrnak for his successful scoring curl to the net. Frolik finished with a couple of shots on net, had a couple of giveaways in his 17:19 of ice time and wasn’t much of a factor for the Flames in a game where one mistake turned out to make a huge difference. All that being said, it was mostly a well-played game for both sides with Frolik’s early miscue playing a major role. 

TURNING POINT: Clearly it was about Tuukka Rask holding strong in the third period and overtime after he’d been just okay over the last week, and he did that with a good effort in the third period (12 saves) and a superhuman effort in overtime (five saves) when he stoned Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk prior to Brad Marchand’s game-winner. The overtime session was extremely impressive for Rask as he stood tall with a very important result on the line in terms of the defense/goaltending earning a good result after some subpar performances lately. Without Rask standing on his head, the Bruins don’t get the two points at the other end near the end of the overtime session. 

HONORABLE MENTION: With Pastrnak nailing down top honors after breaking his slump, Brad Marchand gets the honorable mention by “just” ripping home the game-winner in overtime on a breakaway. Marchand made his typical forehand-to-backhand maneuver and picked a spot on the five-hole through the leg pads of David Rittich, who was otherwise outstanding for the Flames in a tight game for Calgary. Marchand finished with the goal and a plus-2 rating, and finished with seven shot attempts in a whopping 21:38 of ice time. Both Marchand and Pastrnak had been pretty quiet as of late as the physical intensity has ramped up on them lately, but they responded well by powering the offense against Calgary.  

BY THE NUMBERS: 9 – With Monday afternoon’s OT game-winner, left winger Brad Marchand now stands second all-time behind Dit Clapper and Glen Murray for the most overtime winners in Bruins franchise history. 

QUOTE TO NOTE: “You just stay patient and hope that the puck hits you, and it did.” –a matter-of-fact Tuukka Rask to reporters in Calgary on the overtime session where Rask did more than that in stopping five shots prior to Brad Marchand’s overtime game-winner.  

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