Bruins

Donato looks like impact player after 'dream' debut

Donato looks like impact player after 'dream' debut

BOSTON – It certainly looks like the Bruins have themselves another young impact player.

The only way it could have been more of a dream scenario for Ryan Donato in his NHL debut would have been if the Bruins won the game, but otherwise it was as good as could have been hoped with a goal and three points in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday night at TD Garden.

Donato fired off a one-timer missile from the right face-off dot for his first NHL goal, but also showed both tenacity in front of the net on the power play leading to Riley Nash’s goal, and playmaking in flipping a backhanded saucer pass to David Krejci for the tying goal in the third period. 

The highly skilled Harvard star didn’t end up finishing off the storybook opening with an OT winner, but he did more than enough in his first game to make it a living dream for himself.

“During warm-ups, actually, I was kind of taken away. I mean it kind of felt like a dream and I really didn’t even get that warmed up because I was too focused on everything else, and just kind of the whole situation,” said Donato. “At the end of the day it was an unbelievable experience and it was a blessing tonight.

“I mean, [the NHL] is so much faster than what I’ve ever seen but at the end of the day, it’s something that you can get used to. When you’re playing with great players like that it’s something that will come along fast as well.”

If there were a checklist of qualities that the Bruins wanted to see out of their 21-year-old prospect while jumping from college hockey to the pros, one could check off “high hockey IQ”, “natural goal-scoring shot” and “nose for the net” right off the bat.

Those are the kinds of qualities that could make Donato very effective for the Bruins down the stretch and into the playoffs if the youngster can harness them on a consistent basis. It also caps off a brilliant 2014 NHL draft for the Bruins, helmed by current Edmonton Oilers assistant GM Keith Gretzky, where their first four picks were David Pastrnak, Donato, Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork, a draft class that’s helped set the Black and Gold up for years to come.  

What about the combination of those qualities plus being able to do it in front of friends and family as the hometown kid for his father's old team? That takes a pretty special makeup to do as well.

“He’s on the puck, as advertised, in terms of his compete. [He] wanted to shoot the puck," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "Early he was trying to make some plays and then realized, just play to your strength. [He] did a real good job. I didn’t notice anything away from the puck. I’m sure there’s a few teaching moments once you go back over the game tape and go from there. But, like I said, I liked him a lot. I’m sure Krech [David Krejci] did, as well. They seemed to have some good chemistry.

“This is one game, but some of the guys that come in...You saw that with [Charlie] McAvoy, just played his game. It would be great if he has similar success. Consistency is a big issue for first-year guys, and we all understand that. If he can string it together then we’ll make that comparison, but very impressed by that to be able to come in here [and make an immediate impact]. Especially your hometown, could be some jitters there, might be easier to do it on the road, almost. I’m not sure – to each his own in that area – but there’s a lot of people to, sort of, impress, and it’s a tough game, so good for him to be able to do it right here in his own backyard.”

There was certainly no hint of tentativeness or nerves sapping any part of his game while jumping into a Boston lineup that desperately needed a guy like Donato while beset with injuries. The B’s are down Patrice Bergeron, Jake DeBrusk and now Rick Nash for the time being, and the ability to plug another capable top-six, potentially high-impact option into the lineup just allows the Bruins to keep on running like nobody was missing.

“Ryan [Donato] played a good game. Good for his confidence to get the first one. That is always the hardest, but he’s got to keep playing the way he played [in his first game]. I thought he played well and he made some good plays,” said Krejci. “He easily could have got a couple of more, but that’s a good start for him. For me, just have to go out and try to do your best to help the team.

“He was battling along the walls, and he was making some good plays. Like I said, it was a good game for him. For a first NHL game, you can’t really ask for anything better than he did. So it was a good game and hopefully, he can keep it up.”

The challenge now is twofold for Donato and the Bruins. The first hurdle is for Donato to keep performing and producing with consistency as he gets everything tossed at him in his first NHL go-round. That will be a challenge enough.

There are many that can look like an impact player in the NHL from time to time, but few that can pull it off nightly as the speed and physicality take a toll over the course of a long season.

The second difficulty, honestly, will be finding enough room in the Bruins lineup for all these players of different shapes, sizes and talents once they're all healthy and potentially start rolling once they bust into the postseason. If Donato keeps up something resembling his debut performance on a nightly basis, then the rich just got even richer with a Bruins team already awash in exciting, talented young players up and down their roster.

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Talking Points: Marner lights it up while Pasta struggles

Talking Points: Marner lights it up while Pasta struggles

GOLD STAR: Mitch Marner has been a problem for the Bruins during the regular season, and he’s proving to be a problem once again in the playoffs. The Leafs forward scored the game-winning goal in the second period when he jumped on a Brad Marchand turnover in the D-zone, and snapped a backhanded bid past Tuukka Rask to give Toronto a 2-1 lead. It was part of a two points, plus-2 night for Marner in his 16:44 of ice time where played strong, solid hockey, and stayed patient until Boston’s top line made a misstep that they could jump all over at the end of the period. Otherwise Marner mostly stayed out of the fray in the game and simply played a strong two-way game that was easily their best defensive effort of the series. Marner now has two goals and eight points against the B’s in the six games played thus far.

BLACK EYE: David Pastrnak just wasn’t good in this game. He missed three shots on net, had another six blocked and finished a minus-1 with one shot on net in 19:44 of ice time while clearly looking frustrated at what was going on around him. Both Pastrnak and Brad Marchand were pulling out overly fancy moves, over-passing and missing the net with their shot attempts in a clear sign that Freddie Andersen is beginning to get in their heads. If that doesn’t cease quickly in Game 7 then the Bruins could be in a world of hurt with a big chance to take a nice step this season, and move on to at least the second round if not getting any further than it. But right now the Bruins top line has gone from looking like a well-oiled machine to looking like a sputtering jalopy in need of some service at the shop.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins took over the game in the first period with their puck possession and usual dominance from their top line, and looked really ready to roll when Jake DeBrusk scored little more than a minute into the second period. But the Bruins allowed Toronto to score right back 35 seconds later and that seemed to really knock the Bruins off their pins for most of the rest of the game. It was a long rebound of a Nazem Kadri shot that was kicked out by Tuukka Rask, and then went right to William Nylander for the rebound score. The Bruins were fortunate that another goal was overturned due to goalie interference that would have quickly made it a 2-1 game, but it was clear the Bruins never really controlled the game again after the two quick goals at the start of the second period.

HONORABLE MENTION: Jake DeBrusk had the only goal for the Bruins, so he earns a little credit in a 3-1 loss. DeBrusk now has three goals in the series and was on the spot firing home a shot after a David Krejci offensive zone face-off win that gave Boston’s second line their third even strength goal of the series. DeBrusk also finished as one of only two players, along with Tommy Wingels, that ended the night with a positive plus/minus rating, and had three hits while playing fast and strong along the boards and in front of the net. There are a few other young players that haven’t looked particularly adept at the playoff-style of play in this series for Boston, but DeBrusk has thoroughly looked like he belongs since the drop of the puck in Game 1.

BY THE NUMBERS: -- minus-16: the combined plus-minus rating for Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak in the three Bruins losses where they’ve also been kept off the score sheet by the Leafs defense.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Maybe there is a little bit of [frustration], but you've got to go back to the drawing board and find the character we've shown all year. Now it's about one game." –Patrice Bergeron, on battling the frustration of losing two straight and instead getting ready for a Game 7 showdown on Wednesday night.

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Bean: Bruins created a monster that could end their season

Bean: Bruins created a monster that could end their season

It goes without saying that you should never let a team linger. The Bruins did that with the Maple Leafs, and here we are. Game 7 will be played on Wednesday. 

The longer a series goes, the more likely it becomes that one of many variables will work against you: The other goalie will get hot, one of your guys will get hurt or, most frustrating of all, you'll get unlucky. 

The Bruins let the series go longer than necessary with questionable coaching decisions and poor goaltending in Game 5. They lost that game. Now, they've created a monster: An inferior roster with a bad defense is about to knock them out of the playoffs if they aren't careful.  

MORE BRUINS: Bruins fail to finish off Leafs again, lose 3-1

Take the second period of Game 6. It was a complete reversal of fortune from Games 1 and 4. Whereas the Bruins were dominated in the second periods of those games but still emerged with a lead, they experienced the opposite Monday. 

The period, which the teams entered scoreless, started with three quick strikes, one from Boston and two from Toronto. The second Leafs goal, which came as a result of a poor clearing attempt from Charlie McAvoy, was overturned when it was determined that Zach Hyman interfered with Tuukka Rask.

From there, it was all Bruins. Were it not for strong goaltending from the either hot or freezing Frederik Andersen, they could have potted multiple goals. Instead, the game's next goal came when Brad Marchand couldn't clear a blocked point shot and Torey Krug left Mitch Marner all alone in the high slot. Marner pounced on the puck and backhanded it past a not-quick-enough Tuukka Rask to give the Leafs the lead. 

The Bruins nearly doubled up the Leafs in possession in that period. It was all Boston. But the other goalie was good and the B's were unlucky. That's hockey. It's just frustrating when "that's hockey" happens in a game that didn't need to be played. 

MORE BRUINS: Talking Points: Marner lights it up while Pasta struggles

So now the Bruins face elimination. I don't expect them to lose, but they could. You never know. The variables, the "that's hockey" thing, etc. 

Bruce Cassidy has made non-injury related changes in each of the last two games. In Game 5, he changed his bottom two defensive pairs and changed his top pairing's deployment to disastrous results. Game 6 saw him scratch Danton Heinen in for of Tommy Wingels and demote Rick Nash to the third line. 

The new line of David Krejci between Jake DeBrusk and Wingels generated a goal, but the third line of Riley Nash between Rick Nash and David Backes once again yielded fruitless 5-on-5 play from Rick Nash.

Backes turned in his sixth even-strength disappearing act in as many games. Cassidy's next move should be to put Ryan Donato in the lineup.

The rookie was not impressive in his lone game this series (Game 2), but the Bruins need scoring.

Then again, Cassidy, like most coaches, is generally hesitant to give a young player the keys. He trusts what he knows. He also likely knows he's not getting enough from some of his regulars. 

There's little-to-no chance Cassidy would sit Nash or Backes unless they were hurt. Wingels is the most obvious candidate to come back out of the lineup since Boston's fourth line is too good to be disrupted. 

But this is not where the Bruins thought they would be. They didn't think that they, one of the three best teams in the NHL during the regular season, would be looking for answers entering the seventh game of the first round. 

But here they are. The Leafs, armed with a hot goaltender and the best hockey coach on the planet, are ready to complete an upset on Wednesday. It shouldn't happen, but a sixth game wasn't supposed to, either.

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