Brian Gionta

What we learned in the Bruins comeback win over the Dallas Stars

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What we learned in the Bruins comeback win over the Dallas Stars

Here’s What We Learned in Friday night’s 3-2 comeback win over the Dallas Stars at the American Airlines Center.

1)      Brad Marchand continues to not get much consideration at all from the referees on the ice. Marchand was against the boards facing the glass in the third period when Jamie Benn jumped up off his skates, slammed Marchand in the head on his way down like Jimmy “Super Fly” Snuka off the top turnbuckle and didn’t even get a minor penalty for a clear charging play. That seemed to completely energize Marchand late in the third period and paved the way for his brilliant pass down low to David Pastrnak with 11.1 seconds remaining for the spinning, game-winning goal.  Credit No. 63 for responding in the right way to a clear cheap shot from Benn rather than losing his cool or something he’d regret on the ice, but Marchand continues to not be treated like a star player on the ice. The NHL should be looking for reasons to protect a main attraction like Marchand rather than letting every player take shots at him, or wrap him up in overtime to the point where he can’t make one of his exciting, game-winning plays as happened in overtime against the Columbus Blue Jackets earlier this week. It’s one thing to hold Marchand accountable for the stuff that’s borderline, or way over the line, and could suspension-worthy. That’s something the NHL should continue to do when he sticks his nose over the line. But Marchand has earned treatment as one of the NHL elite players after scoring more goals than anybody else not named Alex Ovechkin over the last three seasons, and the officials on the ice should be treating him accordingly. Allowing a bigger player like Benn to leave his skates and give Marchand a head slam in the third period of a late season game certainly isn’t providing the B’s left winger with fair treatment on the ice, never mind treating him as one of the league’s best assets. It’s time the referees started making calls with Marchand as one of the league’s top players in mind rather than Marchand, one of the league’s big pests that isn’t really even relevant most of the time anymore.

2)      Clearly Tuukka Rask is Boston’s No. 1 goaltender right now and will be the guy once the postseason gets going in a couple of weeks. But Rask hadn’t been great lately as attested by his so-so .900 save percentage in the month of March, and certainly wasn’t finishing things up in strong fashion for a B’s group that’s admittedly been beset by injuries lately. So it was very important for Rask to have a big performance between the pipes that could get him back on track, and that’s exactly what happened on Friday night in Dallas against the Stars. Rask made a season-high 40 saves against the Stars and was brilliant early in the game when Dallas was throwing everything at him besides the kitchen sink. Rask stopped most of it while allowing just a screened goal and a shorthanded breakaway score for Jamie Benn in the second period, and stopping 40 of the 42 shots he faced through 60 minutes. Within those 40 saves Rask snagged a Tyler Seguin smoked one-timer from the point that he flashed with his glove hand, and later stuffed an Antoine Roussel scoring attempt on a drive to the front of the net. If Rask had allowed just one more goal it might have been impossible for the Bruins to come back from the deficit in the third period, but instead Rask held strong under attack and played his best game in perhaps a couple of months. With only 10 games to go in the regular season, it was the perfect time for Rask to start getting his game back in order as the Bruins begin making preparations for a postseason that sits just a few weeks away. It’s up to Rask to continue trending upward and remain at the highest point of his game going into the playoffs, but perhaps Friday night showed that it’s going to be possible.

3)      The Bruins are never out of it. They’re never dead. You can never count them out. It’s official and they are also officially a powerhouse in the third period when the game is on the line. Once again the B’s reeled off three goals in the third period to key the comeback, and Brad Marchand factored heavily into all three of those scores that allowed the Bruins to come from behind. This will be a skill that could really allow them some gut-punch moments in the postseason where a comeback or two in a series could completely change the momentum of the proceedings. It’s such a great skill to have.

Plus

*Brad Marchand factored in all three third period goals scoring on the first when a David Pastrnak shot bounced off his leg, assisting on the second when he broke out with a shorthanded odd-man rush and making a brilliant pass to David Pastrnak for the game-winner with just 11.1 seconds remaining on the clock. Marchand finished with a goal, three points and a plus-2 in 19:57 of ice time and had eight shot attempts in an energetic performance.

*David Pastrnak was nearly just as dominant as Marchand in the final 20 minutes with a goal, two points, a plus-2 and that brilliant curling play in the final seconds as he reached past Kari Lehtonen for the game-winner. Pastrnak had a decent four shots on net in his nearly 18 minutes of ice time, and both Pastrnak and Marchand are stepping up when defenses are thoroughly keying on them down the stretch.

*Tuukka Rask pitched in a season-high 40 saves and made big stops in the second and third periods to keep the Bruins within a couple of goals, and allowing the Black and Gold to engineer that third period comeback that’s become one of their trademarks.

Minus

*Jamie Benn scored a shorthanded goal, but finished a minus-2 rating while going a puny 1-for-7 in the face-off circle to go right along with the cheap shot charging hit he threw at Brad Marchand in the third period as well. Benn wasn’t invisible but he made some pretty bad plays before being on the ice for the Boston game-winner in the closing seconds of the third period.

*Brian Gionta finished with a minus-2 and not shots on net in 13:01 of ice time, and the new look line with Jordan Szwarz and Tommy Wingels didn’t do much at all to distinguish themselves while being on the ice for a couple of goals against.

*No shots on net, a couple of giveaways and a minor penalty in 23:36 of ice time for John Klingberg, who didn’t do nearly enough for the Dallas Stars in a game that was a bit of a must-win for the Stars if they hope to end up on the right side of the playoff equation.

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Heinen working to get back in 'good place' amid second-half struggles

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Heinen working to get back in 'good place' amid second-half struggles

After going through a first half of the season where everything went right for Danton Heinen, the Bruins rookie is in the middle of some late season adversity with the Black and Gold.

The 23-year-old winger has one point in his last 14 games and has been a healthy scratch during that stretch as well, and the offense isn’t coming quite as easily for Heinen as it did in the first few months of the season. Some of it may be about new third line combinations with Tommy Wingels and Brian Gionta stepping in as his two linemates over the last few games, and longtime center Riley Nash instead filling in for Patrice Bergeron on the Bruins top line.

But it’s more about Heinen fighting through some tougher sledding in the second half of the season where his legs haven’t always been there, and when the intensity has elevated across the board for the first year player.

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The bottom line is that Heinen is searching for his early season confidence when everything was going right, and it’s just not consistently there for him right now.

“I’ve felt alright. You don’t want to think about it, but naturally your mind goes there thinking that you haven’t had a point in a while,” said Heinen, who has watched a surging Jake DeBrusk catch him in the points department with 39 on the season that has both players still in the top-10 among NHL rookies. “It’s a lot easier mentally when the team is winning, but I take pride in helping the team offensively. When it’s not happening, you get hard on yourself and you want to help your teammates in that regard. You just keep working hard, you keep doing the little things and it will eventually work out.”

Clearly it’s not quite like the beginning of last season when Heinen was a non-factor on the ice and obviously not ready for the NHL, but he’s also said some very quiet games over the last few weeks as well. He’s registered zero shots on net in four of his last seven games, and total has only six shots on net in that stretch while still getting power play time and a regular third line shift.

Bruce Cassidy has seen flashes of a more confident Heinen during some recent games, but there have also been some games where Heinen hasn’t been strong enough, responsible enough or confident enough with the puck on his stick.

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“I think Danton is the type of kid where confidence will help him more than others, so after all of the success he had early he’s probably doubting himself, or asking himself a lot of tough questions like ‘why isn’t it happening now?’ Sometimes you need to just park that and play,” said B’s head coach Bruce Cassidy. “We’ve tried to encourage that, but by the same token he’s also a human being that’s got a lot of free time away from the rink. That’s what happens with the young guys. You need to get them back into a good place.”

After going through the entire weekend of a home-and-home series against the Chicago Blackhawks without a shot on net, the “good place” appears to be a little elusive for Heinen.

Clearly the arrival of 39-year-old Brian Gionta has made it more of a challenge for Heinen to find his game quickly. The gritty, experienced Gionta has six points in his five games with the Bruins since signing ahead of the trade deadline, and is pushing for a spot in the lineup come playoff-time once the B’s are fully healthy again. That will be the competition playing out over the final month of the season where the Bruins will be icing their best lineup in the playoffs. That means Heinen will have to recover his first half game if he wants to ensure that he’s a part of it, and potentially shine in the postseason like he did as a prime time performer for the P-Bruins during their extended AHL playoff run last spring.  

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Gionta "hasn't missed a beat" in making an impact for the Bruins

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Gionta "hasn't missed a beat" in making an impact for the Bruins

BOSTON -- Brian Gionta was certainly not viewed as a key piece brought in at the NHL trade deadline, not with players like Nick Holden and Rick Nash, not to mention Tommy Wingels, coming into the B’s fold.

But the 5-foot-7, 39-year-old Gionta has been an impact player for the Bruins since signing with the Black and Gold, and that continued on Saturday afternoon while scoring the game-winning third period goal in a 7-4 win over the Chicago Blackhawks at TD Garden. Gionta finished with a goal and two points in the win over the Hawks, and now has two goals and six points in five games since signing on with the Bruins and immediately jumping on with the third line as the injuries hit Boston up front.

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It was fitting that the smallest guy on the Boston roster was the one camped at the net front that jabbed in the rebound of a Jake DeBrusk tipped shot from Matt Grzelcyk at the point spot. Gionta and the rest of the Bruins decided to start grinding away around the net in the offensive zone in the third period, and ended up scoring three goals in less than three minutes to blow the Blackhawks out of the water.

The fact that Gionta already looks to be in midseason form in terms of his timing around the net and his battle level is absolutely impressive no matter how many years of his experience are under his belt, and no matter how modest the expectations were when he first signed on with Boston.  

“I’ve been skating all year and obviously felt pretty good about where I was conditioning-wise and stuff like that. But when you’re coming into an established team like this…a team that plays well? It’s easy,” said Gionta, who now has two goals in his last two games for the Bruins. “You want to get in and, you know, establish yourself and see where you fit in.

“I said it coming in that, you know, I was willing to come in and play whatever role was asked. I’m still enjoying being around the guys, and it’s been a good group coming in. The four of us new guys that have come in have worked seamlessly because of what a tight group they have.”

It’s actually nothing short of amazing that Gionta has enjoyed that kind of impact he has over the last couple of weeks after sitting out the entire NHL season, and using just last month’s Olympic tournament as a springboard back into the NHL. More than anything else it’s a testament to the stone cold pro that Gionta has become over the course of 15-year career, and how that’s allowed him to just mesh quickly with a moving Bruins train.

“Gio comes in – a true pro and looks like he hasn’t missed any time. I don’t know how you do that at this level, any professional hockey level, not being rusty,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “He’s done a great job with that.

“You know, he’s smart. He’s been around, so to be able to come in and the everyday battles that go along with being an NHLer, a professional player, time and space, little plays? It looks like he hasn’t missed a beat at all. So, it’s really a bonus for us when you talk about losing [Patrice Bergeron] and now [David] Backes, and you can plug a guy like that in. We had help earlier in the year. [Austin] Czarnik and [Jordan] Szwarz did good jobs. No disrespect to them, but here’s a guy who’s played, you know, 15-plus years and played it well. It’s a real nice addition to the team.”

The interesting dynamic for the Bruins will be the play of veteran guys like Gionta and Wingels come playoff time with rookies like Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen facing elevated intensity late in the season, and only so many spots to go around in the game day lineups for the Black and Gold.

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