Here’s what we learned from the Bruins' 2-1 overtime win over the Minnesota Wild at the Excel Energy Center on Sunday night:
1) Rask in playoff mode
With the calendar turning to April, it sure looks as if Tuukka Rask is getting into playoff mode with less than two weeks to go in the regular season. The Bruins No. 1 netminder stopped 24 of the 25 shots he faced while the Wild got more than a handful of quality scoring chances. Rask was at his best in the first period when he turned away all 11 shots he faced when Minnesota came out strong against a Bruins team making some mistakes in the first period. Whether it was Rask recovering from his own turnover and stopping Ryan Murphy at the front of the net or shutting down Matt Dumba on the backhand while going post-to-post, he was on point. It continued later in the first when Matt Cullen had a wide open chance in front and then later when the B’s defense continued to allow some pretty good chances. So, that makes it two games in a row where Rask has been arguably the Bruins best player and stopped 64 of 67 shots for a .955 save percentage with a group that’s still getting back to full strength. Given that March has been largely “meh” for Rask leading up to the past couple of games, the step up was something that was beneficial to see. It certainly looks as if some of the rest and additional outings for Anton Khudobin down the stretch have worked out for the Black and Gold. Now, the Finnish netminder needs to simply bottle it up and keep this intact for the postseason.
2) Missed opportunity
The Bruins can’t afford to lose any edges with the playoffs around the corner and they missed one on Sunday night when they didn’t challenge the only goal scored against them. A Dumba shot went hard off the end boards and ended up bouncing behind Rask in the crease. Mikko Koivu beat Rask to the loose puck and popped it into the net for the tying score midway through the third period, but the Bruins absolutely could have challenged the play for goalie interference after Koivu knocked Rask out of the way on the initial shot that went past him. The contact didn’t allow Rask to get back into the play and cover the loose puck after the initial shot went wide and therefore left a wide open crease for Koivu to jump all over. Particularly with a Bruins goal getting wiped off the board earlier in the game when Alex Stalock flopped on some contact with Riley Nash before a potential Noel Acciari score, the stage was set for another successful goalie-interference challenge later in the game. Obviously, nobody knows exactly what is going to happen once a challenge goes up, but the Bruins really had nothing to lose but a timeout on a tying goal midway through the third period on a potentially game-changing play. One would hope that becomes an automatic challenge in the playoffs where the Bruins can’t look past opportunities to get an edge on their opponents and there’s very little downside if it doesn’t work out for them.
3) Patrice Bergeron jumped right back in with little rust
After missing the past 13 games with a broken right foot, Bergeron's return is an extremely good development for the Black and Gold. He won eight of nine face-offs right off the bat in the first period in something that the Bruins truly missed when Bergeron was gone. He assisted on both of Boston’s goals while jumping right back in with his top-line wingers, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. One kind of forgets how two-way dominant that trio is until they get back together after being apart for a month. Marchand and Pastrnak, both playing at high levels already, are taken to a totally different place once No. 37 is back. Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said he had to turn off the TV watching the game because the B’s made so many good plays in a row on one of their power-play possessions. That’s a big reflection on Bergeron getting back into the thick of things both in 5-on-5 and on the man-advantage. The return of Bergeron and Torey Krug is the start of Boston getting back to full strength and that is something the rest of the Eastern Conference should be dreading.
*Rask stopped 24 of 25 shots including 11 saves in the first period and for the second consecutive game, he was one of Boston’s best players as they ended up coming out on top against a quality Western Conference team.
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*Bergeron showed little rust with a couple of assists and a plus-2 rating in 19:08 of ice time and won 14 of 23 face-offs while filling right back into that role of Boston’s best all-around player centering the NHL’s best line. They were dominant and should continue to be dominant moving forward now that good health has returned.
*Marchand scored his NHL-leading fifth OT goal with an absolute sniper shot inside the far post less than a minute in and he continues to play hero for the Black and Gold down the stretch.
*If NHL players are going to be accused of embellishing, then the goaltenders should be prone to it as well as Alex Stalock appeared to crumble after some medium contact with Riley Nash in the Minnesota crease. The goalie interference wiped out a possible Noel Acciari goal in the first period for the Bruins, but the whole acting job from the goalie was a little much.
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*Charlie Coyle with no shots on net, a minus-2 rating and zero presence in 17:11 of ice time against the team he grew up rooting for as a Massachusetts kid.
*No shots on net for Danton Heinen in 16:43 of ice time for the Bruins. Heinen has been better as of late, but he needs to really start ratcheting his quality of play if he wants to ensure that he’s in the playoff lineup.