Here’s what we learned in the Bruins' 3-2 shootout win over the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobil Arena on Wednesday night:
1) Don’t look now, but the Bruins have the third-best record in the NHL. They've goten to that lofty spot on the strength of a seven-game winning streak and earning at least one point in each of their last 12 games, even without David Pastrnak in the lineup. It’s been a combination of many ingredients, but some have come to the forefront. First and foremost, Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak have heated up at the same time, giving Boston close to mistake-free play between the pipes every night. Rask is 6-0-0 with a 2.46 goals-against average and .912 save percentage this month, and in fact is playing even better than the numbers would indicate. Halak is 3-0-1 with a 1.42 goals-against average and a .957 save percentage in February. He was strong against the Golden Knights, stopping 31 of 33 shots in the shootout thriller. Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen have all been point-per-game players this month, and DeBrusk (goals in five straight games) and Heinen (three goals and eight points in eight games) have really stepped up their offensive game with Pastrnak sidelined. Then there’s the play of Charlie McAvoy, who is becoming the player the Bruins have been waiting for all season. He’s scoring clutch goals, creating offense, playing physical and doing all the little things that have made him a future No. 1 defenseman. He’s a plus-8 in 10 games while averaging a team-high 22:30 of ice time this month, and is making plays when the Bruins need it most: in the third period of games. Some of these things (hot goalies) happened earlier this season, while others (Heinen heating up, McAvoy stepping up his game) are happening for the first time now. Add Charlie Coyle to that group as well for third-line support and scoring punch, and maybe we should start thinking about the Bruins as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. They’re playing like it now, and another move to add a top-6 winger would really fortify the season-long weaknesses on the roster and give the Bruins the kind of group that might give the Lightning a run for their money should they meet again in the later rounds of the playoffs. Either way, the Bruins are playing well enough to earn the respect of the fans and stoke the hopes that this season might provide something special at the end of the ride. This seven-game winning streak is proof the Bruins are legit, and it’s pretty impossible to deny at this point.
2) Jake DeBrusk continues to be a hot commodity for the Bruins, and a big-time producer with David Pastrnak on the sidelines. He now has goals in five straight games, five goals and 11 points in 10 games during the month of February along with a plus-6 rating, and has been at the heart of the current winning streak. Clearly he’s getting to the front of the net more and playing with a ton more confidence, but remember: When he was “struggling” he was still on a pace to score 25 goals. His next goal will be his 20th of the season and he’s currently on a pace for 27 goals and 41 points. So DeBrusk is having a pretty good season and has once again stepped up as the offensive option behind the big guns.
3) Let’s applaud Bruce Cassidy for his shootout choices on Wednesday night. Gone were some of the odd choices from their last loss in the shootout; instead, both Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron were featured high in the lineup. Also credit Cassidy for going with the hunch of using David Backes after a number of Boston’s shooters had been stopped by Marc-Andre Fleury, who foiled Cassidy's attempt to use a quick strike attack on the Golden Knights goaltender. Backes simply went in and beat MAF glove side with a wrist shot after many of the B’s had attempted to go five hole, and that was exactly the kind of change-of-pace shot attempt that was needed to win the game.
PLUS . . .
-- In addition to his shootout game-winner, Backes had a strong game with five shot attempts, four hits and a 3-of-4 performance in the face-off circle. It was well-timed, as competition for playing time among the forwards about to get a lot tighter.
-- DeBrusk extended his goal-scoring streak to five games and continues to be the hottest goal-scorer among the forwards at a time when they need it without the injured Pastrnak.
-- Halak kicked out a juicy rebound that set up the first Vegas goal, but otherwise he was outstanding in stopping 31 of 33 shots during 65 minutes and then facing down Fleury during the shootout.
MINUS . . .
-- Noel Acciari had only a couple of hits and got worked in the face-off circle, losing 5 of 7 draws. He was also on the ice for a goal against. It wasn’t the typically strong night for the fourth line overall vs. Vegas.
-- One shot on net in 17:53 of ice time for Vegas' Max Pacioretty, who was pretty darn invisible against a Bruins team he’s very familiar with from all of the Boston-Montreal battles over the years.
-- DeBrusk made Shea Theodore look like a mannequin in the D-zone when he spun off him in the slot and sniped one past Fleury for Boston’s first goal of the game. It was probably a more spectacular play by DeBrusk than bad defense, but it was a weaker play on an otherwise pretty good night from Theodore.
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