GOLD STAR: Give Frank Vatrano credit. He probably didn’t like the way things ended with the Bruins this season when he was bypassed by rookies like Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen on the organizational depth chart, and that precipitated his trade to the Florida Panthers. So Vatrano scored in Florida’s win over the Bruins down in the Sunshine State last week, and then did it again in the regular season finale as the Panthers played the spoiler role. Vatrano stripped the puck from Matt Grzelcyk at the B’s defensive blue line and that play turned into Florida’s first goal of the game, and then Vatrano struck again later in the first period with his one big time shot and release from the high slot that beat Rask glove side high. Vatrano finished with a goal and two points along with a plus-2 rating in 11:53 of ice time, and effectively spoiled things for the Bruins just with a really strong first period.
BLACK EYE: Tough game for Matt Grzelcyk, who stumbled early with that turnover in the first period that led to Florida’s first goal on a really soft play. The rookie defenseman got his pocket picked by Frank Vatrano at the defensive blue line and that turned into the first NHL goal for Henrik Bergstrom on a hard wrist shot from the high slot. In all Grzelcyk finished with just 12:57 of ice time with zero shots on net, a minus-1 rating and really no other marks on the score sheet aside from a couple of missed shots on net as well. Grzelcyk at least stabilized as the game went on and the coaching staff used him a little more sparingly, but the bad puck management, bad defense and average goaltending on display early in the game wasn’t a good sign for Boston.
TURNING POINT: The Bruins simply didn’t really show up in the first 40 minutes of the game. That was when it was lost when they managed only one goal and 17 shots on net, when they really didn’t play with much energy at all and they basically chased the game while not really doing much of note at either end of the ice. That made things all the more suspect in the third period of Sunday’s finale when they fired 26 shots on net in the third period while playing desperate hockey, and looking to find a way to get the two points they needed to claim the Atlantic Division title. That never came to be for the Black and Gold, so instead they’ll take second place in the Atlantic and the playoff matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs that goes along with it.
HONORABLE MENTION: Patrice Bergeron certainly put a full effort in trying to will the Bruins to a win with a divisional title on the line. Bergeron made a slick pass to David Pastrnak for the power play goal in the third period that nearly sparked the Bruins to a comeback, and had a team-high seven shots on net in his 22:48 of ice time. Bergeron was certainly in the middle of the third period flurry of shots on net, chances and full-scale pressure from the Black and Gold on a Florida group that eventually had to switch goalies due to an injury to James Reimer. He also won 21-of-33 face-offs while helping the Bruins control the puck in many possession situations, but the bottom line is that it wasn’t enough to take home the two points this time around.
BY THE NUMBERS: 35 – the number of goals for 21-year-old David Pastrnak after he scored his 35th on a power play goal in the third period to nearly close the gap on the Panthers’ successful attempt to be a spoiler.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I believe [in the playoffs] we'll be the 50-win team we saw all year. We’re not going to allow one game to define us, yet we understand the meaning. We let one get away, an opportunity lost to have home-ice advantage. We’ll see if it haunts us down the road. It’s too early to tell that right now.” –Bruce Cassidy, on hitting the reset button for Thursday night’s Game 1 of the playoffs after watching his team scuffle over the last couple of weeks.
BOSTON – The Bruins had four games against the Florida Panthers over the final few months of the season, and one could guess they were going to factor into Boston’s final standing after 82 games. The getting-ready-to-golf Panthers beat the Bruins in three out of those four games with the last one coming into the final game of the season, 4-2, at TD Garden.
The loss pushed the Bruins down to second place in the Atlantic Division behind Tampa Bay, so the Bruins will face Toronto in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs with opening night taking place Thursday at TD Garden.
The Bruins didn’t play well in the first two periods. They didn’t take care of the puck in their own zone, they didn’t really do much to attack Florida and their goaltending wasn’t operating at a high level either.
So they trailed at each of the first two intermissions, first by a goal after the first and then by two goals after the second. A ghastly Matt Grzelcyk turnover at the defensive blue line to Frank Vatrano opened things up for Henrik Borgstrom to score his first NHL goal from the high slot where it looked like his wrist shot was fired through the legs of Adam McQuaid.
David Backes and the Bruins stormed back to tie it up with a blue collar goal with the B’s power forward camped in front, where he outmuscled Borgstrom for the rebound of a Kevan Miller shot and then flipped it past James Reimer. Vatrano was back at it again at the end of the period, however, as he fired off a quick release snapper from the high slot that beat Rask high to the glove hand.
Florida extended their lead in the second period when Maxim Mamin scored on another one-timer from the right face-off circle where it looked Rask had enough time to recover and potentially made save bid on the puck.
The Bruins closed it to one in the third period on David Pastrnak’s 35th goal of the season after Jonathan Huberdeau went off for four minutes with a bloody high stick of Zdeno Chara in front of the Panthers bench. That’s as close as the Bruins got, however, as Evgenii Dadonov scored a late rebound goal in the third period to ice it for the Panthers after a couple of close calls for a B’s team that was pushing it at the very end.
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TORONTO -- Anders Bjork's up-and-down rookie season has come to an end, as the Bruins' left wing underwent left shoulder surgery this week that’s expected to keep him sidelined for the next six months.
Bjork was knocked out of a Jan. 30 loss to the Anaheim Ducks when Francois Beauchemin caught him with a cross-check to the left arm, but it’s unclear whether he was already playing through some level of shoulder injury prior to that collision. According to the B’s release, the 21-year-old winger “underwent successful left shoulder arthroscopy and labral repair on Tuesday” at Mass General Hospital. Bjork had been spotted around the Garden in recent weeks wearing his left arm in a sling, but it was difficult to guess the severity of the injury based on what looked like a fairly run-of-the-mill hit from Beauchemin.
The injury and season-ending surgery ends a bit of a lost year for Bjork, who cracked the Opening Night roster and finished with 4r goals and 12 points in 30 games.
He showed the speed and skill required to be a top-6 forward at the NHL level, but also appeared to need more development time when it comes to battle level and adjusting to the physicality level in the pro game. The former Notre Dame star never seemed to fully bounce back from getting steamrolled in the neutral zone by Matt Martin in the middle of November, and ended up spending time in Providence as well prior to his season-ending injury.
Bjork’s injury certainly doesn’t rule him out completely as a trade asset ahead of Monday afternoon’s trade deadline, but it probably makes him less attractive to NHL teams looking for young, NHL-ready talent that can step into their lineups right now. With Bjork headed for the long-term injured list and Frank Vatrano traded to the Florida Panthers for a third-round pick, that certainly opens the door for both a) a deal to bring on a veteran rental winger ahead of the trade deadline and B) a spot to be opened up in the Bruins organization for Ryan Donato when the Harvard University star, currently at the Olympics, is ready to sign.
Those are both very good things despite the downer news about Bjork, who watched fellow rookies Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen live up to the expectations many had for him.