What We Learned in the B's 3-1 win over Leafs
What We Learned in the B's 3-1 win over Leafs
By Joe Haggerty
Here’s What We Learned in the Bruins 3-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night, a victory that snapped a futile string of five straight losses in regulation at the worst time of the season. It was the first time since 2010 that the Black and Gold had dropped five straight without a point, so they needed a pure two point victory in order to start righting the ship. That’s exactly what they earned with their efforts against a Leafs team that had been pretty hot headed into the late season tilt.
It's different this time
Everything was awesome for the Black and Gold on Saturday. The Bruins collected their two points over Toronto, and showed some resiliency after playing a tight, nervous first period that saw them down by a 1-0 score. With 88 points and six games remaining, the B’s puffed themselves back up to an 86.3 percent chance of qualifying for the playoffs while both the Red Wings (46.1 percent chance of the playoffs) and Flyers (68.2 percent chance of the playoffs) dropped their Saturday game. While the Bruins clearly still have work to do in order to finalize that playoff berth and aren’t out of the woods with both Detroit and Philly holding games in hand, it’s also very clear that there isn’t going to be an upstart Senators-like team that’s going to win 6-of-7 games to close the season while snatching the postseason away from another team. If the Bruins take care of business against teams like Toronto and New Jersey that they’re fully capable of beating, they should be expecting to have their postseason ticket punched. The Bruins continue to control their fate and responded to the urgency created by other teams creeping up in the rearview mirror, and that’s a positive sign. As much as people wanted to draw parallels between last year’s Bruins collapse and this season, these are different teams with different players, and the circumstances (no historical Ottawa team, and a schedule that gives the Bruins three games at home rather than last year’s road trip to close the season) should fall much more favorably for the Black and Gold.
Krejci turns it on
David Krejci bounced back with a strong performance. After watching No. 46 struggle mightily in the previous four games and even look a little gimpy skating around in the back-to-back losses to the Rangers and Panthers, the real Krejci showed up for work Saturday night in Toronto when the Bruins needed him. He finished with a pair of assists, a plus-1 rating and four shots on goal in 22:04 of ice time, and posted helpers on each of Boston’s first two hugely important scores in the second period. The first was a secondary PP assist on Patrice Bergeron’s game-tying goal, and the second was pure Krejci: he wheeled through the offensive zone in 4-on-4 play, drew the attention of the defense and then fired a shot at net that created a rebound for a crashing Zdeno Chara. Krejci won battles for puck possession to make that play happen, and showed what a difference maker he is when he’s “on.” Krejci was a minus-6 with six shots on net in the previous three losses for the Bruins headed into Saturday’s win in Toronto, and proved once again that Boston’s best players won’t be held down forever.
Bruins desperation personified
Matt Beleskey is Bruins desperation personified. Last summer’s free agent signing is a big game player and a gritty competitor, and he showed all of that in the win over the Maple Leafs. The Bruins needed to have traffic at the net and a playoff-level sense of urgency, and Beleskey led the way in both departments. It was Beleskey that screened Jonathan Bernier in front of the net, and didn’t allow him to get a look at Patrice Bergeron’s PP shot from the slot. He didn’t get an assist, but Claude Julien’s decision to replace Ryan Spooner with Beleskey on the top PP unit paid dividends for the Bruins last night. Beleskey was a rugged presence throughout the game, and then he led a shift with five minutes go in the third period where both the winger and David Krejci blocked a handful of shots with the Maple Leafs threatening to tie things up. Krejci and Beleskey combined for eight of Boston’s 20 blocked shots in the win. That was the playoff desperation and no holds barred urgency people have been looking for from the B’s over the last few games, and it was followed by Loui Eriksson taking a hit to set up Beleskey for the insurance empty netter. Beleskey was rewarded with his 14th goal of the season, and both Morgan Rielly and Nazem Kadri threw cheap shots at Eriksson that stirred a team-wide brouhaha on the ice. Kevan Miller leapt to Eriksson’s defense and hammered Reilly with a couple of right-handed punches, and the final 40 minutes of Saturday’s game felt like postseason-level urgency and execution from the Bruins.
Plus: Chara has one of his "good" nights
*David Krejci rebounded from a handful of poor performances to assist on both of Boston’s hugely important goals in the second period, blocked a whopping five shots on net and played at a very high level for his 22:04 of instrumental ice time.
*Matt Beleskey picked up a couple of points, iced the game in the third period with an empty net goal and sacrificed his body to block a couple of hard shots with five minutes left in a tight, one-goal game between the two teams. Beleskey always plays winning hockey, and it was no exception on Saturday night.
*Zdeno Chara snapped a 20-game goal-scoring drought with his backhanded game-winner on the rebound of a David Krejci shot during 4-on-4 play, and gave the Bruins a rare piece of goal-scoring from the back end this season. Chara topped 25 minutes, was moving around pretty well and had one of his “good” nights against the Leafs as some nights feel tougher than others for the 39-year-old defenseman.
Minus: Kadri vanishes
*Morgan Rielly was smashed in the corner by David Krejci, was thrown off the puck by Loui Eriksson to set up Matt Beleskey’s empty net insurance goal and then decided to throw cheap shots at Eriksson, with standup guy Nazem Kadri by his side the whole way, once the game had been decided. It was weak sauce from Rielly in this one despite 23:38 of ice time that was far from horrendous.
*I’ve heard a lot of good things about former Bruins forward Michael Nylander’s son, William, but it was one shot on net in 17:32 without much in the way for scoring chances. It seemed Nylander was one of the Leafs players a bit overwhelmed for most of the game, and the Bruins had layers for him whenever he got past the first or second level of Boston’s defense.
*I didn’t even notice that Nazem Kadri was playing in this game until he started throwing cross-checks at Loui Eriksson when the puck was already off his stick to set up the empty net B’s goal. No factor in 16:48 of ice time with a sour grapes cheap shot at the end. Sounds about right for a player that’s still not exactly where he needs to be for Mike Babcock.