Bruins’ weekly 3 stars: Welcome back, Frank Vatrano

Frank Vatrano celebrates his goal with Bruins teammates against the Panthers on Dec. 22, 2016.
Frank Vatrano celebrates his goal with Bruins teammates against the Panthers on Dec. 22, 2016. –Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

COMMENTARY

The past week has been an interesting one for the Bruins, as the Black and Gold succeeded with two wins in three games. On Sunday afternoon, Tuukka Rask’s 18 saves earned him his fourth shutout of the season in the Bruins’ 1-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings.

Looking to carry the momentum earned against the Kings, the Bruins dropped an ugly contest to the lowly New York Islanders Tuesday night at TD Garden, 4-2. The Bruins followed up their ugly loss with a dominating 3-1 victory over the Florida Panthers Thursday night in Sunrise.

Here’s a look at some of the Bruins’ players who stood out during the three-game week:

Frank Vatrano

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Heading into the 2016-17 campaign, the Bruins had high hopes for the former UMass- Amherst star and East Longmeadow native. But a foot injury suffered during training camp forced Vatrano to miss the Bruins’ first 34 games.

Returning to action Thursday night in Florida after a brief two-game rehab stint in Providence, Vatrano picked up right where he left off a season ago. From his first shift on Thursday, Vatrano created scoring chances and looked like he hadn’t missed a beat. Vatrano’s efforts later paid off as he scored his first goal of the season to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead.

It’s no secret the Bruins have missed the scoring depth that Vatrano brings each night. If Thurday’s efforts were any indication of what Vatrano is going to bring to the table this season, the Bruins are going to be pleased.

Jimmy Hayes

The Dorchester native has taken a lot of criticism since being acquired by the Bruins two summers ago; and the former Boston College Eagle deserves it. But after back-to-back solid performances against the Kings and Islanders, Hayes may be turning the corner.

In Sunday’s contest, Hayes’ first-period goal was all the Bruins would need. Two nights later, Hayes picked up an assist on Dominic Moore’s second-period tally.

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“I just need to continue to play with confidence,” Hayes said following Tuesday’s contest. “Like you said it’s obviously been a long year but you stick with it, you just got to find a way to produce and find a way to stay in the lineup and be effective and help.”

Craig Cunningham

The last player on this list is not a current Bruin, but a former one. You may remember Craig Cunningham, as he played 34 games with the Bruins during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons. Cunningham also appeared in 246 games with the Providence Bruins.

Now captain of the Arizona Coyotes minor league affiliate in Tucson, Cunningham is facing a different type of challenge. Prior to a game against Manitoba on Nov. 19, Cunningham suffered a heart attack.

After spending just over a month in the hospital, Cunningham will be released to a rehabilitation center just in time for Christmas.

“I wouldn’t be here today without these doctors, our trainers, and the firefighters who were at the arena that night,” Cunningham said to the media on Wednesday. “Some days are good and some days are bad. It’s more, for me right now; it’s just kind of mental. I’ve been here for so long. You look up at the roof every day and it’s the same roof. It’s been a pretty big grind just being in the same spot the whole time and doing the same thing every day.”

Cunningham, 26, admits he is most likely done playing professional hockey, and knows that the end result could have been much worse.

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