NEW YORK — Extending leads and holding on to win has been a sore spot for the Boston Bruins as of late.
The Bruins bucked one of those trends during a three-goal second period. Yet they let another victory slip away during the third period against the rebuilding New York Rangers on Wednesday night.
“Obviously we let the game slip away in the third,” alternate captain Patrice Bergeron said following his 1,001st career NHL tilt. “That’s the way the game played out obviously, so that game shouldn’t have gone into overtime.”
“You never want to lose a lead. We did and we didn’t play the right way,” added head coach Bruce Cassidy. “It’s something that we have to correct.”
Here is what we learned from the B’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Broadway Blueshirts at Madison Square Garden.
Bruce Cassidy tinkers his lines — again
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) February 7, 2019
The third-year Bruins bench boss isn’t afraid to change things up at the drop of a hat. He didn’t have much of a choice against the Rangers after watching his team come out flat in the opening 20.
Still searching for more balanced scoring until they can find upgrades for the middle of their lineup, Cassidy opted to move David Pastrnak away from Brad Marchand and Bergeron. A returning Danton Heinen moved up to the top line while Pastrnak skated with countrymen David Krejci and Peter Cehlarik. Jake DeBrusk, who hasn’t lit the lamp in nearly a month, moved down the lineup with Joakim Nordstrom and Trent Frederic, thus keeping the potent ‘WAK’ line of Chris Wagner, Noel Acciari and Sean Kuraly intact.
The changes gave the Bruins an immediate lift when Heinen tipped in Matt Grzelcyk’s point shot for his seventh of the season — and first since Jan. 19 — at 10:37 of the second period. Pastrnak and Bergeron (power play) made it three goals in 4:34 to give Boston a two-goal cushion entering the third.
“It looked good for a while,” Cassidy said about the line adjustments.
Twenty minutes, anyway, but the Bruins couldn’t sustain the momentum.
Kevin Hayes and Chris Kreider fit the Bruins’ deadline needs
— Hockey Daily (@HockeyDaily365) February 7, 2019
The Rangers sit seven points out of a playoff spot. They’ll be hitting the golf course again come mid-April barring a hot late-season run.
Several of their veterans, including Kevin Hayes and Chris Kreider, are hot commodities on the rumor mill. The former Boston College standouts would give the Bruins an immediate upgrade in the middle of their lineup.
Hayes, the brother of former Bruin Jimmy, kicked off the comeback with his 12th goal of the season at 9:24 of the third, pouncing on a loose puck as a trailer on an odd-man rush. Kreider, his teammate at BC, factored into a handful of scoring chances in 20:34 of ice time.
The Bruins and Rangers have a recent history of trades, among them deals for Adam McQuaid and Rick Nash. But GM Don Sweeney may be hesitant making another deadline move with Boston’s Original Six counterparts, especially after last year’s deal with Nash.
Hayes and Kreider both have reasonable salaries. The former has a $5.175 million cap hit on the final year of his contract. The latter is on the books for next season at a friendly $4.625 million.
Heinen bounced back with a goal. DeBrusk is due to light the lamp again. Cehlarik is holding his own since his promotion from Providence. But the rotating door of youngsters and veterans in the middle of the lineup needs to close. Otherwise, the Bruins will have yet another early playoff exit.
Bergeron left out of the shootout
As Bergeron alluded, Wednesday should have never reached overtime. A defensive breakdown in the neutral zone led to Hayes’ tally and a costly Charlie McAvoy boarding penalty resulted in Filip Chytil’s tying tally, putting the Bruins back on their heels late in regulation.
Playing their second game of a back-to-back and third in four nights, the Bruins still managed a point. Jaroslav Halak gave his team a chance for another point with 36 saves, including six during a frantic 3-on-3 overtime session, yet the Bruins couldn’t salvage the goalie’s best performance in over a month.
And loyal supporters were left scratching their heads when the all-reliable Bergeron didn’t touch the ice during the seven-round shootout. Cassidy’s lineup of Marchand, Pastrnak, Krejci, Cehlarik, DeBrusk, Heinen and McAvoy mustered one goal (by Marchand) on Rangers backup Alexander Georgiev.
So what was Cassidy’s reasoning?
“No one really looked around behind me after five shooters. Krejch [Krejci] finally did and I said, ‘Anyone who wants to go I’m all for it.'” Cassidy said.
“We had Pasta [Pastrnak] and Marchy [Marchand] that go a lot. Jake [DeBrusk], Charlie [McAvoy] has a certain amount of [shootout] success as a young guy. Cehlarik, I was told down in Providence he was very good, so we gave him a look. And then after that, it was down the line with Krejch and Bergy [Bergeron]. Heinen is decent in practice and even Torey [Krug] we liked a lot, but we didn’t get that far.”
Bergeron, the ever-consummate professional, didn’t begrudge Cassidy for leaving him out of the glorified skills competition.
“It is what it is, you know,” Bergeron stated. “There are a lot of good shooters out there and [Georgiev] made some good saves. Obviously, you want to get that point, but I’m not going to say anything about that.”
Not the way Bergeron and the Bruins wanted to cap off their night on Broadway.