SUNRISE, Fla. — The Bruins’ busy day began with Zdeno Chara inking a one-year contract extension, Karson Kuhlman’s call-up, and Sean Kuraly’s injury revelation. It ended with a playoff clincher.
Boston got the two points it needed in its 7-3 victory over the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center. Here’s what we learned as the Bruins clinched their third straight postseason appearance under head coach Bruce Cassidy.
Chara takes center stage
He’ll earn at least another $2 million when his contract goes into effect next season. But Chara’s accolades didn’t end with his new contract on Saturday.
The 21-year veteran notched his 200th career NHL goal — and fifth of the 2018-19 season — at 5:05 of the second period. It came at an important time, too, with the Panthers establishing momentum after Jayce Hawryluk cut the Bruins’ lead to 2-1 just 28 seconds after Brad Marchand gave his team a two-goal advantage 24 seconds into the middle stanza.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) March 24, 2019
“We didn’t want to allow a team back into the game, and that was an issue for us earlier in the year. We’ve done a much better job of that lately,” Cassidy said about Chara’s important tally. “We’re all happy for Zee. Much better [that the milestone] came this way on a nice top shelf goal than the empty netter. That’s what we told him the other night in Jersey, so it all worked out in the end.”
Cassidy and his coaching staff are certainly happy that father time isn’t slowing down Chara. He may not be the shutdown defensemen he was in his prime. But the 6-foot-9 captain’s work ethic, conditioning and hockey I.Q. still standout among his peers some two decades later.
All of that was on display against the Panthers where Chara posted a plus-4 and logged 25:07 of ice time. He was in the middle of everything both figuratively — on the stat sheet and the headlines — and literally — stepping in to break up a potential fight between Vincent Trocheck and Charlie McAvoy.
That act involving McAvoy and Trocheck signaled just how much Chara cares about his fellow defensive partner and his teammates. The Bruins know they can’t lose McAvoy come playoff time given his stints on injured reserve this season, and Chara made sure to keep the former Boston University standout out of danger with the game well in hand.
“There’s a certain time for that,” Chara said about getting into the middle of the third-period scuffle between McAvoy and Trocheck. “At that point of the game, I don’t think it’s necessary to fight. I don’t think you need to see guys like Charlie dropping the gloves and fighting before the playoffs, and risking a hand injury or something like that.”
A win, a new contract and a playoff berth, all in a night’s work. Chara remains thankful for everyone in the organization, yet the humble giant had one person in mind from his Slovak roots thousands of miles away.
“I would like to dedicate this day to my dad,” Chara said. “He brought me to hockey, and he was always very supportive of me. Always kind of teaching me what to do and how to train. The last few weeks he was kind of joking to me about when was I going to score [again], so I’m very happy, and this goal goes to him.”
Unlikely contributors chip in on the offensive onslaught
Injuries and a lack of secondary scoring put the Bruins behind the proverbial 8-ball during the first half of the season. The injury bug hit them again in the second half. Their scoring depth, however, hasn’t been an issue as of late.
Consider Saturday for instance, where the top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak each tallied a goal and an assist. But it was a rather quiet two-point night for Boston’s trio, and that’s not a a bad thing.
Noel Acciari kickstarted the secondary scoring spark at 2:23 on a one-timer from David Backes’ feed. The Providence College alum later engaged in a spirited bout with Panthers Mackenzie Weegar and ended his night one assist shy of a Gordie Howe Hat Trick.
David Backes sets up Noel Acciari for his fifth goal of the season. Connor Clifton gets his first career NHL point.
1-0 Boston. pic.twitter.com/HP93lfdGqZ
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) March 23, 2019
Chara and Steven Kampfer (a power play tally at 15:48 of the second) each pitched in a tally from the blue-line, while Kuhlman, playing in his sixth career NHL contest, gave his team a 4-1 lead with his second lamp-lighter of his Boston tenure.
Saturday continued the upward secondary scoring trend during the four-game road trip. They’ve outscored their opponents 17-4 during their first three games. Eight of those tallies have come from players outside of their top two lines.
“It was a nice continuation of the road trip,” Cassidy said. “We’ve been putting pucks in the net, and we’ve kept them out of the net for the most part.”
“Tonight, when I looked up and it was 4-1, I think every line had scored. So I think we’re getting secondary scoring, and Zee [Chara] and Kampfer, so we’re getting it throughout the lineup. It’s something that we talked about earlier in the year that we’re striving for [secondary scoring], and we seem to hit it here in the last month. So that’s good. And I think every team will tell you that they don’t want to rely on three or four players to score.”
Strength in numbers is only a good thing as the Bruins prepare for another postseason journey in a few weeks.