The Boston Bruins returned home to TD Garden Thursday night fresh off a decisive 5-1 win over the New Jersey Devils two nights prior. Things didn’t come as easy for the Black and Gold upon their return to Causeway Street against Jack Eichel and the Buffalo Sabres.
The Sabres completely dominated the first 10 minutes of Thursday’s Atlantic Division tilt, outshooting the Bruins 11-0 in that span. Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen scored on an early power play to give his team a 1-0 lead.
Yet, despite arguably their worst opening 20 minutes this season, Brad Marchand tied things up after tipping home a Zdeno Chara shot past Buffalo goaltender Linus Ulmark.
The Bruins settled down over the next 40 minutes. Marchand lit the lamp in the second stanza — on a rebound during a Boston power play — while David Pastrnak became the first player to score 20 goals this season with his third-period tally. Tuukka Rask held off Buffalo’s comeback attempt and secured Boston’s 3-2 win with an outstanding 36-save outing.
“It wasn’t pretty obviously, they were the better team in the first period,” Pastrnak said postgame. “They hadn’t been playing well lately and they were ready tonight. Great for us. We stuck with it and we got the two points but I said it wasn’t pretty and we need to be better.”
.@pastrnak96 notched his 20th goal of the season tonight in his 22nd game, marking the fastest 20 goals by a Bruin since Cam Neely netted his 20th in his 19th game in 1993-94. #NHLBruins pic.twitter.com/UAlJRXFtHN
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) November 22, 2019
Here’s what we learned as the Bruins outdueled the Sabres for their 14th win of the 2019-20 season.
Boston’s slow start deviated from the norm
If you tuned in during the first period, you might have thought your television was deceiving you.
The Bruins didn’t register a shot on net through the first 12 minutes. Bruce Cassidy thought it was the worst start of his team’s season, and who can blame him? They were outshot 17-4 in the opening frame, yet somehow came out of the first period with a 1-1 tie following Marchand’s first of the night.
“I would describe it as atypical,” Cassidy said postgame. “We are generally a team that starts on time especially in this building. We’ve had a couple of them but tonight was definitely our worst start of the year.”
Cassidy’s squad hasn’t started from behind much. The Bruins allowed the first goal of the game for just the sixth time this season on Thursday night. Marchand, Pastrnak and a returning Patrice Bergeron helped ease the burden after the Sabres nearly ran the Bruins out of their own building in the first 20 minutes.
The glaring hole at second-line right-wing continues
Cassidy was once again forced into using makeshift lines when Par Lindholm exited the game in the first period. Lindholm returned for the middle stanza, but the Bruins never had any stability with their four lines outside of the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak trio.
The line shuffling started when the versatile Charlie Coyle, who started the night on David Krejci’s right side, moved back to center the third line.
Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner took turns to fill the second line void and did just enough on this night. Neither provides a long term fix for that glaring second line hole with Krejci and Jake DeBrusk.
“Well first we lost Lindholm so you’re at 11 forwards and start moving people around,” Cassidy said. “It was a bit out of necessity at first and secondly I like Coyle with [Anders] Bjork and [Danton] Heinen. I don’t really want to break them up.”
The Bruins have flourished without a true top-six right-winger in the past two and a half seasons. But they can’t afford to enter another postseason without addressing the vacancy.
Rask provided a save of the year candidate
Marc-Andre Fleury stole the show in Vegas with his highlight-reel stop against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday. Rask may have topped Fleury’s save in less than 24 hours.
Evan Rodrigues became the victim of Rask’s highway robbery midway through the third period. The former Boston University standout fired a one-timer toward an empty net, yet Rask somehow made an incredible diving save for the ages.
? SAVE OF THE YEAR CANDIDATE ? pic.twitter.com/17H6BlQpcq
— NESN (@NESN) November 22, 2019
“I was tracking it. I’m not making a reactionary save at that point,” Rask said about the play. “You are in scramble mode and luckily I was in a position to throw myself in there. I don’t think I’ve made a save like that with my blocker so it was great.”
Rask’s 10-bell save sent the crowd and internet into a frenzy. But is it truly the save of the year?
“It could be,” Rask said with a smile.
We’re only one quarter through the 2019-20 season. Every goaltender will have their chance to top Rask’s and Fleury’s stops over the next several months, but they’ll have quite the task to top the two veteran netminders.
Marc-Andre Fleury… THAT IS BEYOND MEAN! ?? pic.twitter.com/zoMtVSAuUE
— NHL (@NHL) November 20, 2019
“It’s going to be tight with him and Fleury,” Pastrnak said.