One team looked to become the first in the league to 100 points this season. The other hoped to earn their 10th straight win and take sole possession of first place in the Metropolitan Division.
Tuesday’s tilt between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers had plenty of storylines for a late-season matchup. The Flyers smelled blood through the first two periods as the Bruins — with Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug out of the lineup — persevered as Tuukka Rask singlehandedly kept his team in it with a plethora of timely saves.
Matt Grzelcyk, taking Torey Krug’s spot on the second defensive pair and the top man-advantage unit, scored a pivotal power-play goal late in the second period to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead into the second intermission. The Bruins found their groove in the third as Patrice Bergeron added an insurance tally late in regulation to secure the 2-0 victory at Wells Fargo Center.
“It’s one of those things you almost need 100 points to make the playoffs,” Rask told reporters postgame. “The League’s tighter than ever and we’re just trying to get a head start early in the season and keep that momentum going the whole year, and we’ve accomplished that this year. Now we finish strong.”
The Bruins enter their final 12 games with a clearer path toward home-ice advantage throughout the postseason. Here’s what we learned as the league-leading Bruins increased their lead to eight points over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Rask earned a milestone shutout on his birthday.
Rask celebrated his 33rd birthday in Philadelphia, hoping to shake off a shaky outing from Saturday’s wild Bruins-Lightning tilt. He did just that against the hottest team in the league on Tuesday.
The Finn saw 12 shots on goal in each period, stopping 36 in all against the likes of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Jakub Voracek and company. The Bruins needed Rask to bail them out and the 2014 Vezina Winner did with his sharp reaction time — as seen on his first-period pad save on Travis Konecny — rebound control, and standout positioning en route to his 50th career shutout.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) March 10, 2020
“It’s a great milestone,” Rask, Boston’s all-time winningest netminder, told the press. “I didn’t even realize [the 50th shutout]. It’s one of those things where I’ve played enough games and these milestones happen. And this one is a good one.”
The Bruins have set themselves up nicely for another deep playoff run. Rask took them within a game of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup following his spectacular postseason performance a year ago. He’s followed that stellar run up with another Vezina-worthy season.
Yet, there’s one Cup that Rask needs to lift to silence his doubters and secure his legacy as one of Boston’s all-time great netminders.
Boston’s D stepped up in Krug and Carlo’s absence.
For the most part, the Bruins avoided the injury bug after returning from their bye week in late-January. They hit a little roadblock entering Tuesday, however, with their two second-pair defensemen out of the lineup in Krug and Carlo.
Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy carried the load again Tuesday facing off against Philly’s top line of Giroux, Couturier, and Voracek.
The Bruins knew they had an uphill climb with Grzelcyk and Jeremy Lauzon moving up to the second defensive pairing. That left John Moore — playing in his second straight game after nearly a month of healthy scratches — and a returning Conor Clifton as the bottom ‘D’ pair.
Grzelcyk and Lauzon, Boston’s usual third ‘D’ pair, eventually found a rhythm in their increased workload. The same held true for a rusty Moore and Clifton as the duo combined for eight hits on the night.
Be it 5-on-5 or special teams, the Bruins blue-liners stayed engaged against a relentless Flyers attack. Yet, on a night where they went a perfect 3-for-3 on the penalty kill without Carlo, their pivotal moment came on a late second-period power play.
With Grzelcyk filling in for Krug on the top power-play unit, the Bruins failed to light the lamp on their first chance with the man advantage late in the first and into the second period. But they made the most out of their next opportunity as Grzelcyk fired a one-timer — on David Pastrnak‘s feed — past Carter Hart to give the Bruins that pivotal first goal with 1:21 left in the second.
Matt Grzelcyk buries his fourth goal of the season.
Bruins lead the Flyers, 1-0, going into the third period. pic.twitter.com/Q78fRHjBy7
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) March 11, 2020
The Bruins’ next-man-up mentality worked well in Philly. That mindset helped them during an injury-plagued stretch during the first few months of the 2019-20 campaign. Yet, they know that they can’t lose both Krug and Carlo — both nursing upper-body injuries — for an extended period.
The Bruins displayed a killer instinct in the final 20 minutes.
Rask withstood Philly’s relentless attack for the first two periods. Grzelcyk then gave the Bruins something else to build on with his second-period power-play tally.
Just how vital was Grzelcyk’s tally? Well, the Bruins would’ve faced an uphill climb even if things remained tied at 0-0 after 40 minutes. The Flyers entered Tuesday with an astonishing 39-0-2 mark when leading or tied after two periods.
The Flyers, well, came out flying out of the gates, but had nothing to show for it heading into the third. The Bruins, while not exactly playing poorly, didn’t showcase the same assertiveness and attention to detail we’ve seen under Cassidy’s guidance.
Yet, even with Bruce Cassidy shuffling his lineup during a rocky middle stanza, the Bruins persevered. And come the third, they displayed a killer instinct and a more aggressive attacking scheme in all three zones.
Cassidy’s squad eventually got that insurance tally as Bergeron fired a wrister from the point past Hart at 14:40 of the third.
Patrice Bergeron ladies and gentlemen.
— Marina Molnar (@mkmolnar) March 11, 2020
“The third [period] was arguably our best of the year,” Cassidy told the press during his postgame press conference. “Against a good club, who’s down a goal, I liked the way we stayed in attack mode. So for us, that was a good response from our group after not the best second period. I think the late power-play goal [by Grzelcyk] helped a lot obviously — it gives you life — but after that, I thought we were excellent.”
The Bruins didn’t play the sharpest brand of hockey for 40 minutes. They were a different, more fluid team following Grzelcyk’s tally.