Because of their stint in COVID protocols earlier this season, the Bruins and Sabres will face off four additional times over the next two weeks. Even with Buffalo playing a little better of late, a red-hot Bruins bunch couldn’t have asked for a better outlook with their numerous meetings over the next two weeks against the lowly Sabres.
In the first tilt of their five-game road trip, Bruce Cassidy’s bunch picked up where they left off. The Bruins only lit the lamp twice behind Brad Marchand and Connor Clifton’s tallies, but another stellar effort by Tuukka Rask and a handful of clutch penalty kills in the third period secured a 2-0 victory at KeyBank Center.
Here’s what we learned from Boston’s fifth straight triumph.
Tuukka Rask provided a ‘save of the year’ candidate.
If you confused Rask for Tim Thomas for a brief moment on Tuesday, well, you weren’t alone.
In his third start since returning from a lingering upper-body ailment, Rask delivered a remarkable save on Dylan Cozens during the first period. With the right side of the net open, Rask somehow dove across the crease to commit highway robbery on the 2019 first-round selection.
TUUKKA RASK OH MY GOD WHAT A SAVE pic.twitter.com/gJjRof9vGk
— Marina Maher (@marinakmaher) April 20, 2021
“It’s just half skill, half luck I guess,” Rask said of his highlight-reel stop on Cozens. “We were in desperation mode at that point. When you can’t push over on that side, you just kind of throw anything at the puck you can and hopefully it hits you, and today it did.”
Rask was unquestionably the best player on the ice Tuesday, notching his first shutout of the season. The Bruins needed Rask (32 saves) on a night where they looked a little off, particularly in the third period.
“Excellent,” Cassidy said of Rask. “Second effort saves, he tracked the puck well. There were some point shots there where he was able to fight his way through [traffic] and find them. I think he was our best player — it goes without saying. I think we put him in some spots there in the third where we could’ve been a lot better in front of him and made his life a lot easier.”
Speaking of that final 20…
Boston took its foot off the pedal in the third.
The Bruins didn’t bring their ‘A’ game against the Sabres. Heck, at times, they didn’t put forth an effort worthy of a ‘B’ game, either.
Cassidy watched as the Bruins coasted in the final 20 minutes of play full of untimely penalties, a slow transition game, and defensive breakdowns in front of Rask.
It didn’t matter. The Sabres didn’t exactly have an inspiring performance either. Their lowlight came late in the third when they barely mustered any quality scoring chances during a de-facto 6-on-3 power play capped off by a head-scratching too-many-men penalty.
Ah the rare “7-on-3 Buffalo blitz” pic.twitter.com/VrAlaZAqQJ
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) April 21, 2021
“I didn’t like our third period at all,” Cassidy said. “I thought we lost our discipline. We gave up chances and relied on our goaltender [too much]. I didn’t think we played very well, and I didn’t think they were great early on either.”
Against any quality opponent, the Bruins may have been on the wrong side of the scoreboard. Perhaps the hectic slate full of games every other night and three-in-four-night stretches caught up to them in the third.
But while the final 20 hardly resembled anything similar to a cohesive unit, Cassidy’s bunch established a solid tempo in the attacking and defensive ends through a good chunk of the first 40.
Marchand continued his MVP-caliber season with his team-leading 24th goal of the season. Clifton bounced back from a shaky outing two days prior against the Caps with his first regular-season tally since Nov. 19, 2019. But another player caught Cassidy’s eye for his work on the other end of the ice.
Taylor Hall provided a timely defensive moment against his former team.
Don Sweeney acquired Hall from Buffalo last week to provide a needed secondary scoring upgrade. Looking to put a disappointing tenure with the Sabres behind him, Hall established some instant chemistry with David Krejci and Craig Smith, resulting in a pair of goals and an assist through his first five games in Boston.
The assertive and smooth-skating Hall created a handful of scoring chances for himself and his teammates on Tuesday. Dustin Tokarski stood tall in Buffalo’s net, preventing things from getting out of hand.
Hall’s defensive game in the past didn’t exactly match his offensive contributions. Yet, he hasn’t looked out of place defensively during his initial stint in Boston.
On Tuesday, the veteran winger found himself in the middle of defending a 2-on-1 after Jakub Zboril failed to keep the puck from exiting Boston’s attacking end. As they approached the slot, Hall blocked Casey Middlestdeat’s feed to Cozens to break up Buffalo’s potential quality scoring chance.
𝚝𝙰𝚢𝙻𝚘𝚁 𝚑𝙰𝚕𝙻 𝚍𝙾𝚎𝚂𝚗’𝚃 𝚙𝙻𝚊𝚈 𝚠𝙸𝚗𝙽𝚒𝙽𝚐 𝚑𝙾𝚌𝙺𝚎𝚈 pic.twitter.com/NViSUgmY4q
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) April 21, 2021
“It was good commitment,” Cassidy said of Hall’s defensive highlight. “It was not the first time he’s done it for us. And again, whatever he can do during the course of the game — sometimes it’s with the puck, sometimes it’s without…I’m glad to see him do it. We shouldn’t be in that position, to be honest with you. We have to make better decisions in the O-zone blue-line, but good for him for making up for a mistake on the back end.”
Hall won’t take home Selke hardware anytime soon. But, with timely plays on both ends of the ice, the 2018 Hart Trophy winner has brought into the Bruins’ winning culture during his first week in Boston.
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