The Boston Bruins encountered a hiccup merely 24 hours after securing another playoff berth.
Bruce Cassidy’s squad carried a 2-1 lead into the third period against the New Jersey Devils. But they didn’t have their usual killer instinct going for them in the final 20 minutes.
Jesper Boqvist and Yegor Sharangovich each netted third-period equalizers on the heels of defensive breakdowns. Pavel Zacha scored his second goal of the evening in overtime to cap off New Jersey’s 4-3 victory.
Pavel Zacha (2-0—2) scored 2:42 into overtime as the @NJDevils concluded their season series with the Bruins (5-1-2). Their five wins against the club are tied with the Islanders (5) for the most among all teams in 2020-21. #NHLStats: https://t.co/f9yFkN6AHC pic.twitter.com/9dtDhpQOHW
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) May 5, 2021
“We need to close out better, plain and simple,” Cassidy said postgame. “The stuff we typically do better, we didn’t do tonight.”
The Bruins gained a point on the idle Capitals and kept their third-place spot in the East intact after former teammate Anders Bjork sparked the Sabres to a shootout win over the Islanders. But their chances at nabbing the division’s top seed took a significant hit after the Penguins soundly defeated the Flyers.
Here’s what we learned after the Devils earned their fifth win of the season over the Bruins.
Charlie Coyle’s exit complicated Cassidy’s forward rotation.
Even with a chance to improve their positioning, managing the club’s health became a top priority for Cassidy and his coaching staff after Monday’s playoff-clinching victory.
On Tuesday, Cassidy’s bunch found themselves in a tough spot after a resurgent Charlie Coyle exited in the second period after getting hit by Brandon Carlo’s shot.
“He’s been playing some good hockey, and it’s been fun to play with him and Ritch [Nick Ritchie],” Sean Kuraly said of Coyle’s exit. “Losing him puts a kink in it I guess. You know you have to mix it up. The three of us felt really good together. But there’s a lot of good players on this team…We’re just hoping Charlie is alright. I think he’ll be fine, but it’s kind of a bummer to lose a guy like that who’s played really well.”
The group of 12 forwards decreased to 11 after Coyle’s absence. The Bruins forwards went into double-shifting mode every time Cassidy trotted out Kuraly and Ritchie.
Top-line winger David Pastrnak found himself in that double-shift rotation. He made the most out of his time in the makeshift line, with a stellar assist on Kuraly’s fourth goal of the season to give the Bruins a 3-2 lead at 10:42 of the third.
Sean Kuraly puts Boston ahead. Great feed from Pastrnak. pic.twitter.com/ihg5KerZxk
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) May 5, 2021
Cassidy offered no further update on Coyle afterward. With the bottom-six starting to find its groove, the last thing they need is a significant injury to their third line catalyst.
“Hopefully [Coyle’s] okay, but I haven’t heard,” Cassidy said.
Jaroslav Halak didn’t make a strong backup case.
Jeremy Swayman’s hot start provided stability between the pipes as Tuukka Rask (upper-body) and Jaroslav Halak (COVID protocol) missed significant time over the last month. The former UMaine netminder stayed with the big club upon Rask’s return and earned a few extra starts as Halak eased his way back into the lineup.
With Rask undoubtedly securing the No. 1 spot for the playoffs, the Bruins have an extended evaluation period to find his backup.
Halak, in his first start since returning from COVID protocol, hoped to leave a good impression. The journeyman netminder didn’t allow any soft goals per se. The defensive breakdowns put him in a tough spot on the two third-period markers. He also encountered a bad break on the first goal as Zacha’s power-play point blast changed direction off of Jeremy Lauzon.
Even with a playoff spot secured, Halak knew the significance of this start. Yet, Halak didn’t strengthen his case to backup Rask on this night. His frustrations boiled over after Zacha’s overtime winner as a usually calm Halak went out of his element slamming his stick on multiple occasions on his way to the dressing room.
Jaroslav Halak is less than thrilled. pic.twitter.com/57L6O0Do99
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) May 5, 2021
Depending on circumstances, the Bruins may trot out Halak once more before the end of the regular season. But the transition from Halak to Swayman is one step closer to reality.
Carlo’s timely return provides more back-end balance.
The Bruins didn’t have the sharpest defensive outings. Lauzon, Mike Reilly and Charlie McAvoy could attest to that during a third period full of missed assignments.
Surely, the back end will face their share of critiques when watching the film from Tuesday’s OT loss. But Carlo’s return following an 18-game absence provided the Bruins with their healthiest core of blue-liners this season.
Carlo, who also missed significant time recovering from Tom Wilson’s cheap shot in March, encountered a busy night rotating alongside Reilly and Matt Grzelcyk. He led all Bruins with 3:34 of shorthanded time on ice and landed three shots on net in 20:51 of total ice time.
“I felt pretty good. I felt like I was seeing the ice well,” Carlo said in his return from an upper-body injury. “They were switching things around a little bit, but it was great to get touches and hear every guy’s voice on the ice. I felt I was seeing the play pretty well. Obviously, there are little things with just getting your footspeed back. It takes some time, but overall I didn’t feel too far off.”
Barring injuries or other unforeseen developments, Cassidy will trot out Carlo, McAvoy, Reilly, Lauzon, Grzelcyk and Kevan Miller for his postseason D core. As they attempt to sort out the pairings in the final week, the Bruins will have six quality blue-liners at their disposal come playoff time.
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