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Just when the red-hot Boston Bruins appeared due for another letdown, they found a way to continue their torrid pace.
A slow start against the Winnipeg Jets didn’t hinder the Bruins, who surprisingly had Brad Marchand in the fold.
Tuukka Rask bounced back after allowing a routine goal by Jansen Harkins on the game’s first shot. Urho Vaakananinen and Boston’s blue-line responded well after a tough break on Andrew Copp’s tally deflected off the young Finn’s skate late in the opening stanza.
The Bruins tightened their defensive coverage in the middle of the ice after the first period. The Jets only compiled 13 shots on net after firing 11 in the opening stanza.
Boston’s third line delivered timely responses to both of Winnipeg’s tallies, with Jake DeBrusk setting up a sequence with Charlie Coyle on Oskar Steen’s first-period equalizer. Coyle returned with his own tying marker after tipping home Derek Forbort’s point shot early in the middle stanza.
The Bruins capped off the 3-2 win over the Jets with timely special teams moments in the third period. A trademark David Pastrnak blast on the man advantage put the B’s ahead for good. Bruce Cassidy’s club then killed off three Winnipeg power-play chances, including a 6-on-4 situation in the final 1:27, to secure the victory.
Here’s what we learned following Boston’s second to last home game of January.
The Bruins proved throughout January that they no longer consider themselves a one-line team.
Moving Pastrnak with Taylor Hall and Erik Haula and inserting Craig Smith with the potent duo of Marchand and Patrice Bergeron provided Cassidy with healthy scoring balance on the first and second lines. The bottom-six provided complimentary offense amid players transitioning in and out of the third and fourth lines, be it through injuries or stints in COVID-19 protocol.
In fact, the Bruins had other plans for their third line on Saturday, with Marchand expected out of the lineup. They envisioned DeBrusk in a top-line role after a stellar outing in fill-in duty, tallying a third-period marker to give the Bruins a 3-2 lead and assisting on McAvoy’s game-winner with 45 ticks remaining two nights prior against the Washington Capitals.
DeBrusk picked up where he left off, showcasing his assertive and aggressive puck pursuit with Coyle and Steen. Coyle and Steen weren’t too far behind, with the former snapping a nine-game point drought and the latter lighting the lamp after watching Thursday’s thrilling win from the press box.
The third line meshed cohesively with Coyle’s blue-collar traits complimenting DeBrusk and Steen’s crafty speed and playmaking skillsets. They thrived even when they didn’t light the lamp, with Coyle drawing a pair of Winnipeg penalties, including a tripping minor on Andrew Lowry 2:27 into the final stanza — just moments after a glass-removing collision in the corner with Pierre-Luc Dubois — to set up Pastrnak’s clincher.
“If you want to be a good team, you need contributions from everyone,” Cassidy said of the third line. “And tonight they did their job, and then some.”
Coyle, DeBrusk, and Steen carried Boston’s pace and scoring. Their performances provided relief for some of the top weapons.
An athlete’s pride in playing through injury resonates with his teammates. But sometimes, even the best players in the world second guess themselves.
Case in point came Saturday with Marchand taking his usual reps with Bergeron and Smith in a rather surprising development. After all, the veteran winger could barely skate through a shift following Garnet Hathaway’s unnecessary hit before exiting with an upper-body injury.
Suffice to say the Bruins didn’t expect Marchand to suit up a mere two days after the incident with Hathaway that didn’t result in supplemental discipline for the Caps blue-liner. Cassidy labeled Marchand as out — along with Anton Blidh — during Friday’s Zoom with the media. Heck, Marchand didn’t foresee himself in the lineup against the Jets.
But with the help of Boston’s training staff, Marchand felt better as Friday progressed. Upon his first twirl around the ice at TD Garden Saturday, he felt good enough to play.
“It’s been a little bit of a whirlwind. I didn’t expect to play either,” Marchand said of his timeline. “I have to give our training staff a ton of credit. They kind of threw everything at it, and we just kind of focused on trying to calm [the pain] down and last night, I was kind of feeling okay. I wasn’t really sure [about my status] this morning, but I jumped on the ice and felt okay.”
Marchand snapped a brief two-game point drought with his secondary assist on Pastrnak’s game-winner. He added a pair of shots on net and led all Boston forwards in time on ice (19:35). He didn’t miss a beat per se, but Marchand’s toughness certainly resonated with the rest of his teammates.
Playing through pain remains part of the hockey culture. Very little — if anything — will prevent Marchand from missing significant time away from the rink.
“It’s going to take a lot to sit out if you,” Marchand said. “It’s always been a part of that culture in this organization. If you want to play, you have to battle through it.”
Marchand and the Bruins battled through adversity in the first half of the season. Even in times of pain, they’ve come a long way since that roller-coaster stretch.
In his return from off-season hip surgery, Rask rode the adrenaline for his first start of the season last Thursday. He delivered an outstanding performance against the Flyers that night, stopping all but two of the 27 shots he faced.
Things haven’t been as smooth for Rask over his last two appearances. The 2014 Vezina winner only lasted one period Tuesday night after relinquishing five Carolina tallies in the opening 20 minutes. Indeed, Rask could’ve stopped a couple of routine shots, but the highly-talented Hurricanes exposed Boston’s lax defensive structure. He would’ve needed to stand on his proverbial head to even give the Bruins a chance to win that night.
The Bruins didn’t need a standout performance from Rask despite the slow start. He surely wanted to have the first goal back even as a little miscommunication between Vaakaninen and Brandon Carlo resulted in a trailing Harkins notching his fourth of the season a mere 2:46 in. But Rask provided the timely saves whenever Winnipeg garnered its chances against a tightened Boston setup, stopping all 13 shots he faced in the final 40 minutes to secure the win.
With three starts under his belt, the Bruins want to get Rask back into a rhythm sooner rather than later. Until then, Cassidy and goalie coach Bob Essenssa will likely keep alternating starts between Rask and Linus Ullmark.
“We’ve got to get Tuukka reps and see how does get his game — or his starts — to a level where we say ‘okay, now he’s into it,'” Cassidy said. “I don’t know if it will be five, six, seven starts until we say, ‘okay, he’s back to where we feel he’ll be’ and then go from there. I’m not trying to kick it down the road, but that’s probably what the plan will be.”
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