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The Boston Bruins received a trio of reinforcements ahead of Saturday’s matinee with the New York Rangers.
All three wasted little time making an impact.
Hampus Lindholm and David Pastrnak combined for the game’s first goal late in the opening stanza. Pastrnak notched his 39th tally of the year with Lindholm setting up the transition in the defensive end to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead; Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy assisting.
Pastrnak quickly factored into another important Bruins tally early in the second. His takeaway on an Adam Fox set the tone for Taylor Hall’s breakaway marker created on a beautiful feed from Erik Haula to give the Bruins a 2-0 advantage a mere 67 seconds into the middle stanza.
Linus Ullmark provided a flashy impact in his first start since Apr. 14 against the Senators. The veteran stopped 30 of 31 shots, with his lone blemish coming on Mika Zibenajad’s power-play marker 2:58 into the final stanza.
With multiple quality saves, the Bruins made sure to have Ullmark’s back when they needed to. They provided a little extra cushion for the former Sabre midway through the third, with Trent Frederic notching his second goal in five games.
“A little bit of different energy in the room,” Cassidy said of Lindholm, Pastrnak, and Ullmark returning. “We saw it with Hampus early with the transition plays and Pasta with the finish and other plays. Listen, they’re very good NHL players — elite, you can say — so it’s going to make a difference in your lineup.”
Indeed, the Bruins looked fluid with a healthier lineup in their 3-1 victory over the Rangers. Here’s what we learned after the B’s notched their 101st point with four games remaining in the 2021-22 regular season.
The 2014 first-round selection blossomed into one of the league’s elite-goal scorers over his eight seasons in Boston. But Pastrnak’s development into a more well-rounded player became an eye-opener over the past few seasons.
Pastrnak’s well-oiled skillset and defensive reliability took center stage in his first game since leaving with an undisclosed injury on Apr. 4 in Columbus. His patented one-timer off McAvoy’s feed resulted in career point No. 499 at 19:25 of the opening stanza. He then set up his 500th point after intercepting Fox’s feed to Artemi Panarin in the slot, ultimately sending Hall on a breakaway for his 18th goal of the season early in the second frame.
“The Panarin line, especially him, likes to hide there. So, coaches did a great job at pre-scouting,” Pastrnak said of the sequence leading to his 500th point. “As wingers, sometimes it’s better staying a little lower than worrying about the D, but it can be hard sometimes. It was patient. We got rewarded for it. We don’t always get rewarded, but overall, all five of us were in a great spot, and it ended up in a big goal.”
The Bruins benefitted from Pastrnak’s attention to detail on Hall’s marker. As a result, Pastrnak became the third-fastest Bruin ever to join the 500-point club. Only Bobby Orr (396 games) and Ray Bourque (484) reached the milestone in fewer contests.
“If you told me that as a kid I wouldn’t believe you,” Pastrnak said of notching his 500th point during his 508th career NHL tilt. “Obviously, I’m very humbled about it and I’m happy. Something more you can look back to, and you’ll enjoy with your family and friends. It’s nice, but at the same time, there are other goals in my mind.”
For the last decade and a half, the Bruins never had to worry about scheduling a starter come Game 1 of their first-round series. Tuukka Rask’s retirement in January changed that trend, ultimately leaving the coaching staff a tough choice between Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman.
Swayman gained significant ground in that spot upon returning from Providence following Rask’s retirement. He rebounded nicely over the past week following one of the roughest stretches of his season, but doesn’t have quite the stranglehold as the potential postseason starter.
Ullmark, meanwhile, embarked on his best run during the dog days of the 82-game slate. On Saturday, he picked up where he left off with a stout 30-save outing against the Rangers.
“I’m super excited. But for me, we’re not there yet,” Ullmark said regarding the upcoming playoffs. “There are still a few games left against great opponents as well. So you have to stay sharp. There’s not going to be an on or off button when you get there.”
Ullmark will finally get a taste of postseason hockey following six years of hockey purgatory in Buffalo. He’s ready to accept whatever role, be it a Game 1 starter or supporting his close friend.
“I don’t think about that at all,” Ullmark said. “If they ask me to play I’ll play. And if it’s Sway[man], you’ll know I’ll be there to back him up.”
Saturday marked a potential first-round preview against the Rangers. Neither team had their fates changed, however, with the Bruins still holding the top wild-card spot and the Rangers remaining in the second spot in the Metro, two points behind the division-leading Carolina Hurricanes.
The Bruins will have a better idea of their first-round matchup over the next week. Ironically, they have another pair of potential Round 1 opponents ahead with the Florida Panthers coming to town on Tuesday and a quick trip to Toronto on Friday for their regular-season finale against the Maple Leafs. The Eastern Conference-leading Panthers will draw the bottom wild card team, while the Leafs, who have all but secured the second seed in the Atlantic Division, will face either the Bruins or Lightning when the second season begins.
A pair of cellar-dwellers also await in the Canadiens (Sunday) and Sabres (Thursday). And the Bruins hope to stay sharp no matter if they’re facing bottom feeders or playoff-bound squads.
“It’s way better to play these kind of teams than to play against guys who are out of the playoffs, who are playing free and not scared to make a mistake,” Pastrnak said. “So sometimes it’s tougher to play those guys than the guys who are actually in the playoffs and getting ready for playoff hockey. I think I like it more when you play [playoff] teams. It’s a good team that we beat today.”
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