First of back-to-back Monday night games. Next week north of the border in Montreal.
First, Shawn Thornton’s Florida Panthers in town – with a special pre-game recognition for local Olympians who participated in the Rio Games this past August.
Pick the NHL team with the most early-season turmoil, and it’s the ‘Cats from Sunrise. Last year, the Panthers reached the Stanley Cup playoffs after a December love fest that extended head coach Gerard Gallant’s contract, while promoting AHL head coach Tom Rowe to general manager.
A year later, Gallant is sent packing this past Thanksgiving weekend by team brass Peter Luukko and Dale Tallon, who named Rowe to the dual role of general manager/head coach of the cash-strapped franchise. After winning their first two games, Gallant took his talent-based bench on a seesaw ride of win-one, lose-one the next 20 games. Rowe has not fared much better at 1-1-1 in his first three games, and coming off a 2-0 stinker in Ottawa Saturday night.
On the other bench, the Boston Bruins at 14-10-1 overall, 3-0-1 in their last four, and coming off two wins over Carolina and Buffalo at 2-1 scores. That made 18 of 25 game games in which the Black and Gold scored two or fewer goals. The saving grace being Boston’s fifth best in the NHL defense (make that goaltending) that had allowed 55 total goals.
Tuukka Rask the difference maker for the Bruins, as the B’s were 13-4-1 in games started by Rask and just 1-6-0 in games not started by Rask. He is first in the NHL in GAA (1.60), tied for second in the in shutouts (3) and wins (13), and third in save percentage (.941).
Here’s what we learned as captain Zdeno Chara returned to the Bruins’ lineup after missing six games due to a lower-body injury. At the other end, postgame info that Matt Beleskey will miss six weeks with a knee injury suffered in Saturday’s game at Buffalo.
New England Olympians honored
The Bruins honored New England medalists from the 2016 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Hugh Freund, Tessa Gobbo, Kayla Harrison, Aly Raisman, and Gevvie Stone were in attendance to partake in the ceremonial puck drop prior to the start of the game.
Freund, from South Freeport, Maine, who lost a leg to cancer, took gold in Paralympic sailing. Gobbo, the Chesterfield, NH, native won gold in Rowing. Harrison won gold in Judo. Raisman, from Needham, Mass., won silver in Gymnastics. Stone, a Newton, Mass. native took silver in Rowing.
“Thorty” into his third Panthers’ season
“Thorty is unbelievable,” Rowe said about his graybeard winger playing in his sixth game thus far with one assist. “Even when he’s not in the lineup, he’s so positive and helping the young kids out. We still have a little bit of a swagger.”
No. 22 signed a one-year deal for 2016-17 at $772,000 with a cap hit of 600K. He played 7:34 with nine shifts.
Spooner snake bitten early, but Bruins still take first-period lead
At 2:30 of the first period, and the Bruins on the early power play, Ryan Spooner – with trade rumors dancing in his head – missed an open net when Roberto Luongo came cross crease to rob Spooner of a glaring bid for his fourth of the season.
“I try to just put it in the back of my mind,” Spooner said about the rumors. “When I was 17, I went through the same thing. I definitely want to play here.”
Tim Schaller put Boston up, 1-0, at 18:32, taking a seeing-eye pass from David Krejci behind the net and quickly stuffing it past Luongo for his fifth of the season. It was the former Providence College star’s third point in his last six games.
Second-period a tale of opposite halves
Once again that second-period dip in Bruins’ play came back to bite them in the first 10 minutes. Despite outshooting Florida for half the period, Jaromir Jagr, (with a real gray beard) knotted the game at 1-1 when he put a 15-foot wrist shot from the slot cleanly by Rask at 9:44. It was the ageless wonder’s fifth of the season at 44 years young.
At 14:40, Krejci went off for hooking; Florida went on its second man-advantage of the game, but Boston killed that off.
Two minutes later at 16:37 – and after a whirling-dervish display by Brad Marchand – David Pastrnak took a short feed from Marchand and beat Luongo to put Boston back up by the one.
“He’s been finding those areas again and with his finish, his hands, his confidence,” David Backes said about Pastrnak. “I wouldn’t want to be a goalie in there.”
Pastrnak was tied for third in the NHL in goals with 13 in just 20 games. His 14th kept the 20-year-old behind only Penguins’ forward Sidney Crosby in goals per game; Pastrnak’s plus-16 rating is fourth best in the NHL.
“He’s been probably, not arguably, but I think he’s been our best forward since the beginning of the year,” Julien said postgame. “I think he’s just coming into his own and it’s not what he was told not to do before and what he can do now. It’s more about him growing into the player that I think everybody anticipated him to be.”
The Bruins were 11-0-0 this season when leading after 40 minutes.
Make than an even dozen – but not until some OT heroics
At 7:54, Patrice Bergeron made an errant outlet pass in his own end – and onto the stick of the Panthers’ best player, Aleksander Barkov. He promptly whistled a 15-footer top shelf past Rask’s glove.
At 2-2, Ryan Spooner took a pass off the wall, sending a knuckler Luongo’s way – with guess who perched and screening at the edge of the crease. None other than David Backes who tipped home his seventh at 13:08 for the 3-2 lead.
With a “W” seemingly in their pockets, Jason Demers beat Rask on a steep-angle shot at 18:31 to even it at 3-3.
Pastrnak wins it in OT
In a clinic-like and highlight move, Pastrnak went one on one with Luongo, dropped him – and put the game winner into the open net at 1:53 of the extra session. Krejci and Brandon Carlo assisting.
“When he came back from circling just in the neutral zone a little bit,” Julien said, “he had caught their defenseman flatfooted and with that speed I guess there’s not much that D could have done, but what a great move, and obviously taking the time to lift the puck up was pretty impressive – especially that last move.”
“I play beside Bergy [Patrice Bergeron] and Marchy [Brad Marchand],” Pastrnak said after inching closer to Crosby for the league lead, “and those two guys – it’s such a pleasure to play and learning a bunch of stuff, learning every single shift and they talk to me, tell me what to do, and then I guess [I’m] trying to listen.”
Chara doesn’t skip a beat
No. 33 at the age of 39 played a team-high 23:21 with 27 shifts.
“It was a good game to come back,” Chara said postgame. “Obviously, Florida is a very good skating team and it is always kind of challenging to play them. But, I had no issues and it felt good to be back and, obviously, big win.”
“It was his first game back, and, you know, a lot of responsibility,” Julien said about Chara. “I think he did a good job.”
Tough road ahead Wednesday night
“We’re trying to just play the same way as we are on the road,” Tuukka Rask said after the win and Boston getting nine points in the last five games. “Obviously we’ve had some success on the road, and that’s the biggest thing.”
That will need to apply Wednesday night in Washington – a step up in the level of competition from what the B’s have faced in the current streak.