Three games in four nights. Three snowstorms in the same span.
If Thursday night’s game was any measure of how the Bruins will fare under Bruce Cassidy – and any coincidental adversities outside TD Garden – the weekend set against two Canadian teams will keep The Hub of Hockey basking in the afterglow of last Sunday’s affair in balmy Houston.
The 6-3 convincing win over the talented Sharks Thursday gave the B’s a few days to assimilate the events after Tuesday’s parade. And get the roster off on the right skate after the dismissal of Claude Julien.
Saturday afternoon the Vancouver Canucks; Sunday, the Montreal Canadiens in the rare weekend set at home. The B’s haven’t beaten the Habs at home since January 12, 2012 – nine games.
We’ll save that discussion for 24 hours hence.
In the meantime, need a reason to get the B’s jacked up for the Canucks, the last team Boston played for the right to parade Lord Stanley in 2011? How about the pregame montage of key plays in Super Bowl LI? Or some key Patriots making their way to center ice for the ceremonial first faceoff?
The crowd – substantially higher than the 9.943 diehards that trekked to TD Garden Thursday – to become the 321st consecutive sellout was whipped into a playoff frenzy for the two key points on the line, not to mention the opp to once again get above the elusive .500 record at home with 12 up and 12 down into Saturday. And jump ahead of Toronto that held third place in the Atlantic Division by one point and hosting Buffalo Saturday night.
Cassidy going with Anton Khudobin (1-5-1), his first move to keep Rask rested for the next two months of pressure-packed play. Khudobin with one career ‘W’ against the Canucks. Veteran Ryan Miller at 15-14-3 for Vancouver that appears to be one of the Canadian teams not playoff bound. Miller was 27-9-7 in 43 career games against the Bruins mostly in a lengthy career with Buffalo.
Saturday’s subplot? The return of Loui Eriksson after grabbing 36 million free-agent Canuck bucks at six million a year for six years. Ditto for David Backes who got the same from the Bruins for five years. Into Saturday, pretty much even and neither coming close to earning those contracts. Eriksson appearing in all 54 Vancouver games at 11-11-22 and a minus-7 (make that minus-9 after the game); Backes at 12-12-24 and a minus-11 in 48 games.
With captain Zdeno Chara back after an undisclosed illness, here’s what we learned as two of Bruce Cassidy’s strategies paid off with three goals in the 4-3 final.
Canucks jump out; Bruins jump back
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) February 11, 2017
Bo Horvat beat Khudobin at 4:46 to give the first strike to the visitors.
One of Cassidy’s changes went on display when Kevan Miller jumped into a Spooner and Jimmy Hayes breakout with Spooner sending a cross-ice pass to the streaking Miller who whistled it low by Miller at 13:33. Frank Vatrano got the breakout going deep in Boston’s end to earn an assist.
“Well we have asked [defensemen] to get involved,” Cassidy said postgame about his expectation to get the defense involved lower in the offensive zone. “It’s a matter of finding them and a matter of finishing.”
On two late power-play opportunities, the first went for naught, while David Krejci took advantage of a Vancouver gaffe to ice the puck on the second. He sent a behind-the-net pass to a wide-open Vatrano who had more daylight than a Florida beach to put the Bruins up 2-1; Torey Krug also assisting.
The Bruins outshot the Canucks, 16-8, in the first 20 minutes.
Ho-hum second – until the last second.
Aside from Krejci looking that proverbial gift horse in the mouth – make that crease – when the puck squirted out to him from a scrum behind Miller at 7:40, the B’s scoring opportunities in the second period were limited with their three-shot total reflecting that.
Khudobin made two good saves among his 17 total on a Vancouver PP with five minutes to go. A Sedin twins’ two-on-one kept the game a one-goal affair when Henrik clanged the post off a Daniel pass with a minute to go.
But with six-tenths of a second left, Alex Burrows got credit for the tying tally when the puck somehow rolled under Khudobin off a scrum to his left.
Pasrnak nets winner with two minutes left
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) February 11, 2017
Colin Miller took a Jimmy Hayes pass to pay dirt, cheating in from the right side to beat his namesake at 2:12. It was Hayes’s first point since December 20 and Vatrano’s third of the game.
“The execution was good on both plays,” Cassidy said about the two “Miller time” goals. “If you can generate an extra half dozen chances a game with those [D] guys coming, it puts other teams on alert and tonight we got two of them to go.”
Markus Granlund zipped 15-footer past Khudobin with Tim Schaller in the box at 14:23 to keep the Causeway faithful on the edge of their seats.
But in the waning minutes, that second Cassidy strategy went on display and leading to the winning goal. David Krejci sent a deep 75-foot and cross-ice outlet pass into to a streaking David Pastrnak. He blew in on Miller before slamming on the brakes, leaving the Canuck’s D-man out of position and alone on Miller for his team-leading 25th with exactly two minutes left in regulation.
“That’s one play that we’re going to look for is that seam,” Cassidy said. “Krejci to Pastrnak because you got a guy that loves to pass that can see the ice and you got a guy that can get it off in a hurry.”
Sunday night – Montreal before a week off
“It’s only been two games,” Vatrano, the game’s No. 1 star said about the two wins. “So we need to get another big win tomorrow, and head into the break on a good note.”
When asked about the biggest challenge replacing Claude Julien, Cassidy said, in part: “You don’t want to get caught up and you got to focus on the task at hand.”
Cassidy and his team have a big task at hand in 24 hours before hitting the road until the last day in February.
And with another snowstorm setting.