Tuesday night — seven games to go in the annual nail-biting ritual to a hopeful playoff berth.
The Nashville Predators at TD Garden with two huge points on the line for the Black and Gold. Nashville locked into at least a wild card in the Western Conference.
Not on Tuesday night, but raise your hand if you were a Nashville fan Monday night. The Predators did the Hub of Hockey a mega favor in dispensing the Islanders, 3-1, in Brooklyn for their fourth consecutive win; 7-1-2 in their last 10. An Isles’ win would have pushed the Bruins out of the playoff-8 in the Eastern Conference into Tuesday night.
With Tampa Bay just one point behind Boston after a come-from-behind OT home win over Chicago Monday, expect frantic jockeying the next 10 days as Philadelphia and Carolina also hope for some help to squeeze into postseason play come a Saturday hence.
John-Michael Liles back in the lineup after missing a month. Tuukka Rask cleared for action after an undisclosed lower-body injury sidelined him in Saturday’s 2-1 win in Brooklyn with Anton Khudobin racking up his fifth consecutive win, while Riley Nash provided both goals in that significant victory.
Rask (33-20-4) vs. Pekka Rinne (30-16-8). Rask 2-1-2 in six career games against the Predators. Rinne 4-0-1 in five against the Bruins. Rask, however, 0-4-0 in his last four starts.
Here’s what we learned as Boston kept pace in the playoff race with the 4-1 win that was not decided until the final minutes.
Bruins open game “on time”
Bruce Cassidy’s motto? “Be on time.” Be ready from the opening bell. The Black and Gold got away from that the past week.
Not Tuesday night as the home team played the entire first minute of the game in the Nashville zone.
At 2:28; Zdeno Chara put a soft shot from the left point that Rinne stopped, but the rebound came out to a parked Patrice Bergeron who whipped it home for his 18th of the season; Brad Marchand also assisting for his 81st point of the season, good for third in the league.
It was Chara’s 600th NHL point. On Monday, he was nominated for the Masterton Trophy for the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.
B’s fans took delight in former Montreal nemesis P.K. Subban being victimized on the goal. Each Subban shift was met with a chorus of boo-birds.
At 13:52, the David’s went to work with Pastrnak sending Krejci in alone on Rinne. A seeing-eye five-hole shot put Boston up by a pair on Krejci’s 22nd with Drew Stafford picking up an assist for his sixth point in a Bruins’ uniform.
“Let’s establish the energy level, be on our toes, be ready to play, and again, that was something we weren’t pleased with the last game in here,” Cassidy assessed postgame. “I addressed that, and that was one of the most satisfying responses from tonight’s home game.”
B’s neutralize second-period Nashville stat
Plus-32 the Preds were in second-period play, best in the NHL.
Not on Tuesday night. In a tight-checking second 20 minutes, both teams went scoreless, while Pastrnak made the highlight-reel move of the night three minutes in with a 360-whirl 15 feet outside Rinne’s crease but fired wide of the net.
Acciari and Rask help secure two big points in spirited final 20 minutes
At 11:16 of the final period, Craig Smith tipped a Roman Josi shot off the left dasher past Rask to cut the lead in half. But No. 40 held serve, facing only 10 shots, while Nashville flooded the Bruins’ end for much of the period.
“He really worked hard to find pucks in traffic,” Cassidy said about Rask’s play in the period that got him No. 1 star of the game. “They created some good opportunities, and even the goal against, he found it. They just tipped it at eye level. There were a lot of plays behind the goal line where you’re going post-to-post. That’s where it gets a little more strenuous, your game, as opposed to just having great technique. If you’ve got to track pucks, you’ve got to find pucks, you’ve got to fight through bodies, and he did a real good job with it.”
“Especially in the third,” Rask said, “they were on us hard but we got a good start. I feel like I had a good game, but we blocked a lot of shots. There were not too many bad bounces against us, so that helps.”
With four minutes remaining, the fourth line of Riley Nash, Drew Stafford and Noel Acciari broke out 3-on-1 with Acciari scoring his first NHL goal. He also led all players with five hits.
“Part of the process with Noel was rounding out his offensive game,” Cassidy said. “You’re starting to see more, he’s making tight-area plays, and that was a great finish.”
“I was just ready for anything and [Riley] happened to pass it – great pass, good poise,” an excited Acciari said, “and he left me with an easier part just to kind of tap it in.”
A David Backes empty netter sealed the 4-1 win at 18:29 (Dominic Moore assisting), while a Kevan Miller-Cody McLeod bout led to a near brawl to punctuate the evening’s festivities with eight penalties called at 18:35.
“We just try to stay in the moment and play the way we know we can and we need to play in order to win and live with the results,” Rask said.
Six to go; Dallas Thursday at TD Garden.
Don Sweeney press conference Wednesday at 11:15
To extend David Pastrnak’s contract? To remove the “Interim” from Bruce Cassidy’s title? To announce the signing of last June’s first-round pick in BU defenseman Charlie McAvoy?