With the 1977-78 Boston Bruins being honored for their historic achievement of having a league-record 11 20-goal scorers, the current core of Black and Gold were looking to leave a good impression against the Calgary Flames Tuesday night.
It took them a little while, but the B’s found their groove against a pesky Flames squad.
Behind a pair of goals from Riley Nash and Patrice Bergeron, the Bruins overcame a slow start — despite scoring the game’s first goal just 23 seconds in — and scored four unanswered goals en route to a 5-2 victory.
Here is what we learned as the Bruins trail the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning by a mere one point following the latter’s loss to the Buffalo Sabres.
Bruins work out kinks after the first
If the final 40 minutes was reminiscent of the team’s philosophy of being hard to play against all season long, the opening 20 was a flashback of the team’s last two games against the Devils and Sabres. While they weren’t exactly sharp in the back-to-back weekend slate, the Bruins found a way to get at least two points in that span.
Through 20 minutes, they looked like a team who would’ve left points on the table. From winning puck battles in all three zones to keeping the Bruins D on their heels in the attacking end, the Flames peppered Tuukka Rask with 13 first period shots en route to a 2-1 first period lead thanks to Sam Bennett’s second of the year at 2:03 and Johnny Gaudreau’s 19th at 9:12.
But the Bruins cleaned up their breakdowns defensively and went on the attack, outshooting the Flames 28-17 in the next 40. Though they still had their work cut out for them, the Bruins kept grinding and finally got rolling when Nash scored his second of the night — and 10th of the season — at 16:20 of the second finishing off a beautiful odd-man rush with Tim Schaller and Charlie McAvoy.
“I thought the last 40 minutes were the way that we want to play and we got back to that obviously. We’re playing some good teams, teams are ready to play us. That’s a heavy team that’s got a lot of skills and it’s going to happen,” Bergeron said about overcoming the slow start.
“You’re not going to dominate and be at your best all the time but you still got to make sure that you do the right thing. In the first we had a few breakdowns again but we showed good character to come back and be a lot better.”
It was, indeed, a character win for Bergeron and the rest of the Black and Gold.
Bergeron, again, proves value in crunch time
The longest-tenured Bruin has a knack for delivering in the clutch. So, when the Bruins and Flames were deadlocked at 2-2 in the third, it was no surprise to see Bergeron front and center at a pivotal moment.
“He’s been doing it for years, so there’s no surprise there. Good timing this year,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said about Bergeron. “Bergy is hot. He’s a shooter this year, and it’s finding the back of the net, so good for him.”
With the game in the balance, Bergeron found the back of the not once, but twice. Bergeron’s first tally came 1:15 into the third; a slick wrist shot from the slot to put the Bruins ahead for good. His elite two-way prowess factored into the insurance tally 8:04 later as Bergeron tipped home Brad Marchand’s wrist shot — seconds after blocking a shot down the other end of the ice.
“Obviously when you’re in a tight game you’re trying to make a difference and trying to find a way and our line tried to make something happen,” Bergeron, who has 17 goals in 19 games and 27 on the season, said postgame. “That’s what we’re on the ice for and we were fortunate enough to get the fourth one and the power play we always talk about doing the job – that was a great pass from Torey [Krug].”
Bergeron has been the Bruins most valuable player for nearly the past decade. The four-time Selke Award winner may very well be adding the Hart Trophy — given to the league’s MVP — to his already impressive hardware case.
Pastrnak, Backes swap works out
David Pastrnak’s offensive creativity often leads to dazzling plays on the highlight reel. But it can also lead to being too cute at times.
Over the past few games, the crafty playmaker has gotten a good reminder that looking for the perfect play isn’t necessarily the best option. On Tuesday, he forced Cassidy’s hand.
Or maybe Cassidy had a feeling that putting in a physical power forward like David Backes (two assists) with Bergeron and Brad Marchand would counter the Flames top line of Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk.
Whether one views it as a demotion for Pastrnak, who skated a season-low 13 shifts and 12:02 of ice time, or just a necessary tweak by Cassidy, there’s no denying the move paid dividends.
“Stroke of genius, huh?” Cassidy joked. “I thought, well if they’re going to beat us, they’re going to go 200 feet. I thought they got an easy goal against us, too easy for how good they are and how good we want to be defensively. Then, Backes would see the [Matthew] Tkachuk on the left wing, who is an ornery guy. So, it’s just a bit of a matchup to keep everything honest in our building, give us a little more pushback, and then Pasta would slide down with [Riley] Nash and [Danton] Heinen, which is still a very effective line.
“So, you know, just a little tweak and a little different matchup worked tonight, and we’ll see going forward.”