The Philadelphia Flyers were winless in their first four games of March when they took the ice at TD Garden on Thursday night against their archrivals. At the opposite end lay the Bruins, with four straight W’s — three in overtime — under their belts.
The clash marked the Black and Gold’s fifth game of a six-game homestand — their longest of the season — and the first of three contests in less than 72 hours, with a matinee home-and-home series against the Blackhawks coming up this weekend.
Thursday saw another case of Bruce Cassidy shuffling all hands on deck; he welcomed Tuukka Rask back from a minor lower-body injury, while David Backes — with a three-game suspension for Tuesday’s hit on Frans Nielsen of the Red Wings — joined Patrice Bergeron and Charlie McAvoy on the sidelines. Cassidy’s third line resultantly featured Tommy Wingels in place of Backes, with Danton Heinen and Brian Gionta on the wings.
The contest that followed may not have compared to the Bruins’ wars of yesteryear against the Broad Street Bullies, but, anytime these two teams meet up, the result is usually an energy-filled and highly entertaining 60 minutes. Here’s what we learned from a game that produced all of that en route to a 3-2 win for Boston.
Marchand’s third straight game-winning goal
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) March 9, 2018
“He just keeps on ticking,” Cassidy said about his leading goal scorer. “He seems like he’s on a bit of a mission with Bergy [Bergeron] out, that he wants to pick the team up in the offensive part of it.”
Brad Marchand has carried his team off the back of three consecutive game-winners, with two coming in overtime.
On Thursday, it appeared yet another OT was in the making. But in the waning seconds of the final frame, Zdeno Chara put a left-point shot on net that found David Pastrnak digging for the winner at one post. The puck squirted opposite, and Marchand needed but a single moment to win the game at 19:38 by poking home his 29th of the season.
“I think we all have to carry the load a bit,” Marchand said after wearing the “A” in Bergeron’s absence. “I think we’re all feeling that. You know, it’s very hard missing a guy like [Bergeron] and [Charlie] McAvoy, and now Backs [David Backes] for a few games. It’s tough to replace them, so…I think we all feel that a bit and have to step up.”
Bruins barely capitalize on facing their second consecutive rookie goalie
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) March 9, 2018
Tuesday, the Bruins sent Red Wings rookie goalie Jared Coreau to the showers after scoring four goals by the mid-game mark — two on their first two shots. Thursday, Philly’s Alex Lyon took his place between the pipes in what was only his fourth career NHL start.
Lyon went the distance, keeping it a one-goal game until the final horn and at his best stopping three rat-a-tat Boston bids with two minutes left in the second period. His efforts, however, were not enough to keep the B’s off the board.
David Pastrnak twirled 360 degrees before taking one swipe to pay dirt, but it was Riley Nash’s second rebound poke which gave Boston their first goal at 9:14 of the first period; Kevan Miller assisting. That goal evened the game at one apiece after Jakub Voracek had previously given the Flyers the lead within the first two minutes.
With 25 ticks left in the opening stanza, Gionta went in alone from center ice off Zdeno Chara’s 75-foot pass, and dropped Lyon before backhanding Boston to a 2-1 lead; Wingels also the assist. The tally was Gionta’s first goal and fourth point after recently returning to NHL play from the Winter Olympics. Call it the tallest to shortest play of the season – Chara at 6-foot-9 and Gionta at 5-foot-7.
“To be able to come in and [be in] the everyday battles that go along with being an NHLer, a professional player, time and space, little plays,” Cassidy listed as positives about Gionta. “It looks like he hasn’t missed a beat at all.”
Rask task back on track
After missing a week with a minor lower-body setback, 2014 Vezina winner Tuukka Rask returned with 31 saves in a rather solid outing.
“We talked to him [about] dealing with a nagging injury,” Cassidy said of Rask’s comeback, “but it’s helped him to get back to where he needs to be, and we’ll see how he recovers tomorrow. That’s probably the best test; see if he’s sore or just your typical game sore. I thought he did a good job.”
Rask didn’t look all that sharp on Jori Lehtera’s shorthanded goal at 7:21 of the second period to tie the game at 2-2. He also had to deal with quality chances for the Flyers early on, including their conversion on a double-minor to Boston’s Miller (for high-sticking) in which Rask was beaten clean by Voracek for the 1-0 advantage.
Otherwise, Rask produced a fairly active performance in his return to the crease.
“Oh, it was good. It was sharp,” Rask said about his effort. “[I] got into the game early with the power play, a lot of shots there. Felt sharp.”
McQuaid also returns
Pick the top Bruin who returns seamlessly after being M.I.A., and it might well be Adam McQuaid.
After missing 36 games with a broken leg, the veteran defenseman went back to providing his usual stay-at-home, dependable gameplay on Jan. 17. He then played 17 of the next 18, before sitting out the last four while Bruce Cassidy got a look at newcomer Nick Holden.
“Adam is going to play his game,” Cassidy summarized. “He is going to be the heart; he is going to block shots. He’s going to confront the opposition and stick up for his teammates, try to make the easy play. So it’s not easy missing some time – long stretches – and then com[ing] back in…he’s working at it.”
McQuaid was paired with the red-hot Torey Krug against Philadelphia, with the latter fresh off a career-high four points in Tuesday’s game against Detroit. He did not disappoint, with four hits and three blocked shots in his 19:11 of ice time — including 4:03 on the penalty kill.
“I’m always a big fan of Adam’s kill,” Cassidy said about that key to the game.
“It was nice to…be out there competing with the guys, to be a part of a win again. It feels good,” Boston’s most underrated player said. “It wasn’t how I would’ve drew things up, or how I envisioned things going. But I’m trying to put the first part — the injury — behind me and focus on where I am at now.”