What we learned: Bruins keep pace with the unthinkable despite loss
‘Twas the last game before Christmas
When all through a packed TD Garden,
Bruins faithful were stirring for a league-leading win.
The team was prepped by Claude Julien with care
In hopes that St. Nicholas would be early there.
NESN viewers were ready, all snug and well fed,
While visions of Lord Stanley danced in many a head.
And Neely and Sweeney with their promises in September,
Had settled us down for a possible winter to remember.
So they sprung off the bench in waves of Black and Gold,
Trying to dismiss the St. Louis Blues who would not fold.
Bruins Nation heard the boys exclaim as they played with much might,
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a very good night.
Okay, we took some editing liberties with some stanzas of that famous poem to fit into any sized stocking two nights hence when the majority of Bruins fans had them filled with playoff coal — until some last-minute shopping.
But — a good night, indeed, it was, despite only their second regulation loss in the past 15 games. The 2-0 win by St. Louis was the first shutout of the season against Boston.
Did anyone actually believe six weeks ago the Bruins would be one point removed from the Atlantic Division lead after the last game before Christmas?
After losing to San Jose on November 17, Boston went on a run at 11-1-3 – 25 of a possible 30 points while Montreal tanked, dropping nine of their last 11. The Bruins entered Tuesday at 19-9-4; St. Louis at 20-11-4
It all adds up to a December to remember as the Black and Gold kept pace one point behind Montreal that lost to Minnesota Tuesday night.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Clause.
Here’s what we learned from Boston’s loss to a talented St. Louis Blues team, a legitimate contender to play in June.
“We’re on a roll right now, and we have the opportunity to keep it going.”
So said Claude Julien after morning skate Tuesday until superstar Vladimir Tarasenko streaked in solo at 7:45 of the third and cleanly beat Tuukka Rask for his 22nd league-tying goal with Dallas’s Jamie Benn.
“I thought for two periods we were fine,” Julien assessed. “I didn’t think we worked hard enough to get on the inside. There was a lot of times we were shooting and we had no net-front presence, they were boxing us out and we weren’t working hard enough to get on the inside.”
The Blues sealed the deal at 12:50 when Robbi Fabbri replicated the streaking-in-solo off a mismanaged Boston line change.
“I’ll have to look at it closer,” Julien added about the gaffe. “Obviously, we probably need better attention on that, whether there was a mix up there on our D’s or didn’t see him taking off.”
Making hay with calendar realities
December marks the first of four consecutive 14-game months and the one with the most home games of the season at eight. March is the toughest schedule with six at TD Garden and only four of last 12 at home into April 9, the last game of the regular season.
Tuesday night marked five of six at home including the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day.
Another calendar positive for Boston? They entered Tuesday’s game with a whopping three games in hand on Montreal, while tied with Toronto for least games played thus far (32).
“Yeah,” Brad Marchand said after about becoming top dog in the division, “it would have been really nice to go into the break here with that spot, but it didn’t happen, and we still have some games in hand, so hopefully we can continue to play well after Christmas and get those points.”
Back in the offensive saddle
The Bruins, known for stingy defense and stellar goaltending under Claude Julien, quietly entered Tuesday with a 3.19 goals per game average, trailing only the powerhouse Dallas Stars at 3.42 with the NHL lead.
The two best (almost) on display Tuesday night.
It was the NHL’s best power play – Boston at 28.9% — and the best penalty kill – St. Louis at 87.3%.
Despite third-period fighting majors to Tyler Randell and Ryan Reaves and a few scuffles, neither was much on display. The game went until 14:46 of the second period before the first infraction was whistled: Boston’s Brett Connolly for tripping.
St. Louis kept Boston’s power play on the bench all night.
“They had one power play; they didn’t score on it,” Julien summed. “It would’ve been nice to have one, but hey, that’s the name of the game.”
“It was more like a playoff game tonight,” Brad Marchand said. “They’re a really good team.”
Tuukka singing a few blues
Rask had never lost to the Blues in regulation before Jake Allen’s shutout. His 2-0-3 career mark and 1.76 GAA took a slight dent Tuesday night. Allen remains perfect against Boston at 2-0 and a sparkling .50 GAA.
“Third period both teams had a lot a lot of shots,” Rask said. “Some chances, good pace game. Felt like a playoff game out there. Good game.
The decisive stat Tuesday night?
In a scoreless game entering the third period, St. Louis was perfect at 7-0-0 when tied after two; Boston, 5-2-2.
“We’ve gotten better. We’ve gotten better,” Rask said. “Got a lot of points, so yeah, we’re trending in the right direction and still a long ways to go but I think we’re going in the right direction.”
“We knew what the opportunity was,” Julien said about possibly taking over the division lead. “But at the same time let’s not forget what’s happened here in the last month and a half or so. We’ve played some pretty decent hockey, so sometimes a loss like that just brings you back to reality and say, ‘Listen, we don’t get to where we are by accident, we gotta make sure that we play well and we do the things that we need to do to win.’
“Take those three days and get some rest and hopefully come back and be as hungry as we have been in the last while.”
That would be against Buffalo Saturday night at TD Garden.
“Happy Christmas to all.”