Getting his second straight start for the second time this season, Tuukka Rask picked up right where he left off.
One game after returning from a lower body injury in Detroit, the Bruins netminder was tested again against the Panthers in South Florida. The game may not have been all bright and sunny for the Black and Gold, who struggled at times keeping the Panthers out of the offensive end, but Rask backed them up making 33 saves — 13 of them coming in the first period — to secure the 2-1 victory.
Rask moved to 5-0-0 on the year and extended his shutout streak to 131:21 before Dennis Magin put the Panthers on the board with his first career goal at 15:25 of the third period. His calming presence and ability to steal games is the main reason why the Bruins are back above .500.
It’s safe to say now that without Rask, the Bruins are a below average hockey club.
Here are some other things that we learned as the Bruins improved to 5-4-0 in 2016-17.
Marchand, Rask, lone highlights of a anemic first period
It didn’t take long for Brad Marchand to leave his mark.
Just 3:53 in, Marchand was rewarded with a penalty shot after ex-teammate Reilly Smith hooked him on a clear scoring path following a feed from Patrice Bergeron, who was good to go following an injury sustained after yesterday’s practice. As he did during the World Cup, the seventh-year Bruin made the most of the opportunity beating Luongo with the backhander for his fourth of the season.
As for the rest of the team — aside from Rask — well, the opening 20 minutes were rather rocky to say the least. For a team that was playing with a 1-0 lead for the third straight game, the Bruins instead looked like a squad chasing the game thanks to bad puck management that led to the Panthers sustaining zone time and earning quality chances on Rask.
“We just had a bad start. It was unacceptable. We had enough turnovers there to last us probably the next four games,” head coach Claude Julien told NESN’s Jack Edwards and Andy Brickley postgame. “It was a terrible, terrible first period on our part. Poor puck management. And Tuukka just came up big and kept us in there. We were extremely fortunate to be up at that point.”
Second period play improving
Without Rask over a three-game stretch last week, the Bruins allowed 14 goals against the Wild, Rangers and Canadiens. Nine of those 14 goals came during the second period against the likes of Anton Khudobin, Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre.
The last two games, their second period performances were a different story. Carrying over from a strong middle stanza that saw Tim Schaller score the only goal against the Red Wings, the Bruins’ second period play against the Panthers was easily their best 20 minutes of hockey of the evening.
Unlike the first period, the Bruins displayed better puck management, defensive positioning and were more assertive with a 14-7 shots on goal advantage during the middle stanza.
Penalty kill more effective than power play, 5-on-5
As their stagnant power play and struggles 5-on-5 piled up, the Bruins shorthanded unit picked up the slack. Of the seven Panthers power play chances, the Bruins penalty kill allowed just six shots on net with the majority of those chances coming during the 6-on-4 situation with over three minutes left in regulation.
In addition to stopping the Panthers’ power play, Dominic Moore notched the team’s first shorthanded goal of the season at 6:16 of the second; his third on the year and eighth career shorthanded goal.
To put things in comparison on the vast special teams difference, the two shots on the penalty kill were the same total that the Bruins power play tallied in four chances. Both of those shots came during the four-minute power play in the third with Kyle Rau serving a double minor for high sticking John-Michael Liles.
Perhaps the Bruins would be better off to decline going on the power play when given the opportunity. Or they could find another secondary option.
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