What we learned: Bruins eclipse Stars to keep playoff pace
The run on Tums is officially on – six games to go and clinging to the last playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
How do you spell r-e-l-i-e-f? How about a repeat performance of Tuesday’s 4-1 win over the Nashville Predators for starters? Thursday night, another Western Conference foe in Tyler Seguin’s Dallas Stars in the “Throwback Thursday” game on NBCSN. Nothing to gain for the pre-season Stanley Cup contender now playing out the schedule with a woeful 73 points – 16 points out of the last wild card spot in the West.
The Black and Gold posted a 6-3 win in the Lone Star State back on February 26. Frank Vatrano got the Bruins off and running in that game. The B’s would be hoping for somewhat the same anytime Thursday night; Vatrano has not scored since. Not to be; Vatrano was absent from Thursday morning’s pregame skate at Warrior Ice Arena due to a day-to-day, upper-body injury.
David Krejci playing in his 700th NHL game; Jimmy Hayes in his 300th. Dominic Moore (7th Player Award?) and Riley Nash riding three-game point streaks. Moore with four assists, Nash with three goals and two assists. Defenseman Kevan Miller playing one of his best games of the season Tuesday night. (Look for him to be paired with rookie Charlie McAvoy a week hence if the Bruins are playoff bound.)
Tuukka Rask back in the 24 square feet vs. Antti Niemi. Rask 4-2-1 in seven career games against the Stars. Niemi 6-3-against the Bruins.
Here’s what we learned as the Bruins went to 21-16-0 at TD Garden and kept pace in the playoff race in the methodical 2-0 win.
Another career-high for Marchand
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) March 31, 2017
With five minutes to go David Backes intercepted a Stars’ outlet pass and walked in on Niemi. The rebound shot squirted to the opposite post where a Brad Marchand backhand into Niemi’s pads rolled home for his career-best 38th of the season.
Shots on net 10-8 in the Bruins’ favor; Brandon Carlo with the key blocked shot among Boston’s significant total of eight.
“When the D are working so hard to get sticks in lanes and willing to block shots without taking away [Tuukka Rask’s] vision, that’s a fine line there,” Bruce Cassidy assessed after “And I think we’ve done a good job with that.”
B’s exploit Stars’ 30th-ranked penalty kill
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) March 31, 2017
Fifty-two seconds into the second period, the Bruins’ eighth-ranked power play went to work against one of the league’s worst penalty-killing teams. It took Boston only 26 ticks to convert a David Pastrnak right-dasher pass to a pinching Torey Krug deflection on Niemi’s doorstep for the 2-0 lead. It was Krug’s 50th point, good for sixth-best among NHL defensemen.
PK shines to preserve two points as Rask shuts the door
“Sometimes, once you get the lead you want to be real careful that you don’t do something stupid and let the other team back in the game,” Cassidy said.
That happened at 11:08 of the final period when a Miller high stick off a faceoff sent a bloodied Curtis McKenzie to the locker room – and the Stars on a four-minute power play.
Rask made three key saves and the penalty-killing units preserved the seventh shutout for Boston’s most important player.
“Penalty kill came up huge in the third at a crucial time,” Cassidy said postgame, “so those things win hockey games when you don’t have your A-game so to speak offensively, and we saw that tonight. I thought [Tuukka] earned his keep tonight. He was our best player. When we broke down he was there.
“We just weren’t sharp, and that’s going to happen from time to time, and when you can find a way to win when you’re not sharp, that’s a good thing.”
The Stars outshot the home team, 27-24.
After going 0-4-0 in his previous four starts before Tuesday, Rask has allowed one goal in his last two games. The No. 1 star for the second time this week was asked what’s changed in his play in the past two games. Rask responded: “Nothing.
“Sometimes they go your way, sometimes they don’t. Today they did; that’s good. We have to keep on plugging away and keep winning, Rask added. “That’s the only thing we can control, but obviously after a four-game losing streak we needed to change and so far so good.”
Toronto, Carolina and Tampa Bay all won, while Ottawa and the Islanders lost. Net outcome? Boston holds onto the last wild card spot with Tampa Bay three points behind and a game in hand with a showdown between the two coming Tuesday night.
Next up: Florida and Shawn Thornton Saturday afternoon. The B’s are 4-0-0 versus the ‘Cats this season. Sunday in Chicago.
“We didn’t play a great game,” Marchand said about Boston’s 60 minutes. “We got the two points, which is huge right now.”
“They can’t all be pretty,” Cassidy said, “especially this time of the year. The last three I think have been real determined, doing whatever it takes to keep pucks out of our scoring area.”
Good recipe for Saturday to avoid that agita. And the last four games to follow.