What we learned: Bruins escape Wild finish vs. Minnesota
5-4-3. Not a countdown, but rather the Bruins’ record into Monday night’s tilt with the Minnesota Wild.
Annually among the preseason favorites to play deep into spring, the Wild languishing at the bottom of the Central Division at 5-5-2. Nonetheless, they were among the best road teams in 2016-17, and on the first stop of an extended trip, beginning at TD Garden.
The Bruins sick-leave list longer than the absence list in a preschool flu outbreak. Another call to Providence by GM Don Sweeney – this time to defenseman Rob O’Gara.
Worst of all: “Marchand won’t be traveling with us,” Bruce Cassidy said postgame about his leading scorer out with an upper-body injury after two rattling checks Saturday night against Washington. “He’ll be out Wednesday [against the Rangers].”
Frank Vatrano back after exiled to Level 9 with zero points in nine games.
Saturday night, no secondary scoring and no second power-play goal in a third period of multiple chances with the B’s down 3-2. All while Rask stopped three clean breakaways coughed up by the D to keep his mates onboard till the final horn.
The Bruins defensive complement playing at a minus-9 into Monday night. Only Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo on the plus side – ironically a combined plus-9.
Three stats that weren’t helpful heading into Monday night: Boston was 6-13-1 all-time against Minnesota. The Wild swept last year’s series with goaltender Devan Dubnyk earning shutouts in both games. The Wild lost 2-0 at home against the Blackhawks on Saturday and had not suffered back-to-back regulation losses this season.
Yet to string two regulation wins together this season, Boston was aiming for the first with two tilts on the road this week: Wednesday at the Rangers and Saturday in Toronto.
Here’s what we learned as Boston won a game, 5-3, that should not have been that close.
“We made it tough on ourselves,” Rask said postgame.
Rask D-serted; DeBrusk and Vatrano to the rescue
Frank Vatrano with the Tim Wakefield special for his first of the year. pic.twitter.com/LVZujFUfQN
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) November 7, 2017
Ryan Suter sent a sent a harmless shot on Rask from the left point at 4:53. Not a good rebound — and no Kevan Miller or O’Gara to his aid, Nino Niederreiter was on the doorstep with enough time to invite Rask to dinner before two moves and a backhand tuck for the 1-0 lead.
“We got crossed up in coverage low,” Cassidy said in understatement about big gaffe No. 1.
But rookie Jake DeBrusk won a left-dasher race with the veteran Suter five minutes later, beating Dubnyk in tight and short-side, unassisted at 10:23. It was DeBrusk’s third lamp-lighter of his career.
A second left-wing race to space was won by Vatrano, uncorking a seeing-eye shot that Dubnyk saved, but the puck found dribble space five-hole at 12:42; Jordan Szwarz and Zdeno Chara assisting. It was Vatrano’s first of the season, breaking a 25-game goal and 18-game point drought; Szwarz’s first NHL point.
Matt Beleskey went a few rounds shortly after with Matt Dumba, a key energizer in the game.
“He has that ability,” Cassidy said about a key point in the game, “when the abrasive play starts he can answer the bell.”
“You’ve got to have some fun,” Beleskey said about the bout. “It’s fun here in the Garden. They get loud, so you know, you get into the game, and if I can get people out of their seats that’s good.”
Best middle 20 of the season
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) November 7, 2017
The Wild took a second penalty with .05 left on the first-period clock. And started the second with a short-handed breakaway bid on Rask.
“I think it was probably our best period of the year, our second period,” Cassidy summed. “Take away that first 20 seconds.”
The Bruins held Minnesota to one shot in a 15-minute span.
At 5:34, Sean Kuraly finished yet another left-wing foot race by Tim Schaller whose shot on Dubnyk rebounded onto Kuraly’s stick; Danton Heinen also assisting. It was the first two-goal lead in six games.
A Torey Krug 20-foot rocket at 7:43 upped the Bruins lead to 4-1; assists to Bergeron and Pastrnak.
141-1-4 since 2011-12; Rask denies penalty shot
The Bruins had lost but one game in regulation in seven years when leading by three or more goals.
Dubnyk replaced by backup Alex Stalock to begin the final 20 minutes.
Not used to making it easy on themselves, big gaffe No. 2 was a Pastrnak giveaway, leading to a Mikael Granlund goal at 1:23.
“Tomorrow, there’s conversations,” Cassidy said about Pastrnak’s porous play at times.
That was followed by a penalty shot by Granlund with Boston on the power play at 6:55; denied by Rask.
“It’s a big save,” Cassidy said about THE save of the game. “At the time, it seemed like a game changer until we gave them another breakaway.”
Yep, a fourth PP for Boston at 15:09 – and the Wild score shorthanded when Eric Staal took Rask to the cleaners with a 15-foot shot that didn’t bring a flinch.
“From the players end they have to understand time and score as well, [and] manage the puck,” Cassidy assessed. “You want to score obviously when you’re on the power play, but not at all costs. You have to understand where you’re at in the game.”;
The Bruins were at – blowing this one.
Stalock pulled with two and a half minutes left. If not for a Charlie McAvoy house cleaning in Rask’s crease off a key rebound and a Schaller open-net goal at 19:03, this one might well have gone to overtime.
“It’s not automatic you’re going to get two points in this league,” Chara, the game’s No. 1 star, said postgame.