What we learned: Bruins strike early to veto Senators
Seems more than eight months since the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators went six games, including four overtime affairs, in last April’s first-round series. Boston exited in the 4-2 series loss, while Ottawa pushed Pittsburgh to the limit in the Eastern Conference final before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champions.
Quite a different scenario into the first meeting of the year Wednesday night at TD Garden. The Black and Gold locked into third place with that playoff chit in hand, while the Sens languish at the bottom of the division with only the Sabres behind them, and now a whopping 13 points behind the Bruins.
Boston on a season-high four-game win streak and 7-2-1 in its last 10; Ottawa without a regulation win in its last three and only two in its last 10. Their eight overtime losses tied for the most in the NHL.
Nonetheless, the Bruins winless in their last six regular season games against the Senators at 0-4-2, including 0-2-1 in their last three home games.
Here’s what we learned as Boston ended that streak by breaking out to a two-goal lead and never looked back in the 5-1 win.
Spreading the contribution wealth
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) December 28, 2017
Last week, Bruce Cassidy got contributions from the rookies early in the week; the leadership core later. “A balanced scoring, secondary scoring,” Bruce Cassidy said to open his postgame press conference. “It’s something we were searching for. Nice to see the D get involved tonight.” That would be primarily Kevan Miller and Riley Nash, followed by Ryan Spooner and Anders Bjork. Miller’s consistent defensive play interrupted with a right-dot rebound rocket off a David Backes’ blast at 5:22. That beat Craig Anderson short-side top shelf for his first goal of the season in 36 games; Riley Nash also assisting. A Spooner dish to a Danton Heinen backhand past Anderson made it 2-0 at 8:28; Matt Grzelyck assisting. Heinen hit the post on a Boston power play with a minute left in the period but assisted on the last goal of the game by David Backes at 18:40 of the final period with Grzelyck also earning the assist.
Nash cashes in with a three-point night
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) December 28, 2017
With David Krejci still sidelined, Cassidy put Nash between Backes and Danton Heinen.
“[Riley] has been in the league a long time,” Cassidy said, “just he has the younger wingers, so the more 200-foot guys with Backes and Heinen – that’s why they were put together.”
With much success.
Nash intercepted an Eric Karlsson pass and went 150 feet to beat Anderson on a wrister unassisted at 1:25 of the second period. It was his first goal in 10 games. He cashed in again at 14:43 with a nifty move down the left dasher, stickhandling right to Anderson’s crease before tucking it by the left post with Bjork assisting.
That marked Nash’s fourth career two-goal game and tied a career high for three points in one game.
“He has it in him,” Cassidy said about Nash’s role. “Been a little streaky for us, so hopefully this pushes him in that direction.”
“I’ve been a little bit snake bit this year,” Nash concurred. “It seems to be every year it kind of comes in bunches, so you know, now I get two tonight. Hopefully, I can keep that rolling and feel good and maybe shoot the puck a little bit more.”
Thomas Chabot got one past Rask at 3:49 for Ottawa’s lone offense.
Schaller aids Acciari, TKO’s Claesson
Noel Acciari took a headbutt from Fredrik Claesson at 15:01 for a five-minute major. Fellow Providence College alum Tim Schaller promptly responded, handing Claesson his head in a one-sided match that went the distance.
“I think that was a high hit,” Cassidy said, “and Timmy reacted accordingly. It is well received in the room.”
“That was a really bad hit,” Schaller said. “I think anyone in the lineup would do the same thing I did. So, that’s the type of team that you want to play for, so we’ve got a good thing going.”
Karlsson a non-factor
Pick the one player in last year’s playoff series as the ultimate factor in sending Boston to early tee times and it was Ottawa’s all-world defenseman Erik Karlsson. No impact Wednesday night for the Sens captain with 23 points coming in. He ended with his customary 26:32 of ice time, but with no points and a whopping minus-3.
“It’s been a little bit of our story this year,” Karlsson said after. “We give up the lead a little bit too easy, too early and we can’t find ways to push back. Today was another one of those. And I don’t really know what to tell you about much of it anymore.”
Rask backs up NHL recognition award
The Boston netminder named the NHL first star of the week for the week ending December 24 with a 3-0-0 record and a 1.30 goals against average.
Rask’s 25-save effort marked his ninth win in 10 starts (9-0-1).
“You don’t want to get complacent and just satisfied with [the way] things have been lately,” Rask said after moving to 9-7-4 lifetime against Ottawa. “I think you want to keep pushing yourself, and that’s what great teams do.”