What we learned: ‘Cats keep coming in 3-0 win over B’s
SUNRISE, Fla.– Your water-cooler question into Thursday night’s NHL slate? Along with respective conference leaders Tampa Bay and Nashville, which team is the hottest in their respective last 10 games?
That would be the Florida Panthers at 8-1-1. Given the last rights to make the Eastern Conference playoffs before the All-Star break, the ‘Cats have used a few of their nine lives to climb back into the wildcard mix with three games in hand and four points behind both current wild cards — New Jersey and Columbus. Thursday’s encounter marked the first of four meetings against the Bruins in the final weeks of the season — and a remote, but possible, first-round matchup.
No slouch to hot streaks, the Bruins came to South Florida going 6-0-0 on their last homestand. After Sunday’s loss to the Blackhawks, the B’s bounced back with a come-from-behind win over Carolina Tuesday to go 7-3-0 in their last 10. Their road slate and goals against each a puck-width second best to Nashville in the NHL.
With nine of their last 13 games on the road and playing every other night or back-to-back until the final game, here’s what we learned as Florida handed Boston its second shutout of the season and first since a 4-0 loss to Colorado in the second game of the season on Oct. 9.
Bruins fall behind early once again; comeback not to be
The Bruins nemesis – giving up early goals – was once again front and center at the BB&T Center when defenseman Aaron Ekblad in from his left blue line won a puck-batting match to Anton Khudobin’s right while the Bruins were in scramble mode to put the Panthers up, 1-0, at 6:25.
That was followed with a foot race, won by the Panthers at 9:06 when Evgenii Dadonov and Nick Bjugstad went center ice to crease before Bjugstad’s perfect tip-in to Khudobin’s left for a two-goal ‘Cats advantage.
“I knew I didn’t have him,” Nick Holden said about being victimized. “I was trying to knock the puck out of the air.”
With five minutes left in the second period and Rick Nash in the box for goaltender interference on James Reimer, Trocheck put a 15-foot bullet top shelf far side for the 3-0 lead.
There would be no comeback wins like the recent Chicago and Carolina affairs with four- and five-goal third periods – despite Boston outshooting Florida, 46-28.
“It was not our night in the offensive end,” Cassidy said in an understatement.
“There were a lot of opportunities, it was everywhere,” Khudobin added. “We’ve played in these types of situations before and expect to be back in the game but unfortunately this wasn’t that day.”
Roster losses add up
“There’s always a point in the season with injuries to key players,” Rick Nash said. “It gives more ice time for guys to step up.”
That didn’t happen for Nash and the rest of the lineup Thursday.
Torey Krug returned Thursday, while Zdeno Chara and Jake DeBrusk joined the missing-in-action for the Black and Gold along with Patrice Bergeron and Charlie McAvoy.
That created a new third line of David Backes centering Tommy Wingels and Brian Gionta – until Backes departed.
Florida’s first two goals came against Boston’s first line of Riley Nash centering Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak who put up nine combined points Tuesday; they ended a combined minus-5, while the makeshift top pair of Nick Holden and Kevan Miller put up a minus-4 on defense.
“It’s up to someone else to come through,” Cassidy said about his first line.
Backes back on suspension?
With 2:04 left in the first, David Backes was ejected for a high hit on Vincent Trocheck. Mike Matheson dished out a few retribution shots before the penalties were handed out.
No doubt the ejection will lead to a review by the Department of Player Safety and a possible second suspension for Backes who was back for just his first game Tuesday after sitting out three for a high hit on Detroit’s Frans Neilsen on March 6.
“I didn’t think it was that bad,” Cassidy said about the hit. “I don’t know what will come of it but that’s the next question. Clearly, it’s not the road you want to go down coming off suspension.”
“He cut to the middle and turned on me,” Backes added about the play. “I hit him right through the shoulder. He’s much smaller than I am. Probably good thing is he’s back out there and finished the game. We’ll see what happens from here.”
Classic 4-pointer next in Tampa
With Thursday’s loss on Florida’s east coast, all eyes go to the west coast for Saturday’s showdown against Tampa Bay for best in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins enter that game four points behind the Lightning and one game in hand; Tampa smarting from a 7-4 pummeling by Ottawa Tuesday night at home.
A win keeps the B’s in the hunt for the top seed in the East; a loss puts a damper on those hopes with Boston falling six back.
“We scored a lot of goals to win hockey games,” Cassidy said. “It’s probably going to come around the other way pretty soon. You’re not going to score 6 or 8 or 7 on a regular basis. We gotta get goals down to a natural number.”
“Games are going to get tighter and tighter trying to catch Tampa,” Holden summed.