What we learned: Unfazed by fighting, Bruins rout Panthers
There have been a few recurring indications that things are going well for the Bruins (49-17-11) this season. One of the latest favorites is Bruce Cassidy cracking up at his own jokes in postgame press conferences. Concurrently, there was no lack of self-amused chuckling Saturday afternoon, as Cassidy joked that David Krejci works so well with rookies because he can “tell ’em” what to do.
He and this slowly-but-surely recovering Bruins team were also laughing their way back up to a one-point Atlantic Division (and Eastern Conference) lead with a game in hand. Consider home ice clinched for round one of the playoffs.
Here’s what we learned in the Bruins’ 5-1 routing of the Panthers at TD Garden.
Mature responses to fighting
The Panthers were very obviously starving for two regulation points and a spot in the playoffs, so they kept trying an age-old technique to get there: Instigate the other team into careless penalties. Despite the resulting 1980s-era vibe of Saturday’s contest, the Bruins remained composed — which matters beyond this game.
“I think these young players all play their own game. They’re not getting eaten up by the moment,” Cassidy said. “And yet they’re being mentored by the older guys…It’s a compliment to both the older player and the younger player having the confidence to play their game, and I think that’s what’s made it a successful run for all these young guys.”
Sure, David Pastrnak — who got in the first fight of his entire hockey career, “like, ever,” on Thursday — will absorb your punch. Then he’ll let Jake DeBrusk pick up the slack and record his third point of the game. How these young players handle fighting and other desperation techniques could be the difference between a loss and a win come playoffs, and so far they’re on course for the latter. They knew they had another game tomorrow and reacted accordingly.
Noel Acciari plays a gritty, fearless, shot-blocking game, so Bruins fans were surprised to learn that Saturday’s bout with Florida’s Mackenzie Weegar was his first career NHL fight. He delivered a beating to the Panther defenseman, but then it was back to business in a back-to-back stretch.
“Yeah, he [Acciari] trucked about five guys, and sooner or later, it was going to happen. But he does it clean. What did he have, two penalty minutes? And it was goalie interference,” Cassidy said. “He’s got the respect of the opposition, and yes…he’s willing to do it. He has done it. He’ll surprise some people, too.”
No rust for DeBrusk
Boston’s playmaking rookie returned to the lineup, after missing eight games (upper-body), to put out one of his best performances yet. His two goals were a career high, but he was hungry as ever and that showed through his effort in the dirty areas and his secondary assist on Nick Holden’s first goal as a Bruin.
“I was itching to get back in there and do anything I can to help the team and, I mean, just try to play my game [and] not do too much,” DeBrusk said. “I felt a little rusty today, to be honest, but at the same time it was nice to contribute and get on the board and help the team win.”
DeBrusk’s constant hunger for goals, combined with his skill, is making Don Sweeney’s decision to keep the rookie look even smarter. You get the feeling he’s nowhere near his ceiling, either.
Keep Donato, DeBrusk, and Krejci together?
That’s the question.
Don Sweeney essentially brought Rick Nash on this team to play next to David Krejci — and so far that placement has worked very well, perhaps even better than anticipated. Then Nash got sidelined with a concussion, and Ryan Donato entered the NHL as if he’s been playing in the league for years. The line combined for four of the Bruins’ five goals tonight; chemistry is tricky, but they certainly seem to have it.
Who will play alongside Krejci when Nash returns? A good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless.
“Anything’s possible. We’re gonna play the guys in the best spots, but I liked Rick with Krejci on the right side,” Cassidy offered. “Health is the reason he’s not there right now. With Ryan Donato coming into the mix we didn’t know what we were getting. That’s the luxury of getting these looks, but it’s also taking away from developing chemistry. So could Rick go down and play with [Riley] Nash and Backes if it all works out on top? Absolutely. I think he’s going to find his opportunities anywhere, but I like him with Krejci. That will be our plan, and let’s see where we are then.”
Tuukka Rask…so hot right now
Put your hot Rask takes on hold, please. He’s now 10-0-1 in his last 11 starts, and he’s had 120 saves on 126 shots in his last four with a .952 save percentage. Here’s a great Tweet about his turnaround:
Rask started his year 3-8-2 and since then he’s about to be 31-3-3.
— Bruins Stats (@bruins_stats) March 31, 2018
“I think the way we have defended makes a big difference. You know, we don’t get stuck out there in our own end for too long on our shifts, and then when the attack comes…down a straight line, that helps a lot,” Rask said. “Sometimes when we get stuck out there for too long, the puck keeps moving, bodies keep moving, and it makes it tougher to see. But I think we’re defending pretty well.”