Bruce Cassidy knew that his team had a tall order Friday night against the Stars. Leaving Dallas with one point is a victory in and of itself.
The Bruins entered Game No. 19 of the 2018-19 season with a hampered defense. Injuries to Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, Kevan Miller and Urho Vaakanainen forced Cassidy to use a defensive lineup that entered Friday’s contest with 667 combined NHL regular season games. Two of those blue-liners, Jakub Zboril and Connor Clifton, made their NHL debut against Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and the rest of the Stars.
That wasn’t all. Brad Marchand’s 10-minute misconduct and Patrice Bergeron performing at less than 100 percent following Radek Faska’s reckless hit in the second period made things much tougher on the Black and Gold. But Tuukka Rask’s spectacular return and a gritty effort from the other 18 skaters made an improbable task a reality by securing the one point before Jason Dickinson’s overtime tally.
Here is what we learned from Boston’s inspiring effort in its 1-0 OT loss.
The neverending Rask saga took an unexpected turn last weekend when the Finnish netminder left the team to attend to a personal matter. Rask returned to his day job earlier in the week and made his first appearance since relieving Jaroslav Halak during the Bruins’ 8-5 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Nov. 8.
The Bruins needed Rask to live up to his billing as the longtime No. 1 netminder. He did just that — and more — in his best performance of the year. A calm, cool and collected Rask cut down the angles and rebounds and made several clutch saves in the third period to preserve the point.
Some of the Rask critiques have merit, soft goals being one of them. Not on this night. Rask — 2-2-1, 1.76 GAA and .942 SV% in his last five games — and his 36 saves helped the Bruins’ achieve their lofty goal in ‘Big D.’
Every player in the NHL has a level of toughness. They would not be playing in the league if they didn’t have even a small resemblance of such. But then there’s Bergeron, and we still don’t know how he plays through his painful moments. After all, he finished the Bruins-Blackhawks Stanley Cup series in 2013 with a punctured lung.
On Friday, Bergeron favored his left shoulder following Faska’s reckless hit; a play that somehow didn’t warrant a penalty. He went to the locker room following the incident. But once again, the four-time Selke winner returned to action and soldiered on through the agonizing pain.
Bergeron provided another courageous outing, but at what cost? The Bruins have their second game of a back-to-back Saturday in Arizona. Even with the courageous effort, it’s hard to imagine Bergeron lacing up the skates against the Coyotes just 24 hours after his latest painful moment.
“Upper-body. He’ll be evaluated better in the morning…he was having a tough time finishing the game,” Cassidy told reporters postgame at American Airlines Center. “It would lead me to believe he’ll have a tough time playing tomorrow. But he’s also a tough guy. We’ll see how it is.”
Officiating a 60-minute hockey game at the professional ranks is a tough gig. No one will ever deny that. Some missed calls are a cause of human error. Others are a little more head-scratching. The latter reared its ugly head Friday night, beginning with the missed Faska call.
Marchand came to Bergeron’s aid and dropped the gloves with Faska. He received a minor for roughing and instigating. Faska went unscathed for the Bergeron hit. That’s where the trickle-down effect started.
Noticeable tripping and cross-checking infractions went uncalled. Yet, a Marchand “slashing” penalty helped by Ben Bishop’s embellishment resulted in 12 minutes of penalties that included a 10-minute misconduct.
Then there was the third-period donnybrook highlighted by Roman Polak punching out an unsuspected Torey Krug and Blake Comeau getting in the injured Bergeron’s face. Polak, Comeau, Bergeron and Marchand each received minors for roughing at 9:18. In reality, the Bruins should have been on the power play but didn’t as Polak didn’t receive any extra minutes for his actions toward Krug.
The game is better when players police themselves. It’s also fine when the officials lay down the hammer. Neither of that happened in a game that featured quality back and forth action.
Jakub Zboril made a trip to Boston to drop his girlfriend off at Logan Airport during a Providence Bruins’ day-off on Monday. Little did he know, he’d be making another trip up I-95 when he earned his first career NHL call-up.
The Bruins brought Zboril as an extra defenseman for the four-game road trip. The 2015 first rounder went from the press box in Denver to the ice sheet in Dallas following Zdeno Chara’s lower-body injury.
Zboril, one of two B’s blue-liners playing in their inaugural big league contest, didn’t look out of place aside from a pair of unforced turnovers in his own end. His first game ended with three hits and a shot on goal in 10:53 of ice time — the fewest among Bruins’ defensemen.
Boston’s other debuting defenseman, Connor Clifton, also made a good first impression. The former Quinnipiac captain became an instant fan favorite when he took exception to Jason Spezza’s post-whistle slashes and landed some hefty punches on the veteran forward. Clifton’s debut resulted in a team-high four hits and a blocked shot in 18:53 of ice time.
Zboril and Clifton will likely return to Providence whenever the ailing defensemen return to full health. The Bruins need both of them to build off their debuts in the short term.
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