One team came into Saturday’s tilt with the second best record in the NHL and an 18-game point streak. The other was on the verge of elimination from postseason contention.
One goalie entered Saturday with his own 18-game point streak. The other came in having lost 11 straight decisions since Dec. 17.
Yet Tuukka Rask and the Boston Bruins had their hands full through against the lowly Ottawa Senators at TD Garden. But, again, they overcame their own sloppy play and their third period deficit and found a way to win on David Krejci’s tip-in late in regulation.
Any head coach that makes in-game line changes usually does so in need of a spark. The Bruins weren’t in need of that per se — even with their troubles clearing the puck out of the zone at times — as they dominated the Sens in almost every statistical category. Yet, they had trouble lighting the lamp — despite outshooting Ottawa 31-19 — thanks to solid goaltending from Anderson and three hit posts during the middle 20.
Cassidy waited to change things up until late in the third. He shortened the bench hoping that his best players would come through.
Chris Wagner got a fortunate bounce past Anderson to even things up at the third period at 8:47. The Walpole native found himself skating with the dynamic duo of Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron minutes later on the top line.
Danton Heinen moved to the de facto second line with David Krejci and David Backes. The former University of Denver product found himself in the right place at the right time as he fired a shot in the slot for Krejci’s game-winning tip-in with less than 45 seconds late in regulation.
“Sometimes the guys, rolling them out there, keeping them in the game, shortening your bench is the way to go,” Cassidy said. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”
The Bruins got the job done without David Pastrnak, Jake DeBrusk and Marcus Johansson on Saturday. None of the injured trio will make the trip to Pittsburgh to begin their three-game road trip.
Yet, Cassidy’s squad is persevering and showing resiliency during the final stretch of the 2018-19 regular season.
Rask also extends his streak to 19
You notice the crickets from sports radio talking about Boston’s No. 1 netminder? That’s a beautiful thing for Rask’s supporters, isn’t it?
There isn’t much to complain about with Rask aside from the occasional soft goals that go past him. The 2014 Vezina winner hasn’t lost in regulation since Dec. 23 in Carolina.
The Bruins are winning in a variety of ways. Rask’s workload varied during this stretch. At times, he’s been peppered with shots from all different angles. Other times, the blue-liners in front of him gives him a de facto night off with blocked shots and transitions the puck cleanly out of the defending end.
Rask saw a mere 19 shots against the Senators. The Bruins made his job easy sans a second period hiccup from Bergeron — out of all people — and Torey Krug’s third period turnover that led to Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Brady Tkachuk’s tallies. And when needed, the Finn made the saves.
“Listen, we had a brain fart there, plain and simple, and it’s something we want to avoid,” Cassidy said about his netminder. “He’s been really good for us. We’ve talked about it over and over. You have to be, right? To have that many games where you get points, you have to be pretty solid. You can’t have an off night very often, and he hasn’t.”
Rask put his early season slump after he came back from a personal absence before Thanksgiving. He sustained a concussion prior to Boston’s bye week, but hasn’t missed a beat since regaining his net.
His fellow goaltending partner, Jaroslav Halak, is in a groove again following his toughest stretch of the season from late December to early February. The Bruins have quite the luxury of keeping Rask healthy thanks to their dynamic goaltending tandem.
Putting this run in perspective
The last team to have a point streak of 19 games or more? The Chicago Blackhawks, who started 21-0-3 in their first 24 games of the lockout-shortened season in 2013. They just so happened to defeat the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final in six games.
You have to go back to 1940-41 for the last time the Bruins had a point streak of 19 games or more. Those record-setting Bruins, led by the Kraut Line of Milt Schmidt, Dit Clapper and Woody Dumart, earned a point in 23 straight. They also happened to hoist Lord’s Stanley Cup at season’s end.
This year’s Bruins have their own Cup aspirations. And they know there’s room for improvement.
One thing they want to work on? Staying sharp for 60 minutes.
The Bruins needed come from behind wins in their last three games against the Hurricanes, Panthers and Senators. They scored first on Saturday unlike their previous two tilts — which they trailed 2-0 — only to let their lead slip away on Pageau’s tally just 57 seconds after Brad Marchand notched his 28th of the season.
Cassidy’s squad faces a desperate Penguins squad — coming off a 4-1 loss to the Blue Jackets — on Sunday night in Pittsburgh. He’d like nothing more than to play with a lead and establish the tempo from the get-go.
“I’d much rather be us right now than those team that are seven, eight, nine that are one point in one night and one point out the next night. That’s nerve-racking, so for us. Like I said, we’re paid to win, and we’re doing a lot of that lately, so that’s comforting,” Cassidy said. “But now I’m worried about Sidney Crosby and [Evgeni] Malkin and the next challenge.”
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