Torey Krug found a spot on injured reserve with an upper-body injury following his collision with Caps winger Tom Wilson. Fellow defenseman Charlie McAvoy (undisclosed), while improving, also stayed at home leaving the Bruins without two of their top four blue-liners.
Bruce Cassidy’s squad, despite the notable absences to Krug and McAvoy, marched on. A pair of goals from Patrice Bergeron, an empty netter from Brandon Carlo and a sound outing from Jaroslav Halak (26 saves) backstopped the Bruins to their second straight victory.
“We found our legs in the first period, stayed in the game, and I thought we played the right way as the game went along,” Cassidy told NESN’s Jack Edwards and Andy Brickley following Boston’s 3-0 win at KeyBank Center. “A big goal on the power play [from Bergeron] obviously helped [in the first period], and then the Bergy goal in the second I thought was very timely. And in the third, we played the right way.”
Here’s what we learned after the Bruins improved to 23-7-9 on the season with a blue-collar win in Buffalo.
Patrice Bergeron is on fire
He hasn’t missed a beat since returning to the lineup in Ottawa on Dec. 9. Ironically enough, the Bruins only won twice in the previous eight games with Bergeron in the fold before Friday.
Now they’ve won two in a row for the first time since defeating the Canadiens and Hurricanes on Dec. 1 and 3. Bergeron, of course, played a major role in those victories.
The longest-tenured Bruin scored twice for the third straight game. Both goals — late in the first and second periods — came via the tic-tac-goal variety with fellow linemates Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak feeding Bergeron his 16th and 17th goals of the season.
Bergeron’s pair and a tight defensive effort allowed Cassidy to distribute his minutes fluidly among his four lines. The four-time Selke winner ended the night with 17:06 of ice time, his fewest minutes since returning to the lineup.
Friday marked Bergeron’s third straight game with multiple goals. Only Cam Neely, Phil Esposito (five times), Dit Clapper and Carson Cooper achieved that same feat during their careers. Bergeron will join Neeley, Esposito and Clapper inside the hallowed Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto whenever he hangs up his skates.
“It’s one of those things where at times the puck is going in and you get some puck luck,” Bergeron told reporters about his hot streak. “To me, it’s all about details and playing the right way.”
A prototypical quote from one of the best two-way players of all-time. And indeed, Bergeron and the Bruins “played the right way” in Buffalo.
Brandon Carlo has a stellar night in increased role
Cassidy spent most of the season dealing with makeshift forward lines as some of his key cogs, like Bergeron and David Krejci (among others), nursed injuries during certain portions of the long season. He rarely needed to shuffle his defensive pairings until John Moore’s return in early-December. Even then, Cassidy only tinkered with his blue-line core, usually opting to insert Moore or Connor Clifton next to Matt Grzelcyk.
The fourth-year Boston bench-boss didn’t have that luxury over the last two games, starting with Zdeno Chara’s absence against Washington. The 6-foot-9 veteran returned to his usual spot on the top defensive pair just a few days removed from another jaw procedure.
Brandon Carlo, normally paired with Krug, joined Chara in McAvoy’s absence on Friday. The Colorado Springs-born defenseman made the most out of his promotion.
Faced with the tough task against Buffalo’s top line of Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Calder Trophy candidate Victor Olofsson, Carlo put forth a stellar three-zone effort en route to a season-high 26:22 of ice time. The fourth-year blue-liner added a hit and three blocked shots on the defensive end to go along with five shots on net before capping his night off with the empty-net tally.
“I thought by far this was his best game of the year, and maybe some of that was with Charlie [McAvoy] being out,” Cassidy told Edwards and Brickley about Carlo. “He wanted to step up and take more responsibility as the top guy on the right side.”
Be it with Krug or Chara, Carlo’s vital importance only helps the Bruins in the long run. A healthy McAvoy, who may skate again this weekend, along with Carlo only stabilizes the right side of Boston’s potent blue-line.
Jaroslav Halak earned a milestone shutout
The journeyman goalie began his decade in Montreal backstopping the Canadiens in their unlikely run to the Eastern Conference Final in 2010. It continued with stops in St. Louis, Buffalo — albeit for a mere five days — Washington, Long Island and Boston.
We’re a few days away from the start of the new decade where a rejuvenized Halak hasn’t missed a beat since splitting regular-season duties with Tuukka Rask last season. He has a new milestone to show for his renaissance.
The Slovak, who never started a game for the Sabres after they acquired him in the Ryan Miller trade with the Blues in 2014, earned his 50th career NHL shutout on Friday night. Halak saved a few moments for his highlight-reel as well, including a stellar glove save on former teammate Marcus Johansson during the first period.
Halak saw 15 of his 26 shots in the second and third periods. Even as the Sabres established lengthy shifts in their attacking end, the Bruins D kept the likes of Eichel, Reinhart and Jeff Skinner (who exited following a collision with Pastrnak in the final stanza) to the perimeter. This allowed a calm, cool and collected Halak to keep Buffalo in check en route to a milestone night.
“It’s special, but it’s a team win,” Halak said to reporters following his 50th shutout. “It wouldn’t matter if it would be a 3-2 or 3-1 [win] or whatever. It makes it more special when you get a shutout, but this is a team game and we got the win.”
The Bruins have separated themselves from the Atlantic Division pack. But they need all the wins they can get in their ongoing chase with the Washington Capitals atop the Eastern Conference. Having the luxury of two capable No. 1 netminders in Halak and Rask provide them with a chance to win on a nightly basis more often than not.
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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