We’re in prime time for the dog days of the NHL season, yet, the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders embarked on a playoff-like tilt on an unusually warm early-January evening.
The Bruins didn’t have the hottest of starts of this back-and-forth affair, but Tuukka Rask kept his team afloat through a rough 20 minutes of play. Bruce Cassidy’s squad found their skating legs in the second and engaged in a spirited back and forth contest filled with stellar goaltending, timely goals, near chances and timely defensive plays on both ends of the ice.
It came to no surprise when the Bruins and Islanders went to overtime after Mat Barzal countered John Moore’s third-period tally following a defensive breakdown. The Bruins carried a 2-5 record in the 3-on-3 session against the Islanders’ league-leading 7-2 OT mark.
This time, the Bruins broke through in the extra session as Patrice Bergeron netted the game-winner on a 4-on-3 power play just 53 seconds after Brad Marchand drew a trip to set up the sequence.
“Good team effort,” Cassidy told NESN’s Jack Edwards and Andy Brickley postgame. “Listen, we didn’t get the start we wanted. They were well-rested and they took it to us, but we survived. Tuukka [Rask] made some stops…we started winning some pucks and got some pucks there below the goal-line and on net from the point. We started to find our game and as a result, got ourselves back in it.”
Here’s what we learned from Boston’s thrilling 3-2 victory in Brooklyn.
Bergeron makes power play history to snap OT drought
The lethal Bruins’ power play scored in their 12th straight game on Thursday, tying a franchise record set back in 1987. They only had two chances to surpass that mark and failed on their first attempt during regulation time.
It appeared unlikely that the Bruins would get another chance with the man advantage, especially with the refs only assessing two penalties — one on each side — after 60 minutes. But Marchand drew a trip on Brock Nelson just 40 seconds into the 3-on-3 overtime session, providing the Bruins with one more chance.
Cassidy trotted out his four best power play weapons: Marchand, Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Torey Krug (playing in his 500th NHL game). With a plethora of open ice, the OT power play quartet created several quality chances against a tired Islanders’ shorthanded unit. Finally, on Boston’s 33rd shot of the night, Krug found Bergeron at the bumper and the four-time Selke winner went top shelf on Semyon Varlamov to extend the power-play streak to 13 straight games on the game-winner.
“Especially 4-on-3. We felt very confident in our group,” Marchand told reporters postgame. “We felt good in the situation we’re in, and we did a good job capitalizing.”
The Bruins capitalized in a period that hasn’t been too kind to them. Bergeron’s tally also ended a stretch of six straight losses in the extra session — overtime or shootout — dating back to their last OT win over the Rangers on Nov. 29.
“It’s been a while,” Bergeron said to the media after snapping the OT drought. “You obviously work extra hard to get those extra points. It was needed…we’ll take it and move on.”
The Bruins had a rare slow start
Kyle Connor’s opening tally from Thursday’s tilt with Winnipeg snapped a nine-game stretch where the Bruins scored first. The Bruins didn’t have the sharpest first period in that 5-4 win, but they didn’t play all that poorly — especially in the latter portion of the first 20 — as Pastrnak evened things up with his first of three goals on the night.
Pastrnak and the other 17 skaters came out flat in the opening 20 against the Islanders. But Boston’s all-time winningest goalie arrived on time. Rask made 13 of his 35 saves in the first period and maintained his strong outing throughout the 60-plus minutes.
The Bruins left Rask out to dry for the most part. A shorthanded D — with Matt Grzelcyk exiting early with a lower-body injury — encountered problems delivering outlet passes in transition and clearing pucks out of prime scoring areas. They stayed out of the sync in the attacking end too, opting to look for the perfect play while passing up on shot attempts.
But the Bruins persevered and found their skating legs following a timely first-period penalty kill. Even with the ferocious playoff-like pace, the Bruins regained good habits in the second and third after firing a mere five shots on goal during the opening stanza.
“Obviously, when they were peppering us with shots we were talking about doing the same thing to them and Tuukka kept us in the game,” Bergeron told the media. “And after that I thought we played a lot better and created more chances, and you know, we kept it simple and went to the net.
The effort paid off with Jake DeBrusk lighting the lamp for the third time in two games to even things up at 8:33 of the second. John Moore gave the Bruins a 2-1 lead 5:48 into the third, but Cassidy’s club needed some heroics — and a trend breaker — after Barzal evened things up at 9:43.
Charlie McAvoy is overdue for a goal
The Long Beach, New York native hasn’t lit the lamp in a regular-season game since March 27. Yet, he hasn’t played like a defenseman who’s in the middle of a 10-month scoring drought.
Cassidy and the coaching staff needed McAvoy to eat up minutes with Grzelcyk exiting early in the first period. The former Boston University accepted that daunting task en route to logging a career-high 28:43 time on ice.
McAvoy made every shift worthwhile in his active night in the attacking and defensive end. He came close to breaking his goal drought on a few occasions and helped Boston’s transition game with his crisp outlet passes in the defensive end.
The 2016 first-round selection stayed poised defending his own end as well as exemplified by his great poke-check in the middle stanza during a 2-on-1 rush.
The hockey gods haven’t been too kind to McAvoy in the scoring department. He’s well overdue to break his 47-game drought, especially after playing through some pain following his shot block on one of Johnny Boychuk’s trademark ‘Johnny Rocket’s’.
The goal drought hasn’t stopped McAvoy’s overall performance this season. His development into a three-zone blue-liner provided the Bruins with another dynamic playmaker. It won’t be long until McAvoy finds his name on the goal sheet again.
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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