What we learned: Bruins keep rolling with win over Rangers
NEW YORK — The league-leading Boston Bruins kicked off their four-game road trip in the country’s largest market on Sunday. And they made the most out of their stop to the Big Apple before departing for Western Canada.
Fresh off a long-awaited 4-1 win over the lowly Red Wings on Saturday, the Bruins picked up right where they left off against the Rangers.
Things got a bit testy after Mika Zibenajad put the Rangers within one with 10:08 left in regulation. But the Bruins, sparked by a pair of late goals from Charlie McAvoy and Charlie Coyle late in the first and second periods, held strong in the final 20 as Patrice Bergeron sealed the 3-1 win with an empty-netter with 12.2 ticks left in regulation.
Here’s what we learned as the Bruins, winners in nine of their last ten, increased their lead to three points over the idle-Tampa Bay Lightning.
Charlie McAvoy is heating up
For the longest time, McAvoy couldn’t get a bounce in his favor. But his confidence never wavered in his eight-month stretch between goals.
Yes, the drought weighed on him a little bit. But that didn’t affect his on-ice performance. He remained a pivotal two-way cog, providing his usual dynamic playmaking prowess in all three zones.
“Honestly, I don’t want to pat myself on the back, but I felt I was fine,” McAvoy said. “I knew I hadn’t scored, but I wasn’t losing sleep at night. I was finding things to be happy about in my game. Since that point, it is nice to get a couple in a short amount of time. But, more importantly, to get two wins of this back-to-back, that’s what feels best.”
The results have come along with McAvoy’s performance since he notched his first goal of the season with the overtime winner in Chicago. On Sunday, a day removed from tallying a goal and an assist against Detroit, the Long Beach, New York native netted his third goal in six games on a fortunate bounce to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead late in the opening stanza.
“I’ll take a bounce,” the Long Beach, New York native said McAvoy after scoring his first career goal at Madison Square Garden. “I thought it was [Chris Wagner’s] goal 100 percent — he did a good job and I went to a hard area to shoot for his stick. I’m lucky enough to get a good bounce on that, and it was a big goal for us to get on the board first.”
McAvoy gave the Bruins some momentum after the first 20. The Bruins’ shorthanded units then took center stage at the ‘World’s Most Famous Arena.’
The penalty kill played a leading role on Broadway
The Bruins spent more time in the box during a heated middle stanza. Whether it was a legit call like David Krejci’s double-minor for high-sticking former Bruins prospect Ryan Lindgren or Brad Marchand earning the only penalty in a cross-checking sequence with Lindgren and Pavel Buchenvich, Bruce Cassidy’s squad had to dig deep to secure the 1-0 lead.
Boston’s shorthanded units stayed strong throughout the middle-20 beginning with that four-minute penalty kill. The Bruins possessed the puck flawlessly during Krejci’s double-minor, generating a couple of shorthanded chances while playing keep away with New York’s seventh-ranked power play.
The Bruins faced a bigger test when Marchand, one of the best league’s best penalty killers, went to the box following his cross-check to Lindgren. They didn’t receive the benefit of the doubt after Buchenivch delivered a retaliatory cross-check to Marchand. That didn’t matter. The league’s second-ranked penalty kill thrived and Coyle capped off the shorthanded second period with a beautiful breakaway tally for his 14th of the season.
“Whatever cards are dealt, you just have to deal with it and play hockey,” Coyle said. “The penalty kill for the most part I thought did a great job. especially that four-minute one We turned the puck over for that goal there so it was a great job by the other guys.”
The Bruins are playing their best hockey of the season
Boston’s historic start put the league on notice during the first two months of the 2019-20 season. But some of their underlying issues began to pop up starting in early December and into January.
Amidst all the overtime and shootout woes, the Bruins still tallied at least one point more often than not to stay near the top of the Eastern Conference. Without those points, they’d likely drop to second place in the Atlantic Division behind the red-hot Lightning.
They’re no strangers to the ebbs and flows that come with an 82-game season. Yet, amidst all the peaks and valleys, the Bruins have played their best hockey of the season since returning from the bye week.
All 20 players have contributed their fair share to this 10-game stretch that began with a 3-2 win over Vegas back on Jan. 21. They’ve had a relatively clean bill of health since returning from that much-needed bye week. Their attention to detail and cohesion with one another has been on full display during this timeframe.
“We’re playing really good hockey right now,” Marchand said. “It just seems like everyone has found the chemistry on their lines and knows where to fit in, and we have a healthy team. So that’s the biggest thing is when the group is healthy, you’re able to practice a lot together and build that chemistry and work on things to get comfortable with the system and the changes that we make. We have a lot of depth in our group, so when we play together a lot it’s going to come out in games.”