What we learned: Debuting Bruins impress in shootout win over Sabres
Even with some reinforcements, the Boston Bruins have a habit of making things harder on themselves.
Boston’s trade deadline additions Taylor Hall, Curtis Lazar and Mike Reilly arrived on the scene following their lengthy car trips from Buffalo (for Hall and Lazar) and Ottawa (Reilly). The newest trio arrived ready to go in their first game donning the Spoked B for Tuesday’s tilt with the lowly Buffalo Sabres.
With the new arrivals and a returning Charlie McAvoy and Kevan Miller on the back-end, the Bruins overcame an early 1-0 deficit and took a 2-1 lead on the heels of David Krejci and Craig Smith’s tallies after 40 minutes of play. But the steady transition game and stout defensive structure displayed by Bruce Cassidy’s bunch didn’t carry over into the final 20 minutes, allowing Buffalo to even things up after Rasmus Dahlin’s point shot found its way past Jeremy Swayman.
The Bruins regrouped in overtime, trading a few chances with the Sabres. Both Hall and former Bruin Anders Bjork had separate opportunities to end things in the 3-on-3 extra session. Neither team found the back of the net in the five-minute OT.
The shootout didn’t take long. Swayman stopped both shots he faced, and Charlie Coyle and Jake DeBrusk lit the lamp to salvage the 3-2 victory.
Here’s what we learned as the Bruins kept their four-point lead over the New York Rangers for the East’s final playoff spot intact.
Trade deadline trio quickly acclimate themselves
Hall, Lazar and Reilly didn’t have much time settling into their assignments for Tuesday’s tilt. They only had a brief time familiarizing themselves to the tight-knit Boston locker room during the morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena.
It took a little while for Hall (skating with Smith and Krejci on the second line), Lazar (centering Chris Wagner and Sean Kuraly on the fourth line) and Reilly (partnering with Kevan Miller on the second defensive pair) to find their footing. None of them found their way on the scoresheet in their Boston debut(s). But they left an initial impression with their new coach.
“Three guys that helped us win a hockey game,” Cassidy said. “That’s their job, and we’ll build them in as we go and see where they best fit. But first impressions were good.”
Playing his first game in 10 days, Hall created a handful of scoring chances with his quickness and soft hands in his first night with Krejci and Smith. At times, he looked a little liable defensively, but he didn’t look totally out of place in his own end either.
Lazar’s energy sparked a struggling Kuraly and Wagner to one of their better outings in recent memory. He had a tough break on Dahlin’s third-period equalizer as the puck deflected off his skate past Swayman. But his hard-nosed work ethic stood out in one of the better efforts of the season from the fourth line.
Reilly provides the Bruins that left-shot puck-moving presence. The savvy offensive-minded blue-liner complimented Miller’s muscle to a T. The former Ottawa Senator landed five shots on net — tied for tops on the night with Jarred Tinordi — and rarely hesitated to deliver that crisp outlet pass to set up the transition game.
After their good first impression, Cassidy doesn’t envision moving Hall, Lazar and Reilly for Thursday’s tilt with the Islanders. Even with solid debuts, the trio of newcomers knows they’ll have to garner results to make their efforts worthwhile during the home stretch of the 2021 campaign.
Smith continued his tear
Hall and Lazar’s arrival provides the Bruins the coveted depth they needed on the top and bottom-six trios. But Cassidy needed to move some pieces around to accompany the newcomers.
Following a successful stint with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, Smith found himself on the second line skating with Hall at the opposite wing and David Krejci in the middle. A new assignment didn’t prevent the former Nashville Predator from continuing his torrid run of late.
Smith set Jeremy Lauzon up for a one-timer attempt in the opening stanza. The sequence ended with Krejci backhanding the rebound past Dustin Tokarski for his third goal of the season and a secondary assist for Smith.
The veteran winger wasn’t finished. In a Bergeron-like sequence, Smith tallied his ninth goal of the season in the middle stanza after a stellar backcheck on Swayman’s doorstep to prevent the Sabres from taking a 2-1 lead.
It took a while for Smith to assert himself into his new home. Cassidy moved him around the lineup during this injury-plagued season. But Smith’s work ethic is finally paying off after notching his 15th point in 13 games following his goal and helper in Tuesday’s victory.
Swayman pays tribute to the late Red Gendron
The hockey community lost a touching soul with Gendron’s passing late last week. The support and condolences poured in from both the pro and college hockey family following Gendron’s unexpected death.
Swayman gained a wealth of knowledge from Gendron during his three seasons at the University of Maine. He carried some of Gendron’s advice into his professional hockey career.
“We all know how Red was to the hockey community, and especially in my life,” Swayman said. “I love Red so much, and the things he taught me I’ll have for the rest of my life.”
Running through a wide range of emotions in the past few days, Swayman remained composed in his second appearance since Gendron’s passing.
Swayman didn’t need to stand on his proverbial head against the Sabres. When needed, he made the timely stops in his 21-save outing.
But Swayman didn’t earn this win alone. He had some assistance between the crease in the middle stanza, with Tinordi coming to his aid on a quality Buffalo scoring chance.
Come shootout time Swayman believed Gendron provided some positive vibes from the heavens. The young netminder pointed to the sky after DeBrusk secured the shootout win.
“I wasn’t alone out there,” Swayman said.
You sure won’t, Jeremy. And we’re sure Red had a big smile from his view high above rinkside.