The Boston Bruins entered the schedule oddity portion of their 2021 season Tuesday night against the Buffalo Sabres.
Because of their stint in COVID protocols earlier this season, the Bruins and Sabres will face off four additional times over the next two weeks. Even with Buffalo playing a little better of late, a red-hot Bruins bunch couldn’t have asked for a better outlook with their numerous meetings over the next two weeks against the lowly Sabres.
In the first tilt of their five-game road trip, Bruce Cassidy’s bunch picked up where they left off. The Bruins only lit the lamp twice behind Brad Marchand and Connor Clifton’s tallies, but another stellar effort by Tuukka Rask and a handful of clutch penalty kills in the third period secured a 2-0 victory at KeyBank Center.
Here’s what we learned from Boston’s fifth straight triumph.
Rask provides a save of the year candidate
If you confused Rask for Tim Thomas for a brief moment on Tuesday, well, you weren’t alone.
In his third start since returning from a lingering upper-body ailment, Rask delivered a save of the year candidate on Dylan Cozens during the first period. With the right side of the net open, Rask somehow dove across the crease to commit highway robbery on the 2019 first-round selection.
“It’s just half skill, half luck I guess,” Rask said of his highlight-reel stop on Cozens. “We were in desperation mode at that point. When you can’t push over on that side, you just kind of throw anything at the puck you can and hopefully it hits you, and today it did.”
The Finn unquestionably was the best player on the ice Tuesday en route to his first shutout of the season. The Bruins needed Rask (32 saves) on a night where they looked a little off, particularly in the third period.
“Excellent,” Cassidy said of Rask. “Second effort saves, he tracked the puck well. There were some point shots there where he was able to fight his way through [traffic] and find them. I think he was our best player — it goes without saying. I think we put him in some spots there in the third where we could’ve been a lot better in front of him and made his life a lot easier.”
Speaking of that final 20…
Bruins take their foot off the pedal in the third
The Bruins didn’t bring their ‘A’ game against the lowly Sabres. Heck, at times, they didn’t put forth an effort worthy of a ‘B’ game, either.
Cassidy watched as the Bruins coasted in the final 20 minutes of play full of untimely penalties, a slow transition game and defensive breakdowns in front of Rask.
It didn’t matter. The Sabres didn’t exactly have an inspiring performance either. Their lowlight came late in the third when they hardly mustered any quality scoring chances during a de-facto 6-on-3 power play capped off by a head-scratching too many men penalty.
“I didn’t like our third period at all,” Cassidy said. “I thought we lost our discipline. We gave up chances and relied on our goaltender [too much]. I didn’t think we played very well, and I didn’t think they were great early on either.”
Against any quality opponent, the Bruins may have been on the wrong side of the scoreboard. Perhaps the hectic slate full of games every other night and three-in-four-night stretches caught up to them in the third.
But while the final 20 hardly resembled anything similar to a cohesive unit, Cassidy’s bunch established a solid tempo in the attacking and defensive ends through a good chunk of the first 40.
Marchand continued his MVP-caliber season with his team-leading 24th goal of the season. Clifton bounced back from a shaky outing two days prior against the Caps with his first regular-season tally since Nov. 19, 2019. But another player caught Cassidy’s eye for his work on the other end of the ice.
Taylor Hall provides a timely defensive moment against his former team
Don Sweeney acquired Hall from Buffalo last week to fulfill a needed secondary scoring upgrade. Looking to put a disappointing tenure with the Sabres behind him, Hall established some instant chemistry with David Krejci and Craig Smith, resulting in a pair of goals and an assist through his first five games in Boston.
The assertive and smooth skating Hall created a handful of scoring chances for himself and his teammates on Tuesday. Dustin Tokarski stood tall in Buffalo’s net, preventing things from getting out of hand.
Hall’s defensive game in the past didn’t exactly match his offensive contributions. Yet, he hasn’t looked out of place defensively during his initial stint in Boston.
On Tuesday, the veteran winger found himself in the middle of defending a 2-on-1 after Jakub Zboril failed to keep the puck from exiting Boston’s attacking end. As they approached the slot, Hall blocked Casey Middlestdeat’s feed to Cozens to break up Buffalo’s potential quality scoring chance.
“It was good commitment,” Cassidy said of Hall’s defensive highlight. “It was not the first time he’s done it for us. And again, whatever he can do during the course of the game — sometimes it’s with the puck, sometimes it’s without…I’m glad to see him do it. We shouldn’t be in that position, to be honest with you. We have to make better decisions in the O-zone blue-line, but good for him for making up for a mistake on the back end.”
Hall won’t take home Selke hardware anytime soon. But, with timely plays on both ends of the ice, the 2018 Hart Trophy winner has brought into the Bruins’ winning culture during his first week in Boston.
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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