The New York Rangers arrived to TD Garden following a chaotic 72 hours full of controversy. Their run-ins with Tom Wilson and the NHL Player Safety Department drew the headlines around hockey circles. In the midst of their public statement expressing disgust toward George Parros, the Rangers parted ways with team President John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton — a former assistant GM with the Bruins — with the postseason out of the question.
The Boston Bruins returned to Causeway St. following their two-game stint in New Jersey, hoping to gain ground toward a first or second seed in the East Division. They wasted little time harping on a physically and emotionally beaten-up Rangers bunch.
Bruce Cassidy’s squad outshot the Rangers 34-15 and rolled to a 4-0 victory on Thursday night. The Bruins now sit three points ahead of the Islanders for third place in the East Division and two points behind the second-place Capitals.
“We’re trying to build our game toward the playoffs,” captain Patrice Bergeron said after notching his 22nd goal of the season at 7:11 of the opening stanza. “Tonight was about us making sure we were playing the way we wanted to play with everyone contributing. And I thought it worked out.”
Here’s what we learned in regular season Game No. 53 of 56.
Jake DeBrusk is back on the board
Perhaps the frustrations of this unique season caught up to DeBrusk during his pregame media availability. In the midst of an unusual presser by his standards, the Edmonton-born winger eventually came around discussing how his struggles impacted his psyche in 2021.
“It’s not fun when you’re struggling,” DeBrusk admitted. “You try to find little positives and things like that and move on from there. It’s not the end of the world. Obviously, I’d like to do a lot more with what I can do, but at the same time, it obviously hasn’t been meant for me.
“I understand that my time will come. Like I said earlier, just trying to stay positive,” DeBrusk added. “But yeah, the game’s not fun when you’re struggling, man.”
It turned out DeBrusk foreshadowed his time coming Thursday night. With Charlie Coyle’s day-to-day with an upper-body injury, Cassidy once again moved DeBrusk to a different spot in the lineup, this time in a third-line role with Sean Kuraly and Nick Ritchie.
DeBrusk had his motor going from the get-go. The 2015 first-round selection began his night drawing a pair of first-period penalties on Libor Hajek (a high-sticking minor at 7:43) and Ryan Strome (tripping at 16:44). Boston’s power play failed to convert with Hajek in the box but found the back of the net on Charlie McAvoy’s blast with Strome serving his two-minute minor.
His hard work and emphasis on the little things paid off in the middle stanza. Following a great defensive play near the point by Taylor Hall, David Krejci promptly sent DeBrusk on a breakaway attempt. With a proverbial monkey on his back, DeBrusk went top shelf on Igor Shesterkin to snap a 13-game goal drought and give the Bruins a 3-0 cushion.
“We’re trying to get him to help us win, as I said before,” Cassidy said of DeBrusk. “The goal tonight, good read by him to get in behind their D on a turned-over puck. We were in D zone coverage, did a good job and a good stick started with Hall and Krejci saw Jake go. Teams will do that quite a bit in today’s game quite a bit — if there’s a turnover away you go and see if you can catch the other team and we did. Good move by Jake. He had a similar opportunity in Jersey the other night and the guy made the save.”
DeBrusk showcased relief after notching his first goal since April 10 in Philadelphia. Now he hopes to fully compliment the team with some secondary scoring, while showcasing finer details away from the puck.
And perhaps he’ll turn that sigh of relief into a smile.
“If he can pitch in with some goals and help us win a game, then I’ll have more fun coaching,” Cassidy said with a laugh. “And hopefully, he’ll have more fun playing.”
The power play slowly found its groove
As mentioned above, the Bruins found themselves on the power play twice with DeBrusk drawing the pair of two-minute minors. The man-advantage unit generated solid looks during their brief time on the ice.
Boston’s power play began the night trotting out Matt Grzeclyk at the point on the top unit with Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Nick Ritchie. On its second attempt, McAvoy found himself quarterbacking the top unit during a long shift. With a de-facto 5-on-3 situation after a Ranger defender broke his stick, the switch paid off as McAvoy blasted home his fifth goal of the campaign to give the Bruins a 2-0 lead late in the opening frame.
“You want to be stable up top and distribute the puck well,” McAvoy says of his power-play role and first period tally. “I was just trying to do that and we caught a fortunate break. I think they lost a man with a stick and i just kind of went from there.”
Shoring up the power play became a top priority for the Bruins coaching staff after clinching their fifth straight playoff appearance on Monday night. The small sample size Thursday night provided some encouraging signs.
The Bruins rose up the ranks in 5v5 scoring following the trade deadline. They possess one of the deepest forward cores in the league, with Hall providing balance in the top-six and Curtis Lazar providing versatility on the fourth line. Having a well-oiled power play to complement the increased production at even strength will only increase Boston’s chances of another deep playoff run.
Cassidy trots out potential back-end lineup for postseason
In a year of transition, the Bruins trotted out a handful of inexperienced blue-liners. Part of that was a design by Don Sweeney opting to go for a younger crew over re-signing Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara.
Whatever plan they had with smoothly implementing the likes of Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon and Connor Clifton and others into a full-time role hit a significant roadblock with the frequent injuries on the back end. McAvoy, Grzelcyk, Brandon Carlo and Kevan Miller all missed significant time nursing ailments during the pandemic-shortened season.
Sweeney acquired Mike Reilly from Ottawa at the trade deadline to shore up the blue line. Reilly’s arrival provided the Bruins with a pair of stellar puck-moving anchors on the left side with Grzelcyk. With Miller and Carlo back in the fold, McAvoy playing the best hockey of his career and Lauzon slowly finding a rhythm of late, the Bruins have themselves a well-rounded blue-line.
Cassidy got his first look at his likely postseason defense core on Thursday night. Albeit against a downtrodden Rangers bunch, the initial results provided promise as the Bruins allowed a season-low 15 shots on net with McAvoy and Carlo each lighting the lamp.
“We defended well and didn’t play reckless,” Cassidy said. “The pairings seemed to have worked well together.”
Boston’s goaltending backstopped the club in their tumultuous time, navigating the injuries and inconsistencies from younger defensemen. Cassidy a healthier blue-line core now, but some decisions lie ahead.
The Bruins have a luxury with three games left to sort out their defense pairings for the playoffs. But they also have some needed flexibility to garner certain pairings depending on their playoff opponents. Cassidy mentioned that scenario in his postgame presser, specifically with Lauzon or Grzelcyk partnering with McAvoy on the top pair.
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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