What we learned: Bruins-Capitals matchup set following OT win over Islanders
The Boston Bruins are on to Washington.
And we’re not just talking about a visit to the nation’s capital for Tuesday’s regular season finale.
In front of an increased capacity at TD Garden, the Bruins secured the first-round matchup with the Capitals following Monday’s heavy tilt against the New York Islanders. Bruce Cassidy’s squad notched two points with a 3-2 win to the Isles, yet didn’t come away fully unscathed as the oft-injured Ondrej Kase left the game in the second period with an upper-body injury.
Here’s what we learned after Taylor Hall sent the Bruins fans home happy with his nifty overtime tally.
A re-energized Hall is clearly enjoying his time in Boston
The dysfunctional Buffalo Sabres began their year-end media availability on Monday, highlighted by Jack Eichel’s vocal frustrations toward the organization. The Bruins took a risk with acquiring one of their many disgruntled players in Hall at the trade deadline.
Don Sweeney’s move paid significant dividends. Hall’s arrival brought some much-needed balance on the top-six. And clearly, the 2010 first overall pick found his spark again in a second line role with David Krejci and Craig Smith.
“It’s been 16 games, and it’s probably been the most enjoyable hockey of my career,” Hall said.
Hall admittedly discussed his confidence reaching an all time low in his first media availability following the trade to Boston.
The talented and confident winger added a pair of goals on Monday, including the OT winner. His impact went beyond the scoresheet, again, drawing a pair of first-period penalties and creating quality secondary scoring chances for himself and his teammates.
As he celebrated his game-winner, Hall couldn’t help himself turning the frown from his days in Buffalo into a smile.
“He’s a real invested player for us at both ends — drew a penalty [in the first] and he’s finishing plays now,” Cassidy said of Hall. “Obviously I didn’t see all the Buffalo play — we didn’t play them much earlier in the year so I can’t speak to that. But obviously, since he’s been here, I think he’s opened up a little more with the players…so that tells me right away he’s more comfortable in the room, and that shows obviously. But I thought he’s been good since he got here from Day 1…and we need it. That’s the Taylor Hall we were hoping to get.”
Hall envisioned himself fitting into Boston’s system. His comfort level both on and off the ice makes him a keeper beyond this season.
And Hall would love nothing more than to remain a Bruin for the long term. He’ll have that chance to address that desire to Sweeney in the off-season. In the interim, he’s ready to embark on his second career postseason appearance with a fresh perspective.
“I really hope there’s more to come,” Hall said. “Obviously there’s the playoffs and winning in the playoffs is something you can’t really replicate in the regular season. And like I spoke about [in the past] that’s what we’ve been building for. Whatever you’ve done in the regular season it kind of goes out the window and it’s time to perform and play well and ultimately help your team win in the playoffs.”
Brad Marchand is a perennial Hart Trophy candidate
Hall provides an upgraded toolset for the top-six. But even he noticed a thing or two on Marchand’s hard-nosed work ethic.
And who can blame him? Marchan made a career of creating scoring opportunities with his aggressive puck pursuit and attention to detail in the attacking end. Those traits combined with his crafty skillset made him a bonafide top-10 scorer in today’s National Hockey League.
On Monday, Marchand notched a goal and an assist to extend his point total to 69 in 53 games. His 29 goals during the pandemic-shortened season surpassed his 28 in 70 games last season.
Marchand could’ve furthered his Hart Trophy case in a full 82-game season a year ago. If it weren’t for Connor McDavid’s sensational 100-plus point campaign, he’d have a decent case alongside Auston Matthews for MVP consideration this year.
The veteran winger transitioned from ‘Little Ball of Hate’ into a perennial Hart contender. Yet, as he evolved as a player, his general love for his teammates always remained front and center when dealing with the media, even with a certain appreciation for MVP mentions.
“The reason why we talk about the group a lot when you have individual success is typically when you have a good team everybody benefits from that,” Marchand said. “I’ll always say it. I play with great players and am put in a very good position every night to succeed. I gotta give all those guys the credit in the world because the success wouldn’t be there without those guys.”
Marchand’s consistency helped the Bruins navigate through some of their toughest stretches this season. But now they have two stellar scoring lines, a complimentary bottom-six, a well-rounded group of blue-liners and quality goaltending.
But the successful formula hardly provides any guarantees of success. Marchand and company will have their hands full in their Round 1 matchup against former teammate Zdeno Chara and the rest of the Capitals. The battle-tested Bruins need all hands on deck in order to survive and advance.
Kase’s return was way too brief
Even in his first game back from another lengthy absence, Kase can’t catch a break.
The 25-year-old winger skated in his first game since sustaining a concussion off a Miles Wood hit in New Jersey on Jan. 16. Following a 52-game absence, Kase lasted 6:49 skating with Jake DeBrusk and Curtis Lazar on the fourth line.
Kase provided a steady hand in his brief time in fourth line duty. He took a couple of hits during the second period, but didn’t miss a shift before suffering a setback between the second and third periods.
Cassidy didn’t provide an extended update on Kase in his postgame presser. But he admits the outlook doesn’t appear promising, at least for Tuesday’s regular-season finale in Washington.
“He left and didn’t finish the game, so that’s never a good sign,” Cassidy said of Kase’s injury. “Obviously, we’ll have a better feel in the morning. We’re packing up and off to Washington tonight, so I’m sure we’ll chat on it on the plane and see where he’s at, but we won’t know much until tomorrow. I doubt he won’t play or travel with us if he couldn’t finish the game. But again, I haven’t been in the medical room until after the second period, so I’ll get an update [before traveling] and if not I’ll know more tomorrow.”
The Bruins hoped to evaluate Kase in the final two games to assess his conditioning and comfort level before the playoffs. Now they’re wondering if Kase will ever don the Spoked B again.