Boston’s three victories in four days capped off by Tuesday’s 5-3 triumph over New Jersey presented a few obstacles. The Bruins had to come from behind in overtime to top Buffalo and needed to erase an early 1-0 deficit in Detroit 24 hours later. They didn’t trail on Tuesday, but they needed a few bounces and a David Pastrnak slump-busting game-winner to stave off a shorthanded but pesky Devils bunch.
Yet, this recent three-in-four stretch provided encouraging signs from the secondary scoring development. Curtis Lazar, Trent Frederic, Brandon Carlo and Oskar Steen — his first career tally — all lit the lamp against another Bruins killer in McKenzie Blackwood on a rather forgettable outing for the Devils netminder.
“I think earlier this year that’s not one we win,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said after watching his team respond to three New Jersey equalizers. “Tonight was one where the secondary guys carry the offense.”
Thirteen different Bruins lit the lamp during their three-game stretch. Only two of their tallies came from their top offensive producers in Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. The latter didn’t tally a single marker during this stretch.
The Bruins will face stiffer competition ahead, beginning Thursday when they welcome the Minnesota Wild to Causeway St. Here’s what we learned after the B’s improved to 17-10-2 on the season.
A determined Pastrnak finally ended his drought
Even a talented goal scorer like Pastrnak isn’t immune to slumps. His latest drought came during Boston’s hectic stretch with COVID and other off-ice developments.
The talented Czech playmaker didn’t light the lamp during Boston’s shortened December slate. The Bruins didn’t perform poorly given the circumstances but couldn’t quite establish enough momentum before the COVID pause.
As the Bruins returned to near-full health, Cassidy opted to shake up his lineup, moving Pastrnak away from Bergeron and Marchand and onto a new-look second line with Taylor Hall and Erik Haula. His slump continued through the first two periods of Tuesday’s tilt.
On a night full of crazy bounces, a determined Pastrnak finally earned his first goal since Nov. 30. After winning a puck battle along the boards, the 2014 first-round selection drove hard to the net and converted on a rebound to put his team ahead for good with 5:49 remaining.
“I think Pasta recognized an opportunity and took the puck to the net,” Cassidy said of Pastrnak’s ninth goal of the season. “He’s been going to the net a lot without [the puck]…maybe not as much with it lately, and he did [on the game-winner], and good for him. He got rewarded, hung in there and made a high-end play.”
The snakebitten Pastrnak overcame hit posts, quality saves and broken sticks to light the lamp when the Bruins needed it. He never lost sleep over the unlucky breaks, however.
Given the circumstances, Pastrnak kept everything in perspective regarding his rut.
“It’s been crazy with the stoppage and the COVID happening and the guys coming in and out.” Pastrnak assessed. “We’ve just been focused on stuff other than hockey. So for me, I’m just happy that we’re back, especially in the new year. We’ve been playing some great hockey in these last three games. So hopefully we can keep going, and that’s all that matters.”
As the upbeat Pastrnak found his scoring touch, another young Bruin may have inched closer to obtaining a permanent roster spot.
Steen deserves an extended look with the big club
The Bruins held Military Appreciation Night at TD Garden on Tuesday. They probably would’ve scheduled a pinball promotion as well had they foreshadowed the crazy bounces that found the back of the net for both teams.
Steen found himself on the receiving end of one of those pinball wizard moments shortly after New Jersey’s first tying marker on a Nathan Bastian breakaway. Using his baseball-like reflexes, Steen batted the bouncing puck at the top of Blackwood’s net for a unique first career marker early in the middle stanza.
“Steen has been playing great,” Lazar said of Steen. “I told him, ‘the first one is always the hardest to get out of the way.’ So I’m looking forward to see what he does in the next game here.”
The Bruins kept Steen in a bottom-six role whenever they called him up from Providence. Even at just 5-foot-9, Steen hasn’t shied away from creating quality looks in the gritty scoring areas.
Filling in for Jake DeBrusk (COVID protocol) on the third line Tuesday, Steen’s crafty skillset and slick skating suited him well with veterans Charlie Coyle and Nick Foligno. He hasn’t looked out of place whenever he found himself in Boston’s lineup. And his work ethic, despite his stature, provides another layer of competition within the organization.
“Well, the guys like Oskar. He’s quiet; he works hard; he plays the right way, goes hard to the net and finishes his checks,” Cassidy said of Steen. “Especially for a guy who’s not that big, he plays a courageous game.”
With more production, Steen could very well see an increased role in Boston. He became an unlikely offensive source on this night, as did the second half of the bottom-six.
The fourth line was Boston’s best trio
Boston’s top-six hardly lacked in scoring chances. Yet, the Bruins needed to lean on their secondary options again on Tuesday until Pastrnak’s go-ahead tally.
This time, they turned to the fourth line of Lazar, Frederic and Tomas Nosek. The trio set the tone on an odd night at TD Garden, beginning with Lazar firing a changeup past Blackwood for his third of the season a mere 2:53 in.
The breaks continued in the middle 20 as Frederic scored in his second straight game after his bank shot from a tough angle found its way past Blackwood.
Quite frankly, the fourth line earned their breaks with arguably their best outing of the season. They created numerous quality looks on Blackwood with their aggressive checking game and drew a penalty on Damon Severson leading to Boston’s lone forgettable power-play attempt resulting in Severson’s breakaway tally out of the penalty box after time expired. In 9:39 of 5v5 time with the Frederic-Lazar-Nosek trio, the Bruins outshot the Devils 8-1 and held a 13-4 edge in shot attempts.
“We were reading off each other well,” Lazar said. “I thought we did a really good job on the forecheck retrieving pucks and turn those chances into something. Obviously the goals weren’t the prettiest, but it’s always nice to chip in on the scoreboard.”
The Bruins lit the scoreboard through various means over the last three games. They hope that trend continues amid a tougher and busier backloaded slate.
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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