On paper, the Boston Bruins had two points for the taking in their matchup with the lowly Arizona Coyotes at TD Garden. Yet, it wasn’t going to be quite that easy with the Coyotes carrying a four-game win streak heading into Saturday.
The Bruins felt they would enter cruise control after a pair of first-period markers from Craig Smith. But the red-hot Coyotes proved to be a formidable opponent.
Bruce Cassidy’s squad couldn’t escape the self-inflicted wounds. The Coyotes earned momentum on a Clayton Keller blast with 0.05 showing on the clock in the second period. They rode that wave into the beginning of the third period with former Bruin Nick Ritchie tying things up at 2-2 2:15 in.
Though their struggles clearing the puck out of their defensive zone continued, the Bruins slowly tilted the ice in their favor, following Ritchie’s equalizer. They found their rhythm again late, with the third line coming through in the clutch on Charlie Coyle’s go-ahead tally with 3:21 left in regulation.
The Bruins continued to buck their recent late-game trend in the closing moments, holding the desperate Coyotes in check to secure their 3-2 victory. Here’s what we learned after Boston earned its whopping 18th straight win over Arizona.
The Bruins’ third line continued their hot streak
Over the last few weeks, the trio of Smith, Coyle and Trent Frederic provided Boston with needed secondary scoring. Lately, they’ve provided the brunt of the B’s offensive output.
Smith has arguably been the catalyst, bouncing back from his season-long rut en route to his best stretch of the 2021 campaign. His shoot-first approach compliments Coyle’s two-way skillset and Frederic’s blue-collar traits to a T.
“Charlie and Trent are so good at protecting the puck,” Smith said after notching his seventh goal in five games on Saturday. “If we can create stuff off of that and have them move their feet, I think we can get in spots where we can get the puck to the net.”
Smith drove to the net on his two goals, banking home a pair of rebound markers past Coyotes goalie Karael Vejmelka. The Wisconsin native later served as a decoy with the game on Coyle’s stick.
Fredric’s outlet feed following a puck battle along the walls in the defensive end allowed Coyle to transition up ice into an odd-man rush situation. A diving attempt to disrupt Coyle’s passing lane to Smith by Vladislav Kolyachnok prompted the Weymouth-born product to go with a backhanded shot on Vejmelka. Coyle promptly roofed his 14th goal of the season to put the Bruins ahead for good.
“It’s not all the time where I think shot, but I should,” Coyle said. “It’s a tie game, right? So you want to make the appropriate play that’s given. On the other hand, Smitty has two goals, right? So you have to play hockey. There were no passing lanes [open], so I wanted to take it to the net and create a rebound if anything, maybe Smitty puts it home. But I got a little lucky with the placement.”
Perhaps Coyle received some luck, yet the Bruins once again provided life to a team beneath them in the standings.
Are the Bruins playing down to their competition?
The Bruins improved to 9-1-1 in their last 11 games. Their last stinker came back on Feb. 17 during their second loss of the season to the New York Islanders.
They’ve performed well against teams on par or better than them in the standings over this run, highlighted by a marquee 5-1 win over the Western Conference-leading Colorado Avalanche on Feb. 21.
They’ve faced other squads who will likely reserve their tee-times come playoff time. Those tilts haven’t come easy for the Bruins.
Indeed, the Bruins didn’t take the Coyotes for granted as they carried their four-game winning streak to TD Garden. But they had their chances to extend their two-goal cushion, only to give Arizona some life, highlighted by a third-period sequence with Brad Marchand missing an open net on a late backcheck and Ritchie tallying the equalizer moments after.
No matter the situation, be it against the Coyotes, Kraken or Blackhawks, the Bruins persevered. And now they find themselves within two points of the Toronto Maple Leafs for third place in the Atlantic Division.
“Yes, tonight, I think there were pockets of that. But I don’t think it was a 60-minute sort of… one of those [stinkers] where you have a few times a year where you’re playing that way,” Cassidy said of Saturday’s events against the Coyotes. “I thought our guys really pushed after they scored [the tying goal]. They recognized there was chatter on the bench about ‘hey, let’s get this thing done.’ It took a while, but I thought they dug in sort of speak and played the way we needed to play to give us the best chance.”
Could a potential trade deadline target be off the board?
The 17,850 in attendance on Causeway St. saw a glimpse of rumored targets a mere nine days before the close of the NHL’s trading period. But an exit to one of the hottest names on the trade market might have thrown the trade deadline period into a loop.
Coyotes defenseman Jacob Chycrun left Saturday’s tilt following a second-period collision with Derek Forbort. And now, his potential suitors hold their collective breath, hoping he’ll remain available for the stretch run.
The Bruins are one of several teams linked to Chycrun on the rumor mill. The left-shot 23-year-old blue-liner would instantly bolster Boston’s top two defensive pairs in a potential partnership with fellow 2016 first-round draftee Charlie McAvoy.
The Coyotes confirmed Chycrun (21 points in 47 games) left with a lower-body injury. The Boca Raton, Florida native, endured one of the best offensive stretches of his season after tallying a pair of goals in consecutive games. He also notched points in five of his last six tilts entering Saturday.
As one option remains in limbo, another potential target remains in play for a possible reunion. The Bruins have also been linked to Phil Kessel over the last few weeks. The 2006 first-round selection fired five shots on net in 15:22 of ice time and nearly lit the lamp before Jeremy Swayman (27 saves) robbed the former Bruin on the doorstep in one of his better stops of the evening.
Unlike Chycrun, who has a friendly $4.6 million cap hit through the 2024-25 season, GM Don Sweeney wouldn’t likely have to relinquish significant assets to acquire Kessel. The 34-year-old winger has a modified no-movement clause in the final year of his contract.
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