The Boston Bruins encountered an ol’ trap-game scenario against the New York Islanders ahead of Saturday’s matchup.
The Bruins, with a returning Patrice Bergeron, entered their 65th game of the season on the heels of Thursday’s marquee 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Another pivotal late-season matchup awaits Tuesday when they welcome the Toronto Maple Leafs to TD Garden.
The trap-happy Islanders, 14 points out of a playoff spot, entered Saturday winners of four of their last five. They downed the Bruins twice at their state-of-the-art UBS Arena, including their recent 4-1 triumph on Feb. 17.
Bergeron and company embarked on their best stretch of the season following that ugly performance in Belmont Park. Their 13-2-1 mark over the last 16 games catapulted them into a third-place spot in the Atlantic Division.
Make that 14-2-1 in the last 17.
The Bruins avoided the trap and picked up where they left off. The top three lines each produced one goal scorer as 10 different Bruins tallied at least one point in Saturday afternoon’s 6-3 victory on Causeway St.
Here’s what we learned after the Bruins improved to 41-19-5.
Erik Haula is proving his second-line worth
Maybe the Bruins didn’t need a top-six upgrade at the trade deadline after all.
With Claude Giroux, Rickard Rakell and Tomas Hertl all off the market, GM Don Sweeney opted to keep his forward group intact. The Bruins put their trust in Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, Taylor Hall, Jake DeBrusk and Erik Haula to solidify the top two lines.
The decision has paid off in the immediate term, with Haula embarking on one of his better stretches of the season.
“With him, you see the deadline passes and he’s our centerman. I think that makes him feel comfortable in his spot, and he’s taken off the last three games, especially,” Hall said of Haula. “But overall, I think he’s been a great influence.”
A relaxed and confident Haula provided timely offense again in the third game since the NHL trading period expired. The veteran centerman began his afternoon countering Brock Nelson’s tally in the closing seconds of the first period, with his sixth assist in eight periods on David Pastrnak’s 37th goal of the season to give the Bruins a 3-1 lead early in the middle stanza.
The Bruins needed another counter after Isles captain Anders Lee cut the Bruins’ lead to 4-2 with a power-play marker just 1:16 after Brad Marchand potted his 28th goal of the season. It took them a little while, but they got that response with Haula completing a tic-tac-goal sequence off a rush for his ninth goal of the season at 14:33 of the second.
“As a centerman, with wingers like Pasta and I, you’re not babysitting, but you’re taking care of things and you’re the safety valve a lot of times,” Hall added. “And I think [Haula] has been great at that.”
The second-line trio each stood out over the last three games, with Haula tallying a goal and six assists, Pastrnak’s quartet of lamplighters and helper and Hall’s marker and trio of apples.
The top power-play unit got back on track
For all of their success over the last week, the Bruins encountered some hiccups on the top power-play unit after relinquishing a shorthanded goal in each of their previous two matchups.
The five-man lineup of Bergeron, Marchand, Pastrnak, Hall and Charlie McAvoy went to work immediately upon their first chance with the man-advantage.
Ahead 1-0 lead Craig Smith’s 15th goal of the season, the Bruins didn’t score on their first power play opportunity. But they established extensive zone time and kept the Isles penalty killers on their heels with a handful of quality shot attempts directed at Isles netminder Semyon Varlamov.
They didn’t waste any time producing a timely goal on their next power play attempt after Nick Foligno drew a tripping minor on Andy Greene at 19:19 of the opening stanza. A mere 13 seconds elapsed before Hall tipped in McAvoy’s point shot for his 14th tally of the season.
“I liked that our power play has been much more effective than it has been the last couple of days,” Cassidy said. “The first power play we didn’t score, but we really didn’t build momentum off of it, and the next one we did. That extends the lead, and against a team like New York … if you can get ahead of them, I think sometimes it’s a different game than the way they play. They’re forced to open it up a little more as the game went on, so it was a timely goal.”
The Bruins hit a couple of roadblocks on Nelson’s and Lee’s tallies. But Hall’s power play marker provided a tone-setter during their four-goal barrage in the middle stanza.
Bergeron reaches 1,200-game milestone
Bergeron stood at 1,999 games for the past week after returning home from Chicago to heal an elbow injury. The Bruins thought he’d return for Thursday’s matchup with the Lightning, but they held him out of the lineup for the fourth straight contest.
Cassidy confirmed Bergeron’s return during his pregame media availability on Saturday. The captain finally achieved his latest accolade upon his first shift following a 10-day layover between games.
“I said we need you around for 1,300 by the way … and beyond,” Cassidy said of Bergeron’s importance. “But credit to him. To play for one organization that long tells you about both sides. He loves it here, and we love having him.”
Bergeron turns 37 in May. He’ll become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. The speculation surrounding Bergeron’s future will take center stage come the off-season.
The 2003 second-round selection finds himself in the discussion of all-time Bruins greats. The achievements speak for themselves — four-time Selke winner, two-time gold medalist and a Stanley Cup champion, to name a few.
Bergeron would love nothing more than to hoist the Cup above his shoulders again before hanging up the skates for good. Amid that quest, Bergeron’s humility remained front and center after joining Bourque and Bucyk in the organization’s 1,200-game club.
“It’s special to be on an Original Six team and a storied franchise and having a chance to meet Bucyk and Bourque and [Bobby] Orr and all the greats. To me, it’s an honor, and it’s something that I don’t take lightly to be a Boston Bruin. And it definitely is special.”
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