The Boston Bruins ended their pre all-star break slate with a convincing bang.
While it took a little while for them to get their skating legs going against an improved Philadelphia Flyers bunch, Jim Montgomery’s squad eventually settled into a healthy offensive groove past the midway point of the first.
Within the final five minutes, the Bruins turned a potential grinder into a blowout. They scored their first quartet of goals in a 4:14 span behind a pair of tallies from David Pastrnak, a net-front marker by Charlie McAvoy off Pavel Zacha’s feed and a Danton Heinen tip on Brandon Carlo’s initial shot attempt.
Boston’s offensive onslaught continued 1:15 into the second when Pastrnak fed former Flyer James van Riemsdyk for his ninth of the season.
Linus Ullmark had one of his better performances since returning from a lower-body injury, succumbing only to a pair of tallies from Tyson Forester en route to a 35-save outing.
Charlie Coyle capped off Boston’s 6-2 win after banking a rebound on Trent Frederic’s initial shot for his 18th of the season.
Here’s what we learned as the Bruins enter their bye week carrying a 31-9-9 mark.
Pastrnak continues to have the Flyers’ number.
Nearly 10 years ago, an 18-year-old Pastrnak made his first trip to the ‘City of Brotherly Love’ for the annual NHL Entry Draft.
Many scouting pundits projected Pastrnak as a late first-round selection. But the Bruins reaped the benefits as 23 teams, including the Flyers, opted to fill other needs within their prospect ranks.
On Saturday, the 25th overall pick from that 2014 draft reflected on the humble beginnings of his NHL career.
“I love to play here. This is where my dream started. I got drafted here by the Bruins,” Pastrnak told reporters. “It’s fun for me to come back to this building. It’s mentally positive to come back here because this is where everything started for me, and it was the first step to the career I’m having right now.”
Pastrnak’s next career step happened during his 2014-15 rookie campaign, where he notched his first two career NHL goals in Philly. Since then, he’s developed quite the scoring habit, particularly against the Flyers.
With his two first-period tallies, Pastrnak now has an otherworldly 26 goals in 29 career games against the “Broad St. Bullies.”
His latest pair came at a pivotal moment as the Bruins slowly found their attacking zone rhythm. Pastrnak bookended Boston’s four-goal first with a slick wrister over Sam Ersson’s blocker from the far-side faceoff dot and followed up with a second-effort marker 4:14 later.
“I think Pasta’s goal really took us to life, but we were starting to see it [come around],” Montgomery told NESN’s Andy Brickley.
The Flyers tested a battered Boston bunch early. But once again, one-half of the Bruins’ dynamic goalie tandem remained dialed in from the get-go.
Ullmark found a healthy groove in his third start back from injury.
For the second straight game, the Bruins looked a step slow coming out of the locker room. But as the afternoon lull settled in within the group, Ullmark’s on-time start provided some relief.
The Flyers showcased early desperation as they entered Saturday’s tilt with a four-game skid. Ullmark saw a handful of high-danger scoring chances against but remained square to the puck and had looked more fluid in tracking primary and secondary shot attempts.
The Bruins went into cruise control following van Rimesdyk’s early-second period marker. The Flyers peppered Ullmark with 25 shots on net over the final 40 minutes. They generated quality looks in the slot in spurts yet looked like a defeated bunch as each pressing second ticked away.
A week ago, Ullmark looked rusty against Montreal in his first start since sustaining a lower-body injury in Arizona on Jan. 9. He followed that up with a productive outing Wednesday against Carolina despite allowing a pair of power-play markers and Jordan Martinook’s winner on a breakaway late in regulation.
Eventually, the Bruins provided their 2023 Vezina winner with plenty of support in all three zones. Still, Ullmark’s outing from Saturday resembled his early-season form, providing another welcoming development for a Boston squad that’s exceeded early-season expectations.
The Bruins positioned themselves well for the home stretch.
With Saturday’s blowout, the Bruins became the first team this season to reach — and surpass — the 70-point mark.
At this time last year, the Bruins had the top seed in the Eastern Conference well secured. Coming out of the break, they’ll likely have the Florida Panthers breathing down their neck for that No. 1 spot in the East and the Atlantic Division.
As the end of the league’s trading period for the 2023-24 season approaches, the Bruins still need some upgrades within their defensive and forward ranks. Ideally, they could also use another grinder and energy guy on the bottom six, especially after watching the Hurricanes and Panthers physically overwhelm them in the last two first-round exits.
In his ninth trade deadline, Don Sweeney will have very little cap space to work with to acquire potential external options. Yet, the Bruins positioned themselves well in their first season without David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron.
Both Coyle and Trent Frederic emerged into marquee roles, providing some timely secondary scoring. Pastrnak and Brad Marchand consistently provided offensive production without two of Boston’s top centermen in franchise history. Between that and the stellar goaltending from Ullmark and Swayman, the Bruins remain at the top of the Atlantic Division heading into the all-star break.
“It kind of goes to show of the culture that we’ve had throughout the years and what Bruins hockey is all about,” Ullmark told NESN’s Adam Pellerin. “It doesn’t matter if we lose one or two guys. It stings losing Krech and Bergy obviously; you can’t really make up for those guys. But I think a lot of guys like C.C. and Freddy have stepped up their game; Marshy as well; and Pasta is Pasta.”
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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