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  • Takeaways: Bruins can’t overcome another late-game mental hurdle

    Tim Rosenthal March 6, 2024

    For over 58 minutes of a tightly checked duel, the Bruins kept Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and the high-octane Oilers at bay. Timely saves from Linus Ullmark and the improved defensive structure around his net allowed the Bruins to stay within arm’s length as their transition game and attacking zone structure slowly developed during the second half of a back-to-back.

    Pavel Zacha’s blast early in the third provided a tone-setter. But the Bruins couldn’t get that all-important insurance tally as Skinner went to the bench for the extra attacker.

    In the end, the Bruins succumbed to another game management blunder.

    A chaotic sequence ensued after McDavid defeated Charlie Coyle at the dot, leading to Draisaitl’s equalizer with 1:20 remaining in regulation.

    Draisaitl struck again in overtime, firing a one-timer past Ullmark on McDavid’s feed to secure Edmonton’s 2-1 victory.


    Here’s what we learned from yet another Boston third-period collapse.

    The late-game mental hurdle will only grow as the playoffs approach.

    Tuesday marked the 15th time this season the Bruins relinquished a third-period lead.

    On most nights, anyone could sense a meltdown coming. But in the final minutes against McDavid, Draisaitl and the incredible offensive talent on display in Edmonton, the Bruins did everything they could to secure another pivotal victory in regulation.

    They played in front of a speedy Edmonton bunch for most of the 60 minutes, holding a potent power play to two opportunities and earning their share of puck possession victories in open ice and along the walls. They hardly had to endure lengthy shifts on their own end, clearing pucks out of harm more often than not.

    The Oilers still generated their quality looks, facing a one-goal deficit. The Bruins had their chances to build on Zacha’s tally, especially after killing off a head-scratching penalty assessed to Trent Frederic late in regulation.

    Instead, they couldn’t get another faceoff win at a pivotal moment. Within moments of McDavid’s faceoff win, the Oilers created chaos in front of Ullmark’s crease, leading to Brandon Carlo falling victim to an uncalled tripping infraction and Draisaitl’s equalizer.

    “You got to find out a way to close out games,” head coach Jim Montgomery said. “This is a great opportunity for us to realize that we can’t take anything for granted. It doesn’t matter how tired you are at the end of the game; we’ve got to find a way to push through, and we didn’t find a way.

    Every game provides its share of learning points. But the Bruins encountered more than a season’s worth of closing only to come up short time and again.

    Their lack of 3-on-3 success will become moot after Game 82 of the regular season. But the Bruins need to overcome the late-game mental hurdle within the final few weeks — even if Don Sweeney upgrades his defensive and center core by 3 p.m. Friday.

    Otherwise, last call will once again come early.

    “In the playoffs, it’s mental. Everything is mental. Everybody is on an equal playing field. You’re playing the same team that has the same playing days off, rest, whatever. And that’s where you have to dig in and find a way,” Montgomery. “So, for me, it’s an opportunity to start growing for the playoffs. The mindset, and the physical execution [is something] you need.”

    Zacha is finding his shooting rhythm.

    In his first season in Boston, Zacha embarked on a career season moving into a winger role next to his fellow Czech countrymen in Pastrnak and David Krejci. Upon Krejci and Patrice Bergeron retiring, the Bruins transitioned Zacha back to his natural center position, hoping he’d pick up where he had left off.

    Injuries and inconsistent performances resulted in Zacha’s production taking a hit. But the former New Jersey Devil began finding his scoring touch over the last two games.

    Coming off a two-goal outing in Toronto — two days after exiting to a lower-body ailment on Long Island — Zacha picked up where he left off, adding his third goal in two games with Tuesday’s third-period blast.

    “I think he’s looking to shoot more. He had a little bit of an injury there, and he’s come back from the injury, and he’s simplified his game,” Montgomery said of Zacha. “He’s simplifying his game, shooting more, and being more direct, which means he’s scoring.”

    At times, Zacha took a passive approach whenever he had opportunities to shoot the puck. That led to force-feeding opportunities to Pastrnak, Marchand, and some of the other talented wingers he skated with during his second season in Boston.

    But Zacha’s playmaking skillset also provided timely setups for primary and secondary bids. Now, he’s taking his assertive shooting traits to give the Bruins a needed secondary scoring uptick.

    “It’s good that I can help the team like that,” Zacha said. “My linemates have made some great plays the last couple of games, so I’m happy I can put some in.”

    Van Riemsdyk’s reflects on 1,000th game amid first Boston season.

    Over the last decade and a half, the New Jersey-born power-forward has accustomed himself to the Boston hockey scene, beginning with his two-year stint at the University of New Hampshire.

    A passionate Bruins fanbase showcased their respect for van Riemsdyk upon the handful of postseason matchups during his time with the Maple Leafs and Flyers. In the back nine of his career, van Riemsdyk now has a firsthand account of the camaraderie and the culture established within the Original Six franchise.

    Upon completing his first shift Tuesday, Bruins fans repaid their respect to van Riemsdyk as he officially logged his 1,000th career NHL game.

    “That was really special and cool,” van Riemsdyk said of the reception. “When I got the opportunity to join the group here and join this team, it was something I was super excited about. The passion of the fans, you could always feel that over the years, and that was something that was always super exciting. And it’s nice to be on the right side of that, too.”

    Van Riemsdyk’s prime days are behind him. But after signing a one-year deal worth $1 million, he’s turned into one of the better bargain bin signees of the off-season, notching 11 goals and 38 points in 60 games.

    The Bruins used van Riemsdyk’s net-front presence on their middle-six and two power-play units. While he’s starting to show some wear and tear after logging heavy miles throughout his 14-year career, the B’s will only continue to benefit from van Riemsdyk’s experience and leadership during the home stretch.

    “I can’t speak enough about my experience as far as being here and getting treated by the guys on the team, the fans and the organization,” van Riemsdyk added. “It’s been great so far, and hopefully, it will continue to get better as we get down the stretch and get to the goals that we want to accomplish as a team.”

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    Tim Rosenthal

    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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