It was a tale of two games for the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the last three days. After losing, 4-1, Thursday night in an effort that left a lot to be desired, Saturday afternoon, the Bruins rallied with seven goals in the final two periods for a much-needed, 7-5, victory.
Here are three Bruins’ takeaways from the two games that saw them gain a split and remain seven points behind the Penguins in the MassMutual East Division standings.
Bruins Top-Six Forwards Spark Comeback
Trailing 1-0 after the first period Saturday, the Bruins appeared to be in trouble after falling behind for the fifth consecutive game. Thursday night against red-hot Penguins’ goalie Casey DeSmith, who entered Saturday’s game 5-1 in his last six games with a 0.89 goals-against average (GAA), Boston was only able to score one goal. Saturday was a different story.
The Bruins scored five second-period goals, two in the first 34 seconds of the period and two in the final 1:11 of the period for a 5-3 lead. Aside from Brad Marchand’s goal Thursday night, Boston’s top players have struggled to find any offense, and that all changed against DeSmith. Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak scored 34 seconds into the period, while Marchand’s second goal of the period and a David Krejci power play goal in the final 1:11 of the period gave the Bruins a two-goal lead. The two teams combined for seven goals in the middle period.
For the game, Marchand finished with three goals and an assist, while Pastrnak added two goals and an assist. The Bruins also got offensive production from their top two defensemen with Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk each collecting an assist. With Boston trailing 3-2 with five minutes left in the second period, Grzelcyk pinched in along the boards to get a loose puck and sent a perfect pass to Marchand for his first goal of the game.
During their current seven-game homestand, Boston is 3-2-1 with one game left Monday night against the Philadelphia Flyers. Getting their top players going offensively is going to be key in the final 22 games in the push for a playoff berth. Saturday was a good start.
Line Changes Finally Pay Off
Boston coach Bruce Cassidy moved around his top-six forwards Thursday night without many positive results. Cassidy moved Pastrnak down to the second line with Krejci and Nick Ritchie, while Craig Smith slid up to the top line with Bergeron and Marchand.
Saturday, the top-six looked much different than they did in the previous game. Ritchie set up both of Pastrnak’s goals, with the second one being the game-winner in the third period. Ritchie won a puck battle at the Penguins blue line and broke in 2-on-1 with Pastrnak and slid a pass to his new linemate who buried a wrist shot under the crossbar. Smith, who picked up an assist on Marchand’s goal at the end of the second period, looked better than he did in the previous game. He finished with three shots on net, but his speed through the neutral zone created more opportunities. Look for these two lines to stay together Monday night.
Goalies Gave Bruins a Chance
With Tuukka Rask out with an upper-body injury, Jaroslav Halak and Dan Vladar have been sharing the duties in net in his absence. In the last two games, both goalies kept Boston in the games with some big saves. Halak’s effort Saturday allowed the Bruins to get two valuable points.
Halak made 23 saves, including eight in the first period after Pittsburgh took a 1-0 lead when Mark Jankowski redirected a Mike Matheson shot by Halak 3:24 into the game. Late in the period and with the Penguins supplying pressure, Halak stopped Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, and Jason Zucker on the same shift in close. The Bruins were holding a 5-4 lead in the third period when Halak made a sprawling save on Zucker and then a save on a Guentzel attempt from the slot. Halak gave up five goals, but it was the timing of the saves he made that allowed the Bruins to get a win.
Thursday night, Vladar made 19 saves and was left hung out to dry his defense on multiple occasions, including early in the second period when he had to stop two breakaways by the Penguins in the first minute. Both times, Pittsburgh had good entrance into the Bruins defensive zone and went around the Boston defensemen without much resistance. With the effort Boston put out that night, the only reason they were in the game in the third period down 2-1 was because of Vladar.
As has been the case recently, the Bruins are getting good enough goaltending to win games. It’s the forwards and the defense that have not been getting enough done in front of them, until Saturday.