By: Max Mainville | Check me out on Twitter @tkdmaxbjj
Something must’ve been in the Christmas egg nog because since the Boston Bruins returned from extended Christmas holidays, they have looked like an entirely different team. In the five games since the pages on the calendar turned to 2022, the Bruins are 4-1-0 – two of those games being without superstar defenceman Charlie McAvoy (lower body) and having players like Jake DeBrusk and Tomas Nosek out to the always-lurking Covid protocols.
Boston started off the return with three straight wins over the Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, and New Jersey Devils, but Bruins critics were hesitant to credit the club for the victories due to the fact that all three of those teams “should” be wins for this team considering the goals the B’s have this season. Heading into Thursday’s game against the Minnesota Wild, the Bruins’ goal was obviously to take home two points (which they fell short of), but beyond that, wanted to show that they can play with some of the more difficult teams in the league. A regulation loss is unfortunate, but the team showed heart and will, making those two points a battle for Minnesota.
Over the four games to begin the new year, there has been one major new trend that is a breath of fresh air for Bruins fans and management alike – depth scoring. Sixteen goals were scored by fourteen different goal scorers. Oskar Steen scored his first career NHL goal, Nick Foligno scored his first goal since signing with the Bruins, Trent Frederic scored his first and second goals of the year, Erik Haula notched his second, while all of Tomas Nosek, Brandon Carlo, Curtis Lazar, and Craig Smith scored their third tally of the 2021-22 campaign. McAvoy, Hall (2), Coyle, Pastrnak, Bergeron, and Marchand all found the back of the net as well during this stretch.
After the postseason loss to the New York Islanders, the lack of depth scoring was finally accepted and General Manager Don Sweeney splurged in free agency, signing numerous bottom-nine players while also extending trade deadline acquisition Taylor Hall to a four-year deal. Unfortunately, the start of this new season didn’t give Boston the plentiful depth production they were hoping for. Finally, though, the Boston Bruins showed true signs of scoring below the trio of Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak.
Everyone knows there are a lot of top contenders in the National Hockey League right now. The Rangers, Maple Leafs, Hurricanes, Golden Knights, Panthers, Capitals, and so on are all looking like early candidates to have a deep playoff run and push for the Stanley Cup. There is, however, one top dog still in the league – the back-to-back champions, Tampa Bay Lightning.
Entering Saturday’s contest against the B’s, the Bolts sat atop the league standings with a 23-8-5 record, enjoying the recent return of 2019 Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov while still having the elite play of Steven Stamkos (team-leading 41 points), Brayden Point, a resurgence in a healthy Victor Hedman and another potential Vezina-caliber season from Andrei Vasilevskiy. Surprisingly, it did not faze this Bruins team.
Storming right out of the gate as David Pastrnak gets a “lucky” goal 1:11 off the opening draw, but as the old say goes “you have to be lucky to be good and good to be lucky”, so the Bruins will take that any day of the week. 59 seconds later, Taylor Hall rips a one-time shot near the faceoff dot, leaving a perfect rebound for David Pastrnak who buried the shot on the doorstep for his second of the night and eleventh of the season, bringing a close to the first period with a two-goal advantage for the good guys.
Only a mere 26 seconds into the middle regulation frame, Brad Marchand nets his team-leading 13th goal of the season to give Boston a three-goal lead. Linus Ullmark made some big, timely saves during the course of the second period, but eventually, Charlie Coyle makes a nice read on a turnover as the puck finds Oskar Steen’s stick. After a great zone entry with fantastic puck control, Steen uses body position to find a seam over to Anton Blidh who wrists in his second tally of the year and it is 4-0 Boston. Steen’s helper boosts him to five points in seven games.
Tampa Bay had some pushback in the third, netting back-to-back goals by Ondrej Palat (14) and Brayden Point (13), but unlike some games in the past, this didn’t bother the team as Ullmark shut the door for the remainder of the period until Brad Marchand fired home the empty-net goal to solidify a 5-2 victory over the best team in hockey right now. Below are some advanced statistics from the win courtesy of Natural Stat Trick:
One thing to note as well, David Pastrnak led the team with eleven shot attempts, seven of which counted as a shot on goal. Lately, he has struggled with consistently getting his shot attempts on the goaltender, so this is a step in the right direction (as is the two goals). All four lines played a hard game and every combination of forward lines that Bruce Cassidy put out either tied or outshot the Lightning at 5v5. Linus Ullmark finished the night with a 0.59 GSAx, a much better performance than his counterpart Vasilevskiy’s -1.81 GSAx.
Tampa Bay Head Coach Jon Cooper credited the Bruins as the better team as well, saying “they were better than us in Boston, and they were better than us tonight”. Boston started on time and did not let off the gas pedal one bit. Even after the two-goal answer in the third, the team stayed composed and held onto the regulation victory. Another bright spot for Boston in this one was the penalty-kill, killing off all four of Tampa’s power-plays – a man-advantage that has looked lethal since Kucherov’s return to the lineup.
Boston now has wins in four of their last five, improving to 18-11-2 on the season. Now fourth in the Atlantic Division (2nd WC), the B’s now have a three-point lead on the Detroit Red Wings with four games in hand and have the eighth-best points percentage in the Eastern Conference (.613%). The Bruins have one more road game before a seven-game home stand as they head to Washington on Monday for their first meeting of the season with the Capitals (20-7-9, 3rd in MET).
Boston might be back in “contender” status, but only time will tell. Saturday’s win over the Tampa Bay Lightning is a great indication of what this team is capable of and without a doubt, is the biggest win of the 2021-2022 season for this team.