BOSTON – The Bruins should get used to David Pastrnak and David Krejci teaming up like they did for the overtime game-winner Friday afternoon before a thrilled TD Garden crowd.
The “Perfection Line” was down it’s center for a third straight game due to a suspected core muscle injury that cropped up last season during the run to the Stanley Cup Final.
With the Bruins cruising to an NHL-leading 41 points in 26 games, there is absolutely no reason to rush Patrice Bergeron back from the nagging injury that needs time but (fingers crossed) not surgery to fully heal.
The Bruins won their sixth straight when Krejci took the pass from Pastrnak 100 seconds into overtime and beat Henrik Lundqvist.
“We’ve been playing some good hockey even though we don’t bring our ‘A’ game,” Krejci said. “We always find a way to get it done. Lately, we’ve got to play to the last minute, right? It hasn’t been easy. We believe we have enough skill on this team to score a lot of goals but we have to play the right way. If we don’t, and we try to do things individually, then (a win) is not going to happen.”
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) November 29, 2019
“We don’t mind playing this kind of game at all,” Pastrnak told me. “It’s a close game. If we’re down one goal heading into the third period, we feel like there’s zero teams who we won’t score that goal. We just want to make sure we don’t rush it, use all 20 minutes. We know if we play the right way, we will get it eventually.”
Now, that’s the sound of a confident goal-scorer who happens to lead the NHL in goals. His coach on the other hand would like to see a bit more discipline and energy from some of the others and not just rely on Pasta to carry the load.
But, in an all-too common trend so far this season, the Bruins didn’t “start on time” as coach Bruce Cassidy likes to say. On Friday, he added some harsher words and took some more significant action to get his point across as he benched Danton Heinen in the second period for being one of “too many passengers” along for the ride.
After winning games in Montreal and Ottawa in the two days before Thanksgiving, eventually the tired legs and the lack of the best two-way forward in the NHL had to catch up to the Bruins. And it did on Black Friday for the first 30 minutes.
The Bruins gave up a goal in the first period five seconds after a Sean Kuraly tripping penalty expired. The Rangers made it 2-0 in the second Filip Chytil sniped one past Jaroslav Halak. Bruce Cassidy was watching closely from the bench and decided enough was enough so he did something a little unorthodox, benching Heinen and offering an explanation after the game.
“Listen, I just didn’t think we had it as a group,” Cassidy said. “There was some guys – we had some passengers, not a trait of our team, but tonight, we did. So, we mixed it. I thought Jack (Studnicka) could give us some energy. He wants to prove he can play at this level, so you’re going to get the effort no matter what; we’ll fix the mistakes along the way.”
But then the Bruins got a wake-up call from the unlikeliest of men in defenseman Charlie McAvoy who lost the battle with Brendan Smith but helped the Bruins eventually win the war. The Bruins managed to kill off a 5-on-3 Ranger power play and momentum was finally starting to turn.
Sean Kuraly re-directed a shot from Jake DeBrusk off the post to the right of Henrik Lundqvist, who fell backward and knocked it into the net for a Bruins goal. Then the NHL’s best goal-scorer did what he’s been doing all season and the Bruins extended their point streak to 10 games. The key to the play was Studnicka rushing to the puck and keeping it in the offensive zone.
“The effort was there on that goal,” Cassidy said of Studnicka, who was playing his second NHL game. “So, he ended up on the wing; I know he’s played there a little bit. It’s not what we want to do going into it. We will do it if we have to. Don’t expect him to start on the wing his next game. We want him to work the middle of the ice, but we’ll always have a conversation what’s best for the group, but we want him to be a center and learn to play center first.”
Pasta found his spot in the left circle, a favorite of his and ripped it past King Henrik for a 2-2 game midway through the third. Pastrnak’s 24 goals is the most through 26 games since his childhood idol and fellow Czech Jaromir Jagr scored 30 in his first 24 in the 1996-97 season.
Ironically, Brad Marchand couldn’t be on the ice with Pastrnak and Krejci as he was in the locker room on a forced hiatus due to NHL-mandated concussion protocol when he skated into the elbow of a Rangers player late in the second period. To say he was steamed would be the understatement of the weekend. He would return five minutes after the goal made it 2-2.
“Guys up there (in the press box) are busy eating pizza and cheeseburgers and can’t watch the game,” Marchand said. “Maybe next time, pull head out of his butt and watch the game”
Well, the Bruins pulled their collective heads out of their rear ends just in time to salvage this game. But what’s more to the point is what the Bruins should be working on right now – learn to win games by playing better from the start and play more consistently over 60-plus minutes.
In their 10-game point streak, they fell behind the Flyers 2-0 and lost in a shootout after tying the game. They blew a 4-0 third period lead and lost 5-4 in a shootout to the Panthers. They blew a 2-0 lead at home to the Caps and lost in a shootout. They overcame a 2-0 hole against the Sabres and won 3-2.
And most fitting, they got a pair of goals from Krejci in the final two minutes against the Wild to tie the game and win 5-4 in overtime.
“Well, it feels great. I know our team is always going to eventually find their game. Listen, I’m coach, I want them to find it sooner, and eventually we did get to our game and play our type of game. I think lately, we’ve found ways to win because we’ve got good players; we’re a good team, but we’re not playing our – we’re trying to get to that 60-minute game like everyone else in the National Hockey League, so as a coach, that’s what you’re always looking at a little bit, the result but also the process for us,” Cassidy said.
“You always want to win, but I think for us, we’re trying to build that process to get where we want to go, and that’s equally important. Great to get the two points. I thought we certainly pushed in the third and overtime to do that. I’d just like to see it happen a little sooner.”
Sooner than later would be a nice strategy for a team that should give its top center all the time he needs to heal.