PHILADELPHIA — Two of their top four defensemen were home on the couch, nursing injuries. Their forwards chopped up the puck for the first 40 minutes like they were auditioning for chefs’ positions at a Japanese steak house.
All that, and the Bruins somehow had to find their way around the Flyers, the NHL’s hottest team the last three weeks with a perfect 9-0-0 record.
When the night was over, the Bruins boogied down Broad Street with a 2-0 win Tuesday, backed by some sensational netminding by Tuukka Rask (36 saves, 50th career shutout) and timely goals from Matt Grzelcyk and Patrice Bergeron.
The win, their 44th this season, kept the Bruins tucked neatly in first place in the NHL’s overall standings and also made them the first team this season to reach 100 points. They have hit triple digits the three full seasons Bruce Cassidy has been their bench boss.
“Well, these days, it’s one of those things, you almost have to get 100 points to make the playoffs," said Rask, the Bruins still not officially qualified for the postseason. “The league’s tighter than ever. We try to get a head start early in the season and keep the momentum going all year — I think we’ve pretty much accomplished that this year.”
With back liners Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug sidelined because of upper-body injuries, John Moore and Connor Clifton (out since Dec. 29) made up Cassidy’s No. 3 defensive pairing.
As it turned out, it was third-line center Charlie Coyle who proved to be the defenseman of the night, racing back to bust up what looked like a certain shorthanded strike late in the second with the scoreboard still at 0-0. The Bruins surrendered two shorties three nights earlier in a loss to the Lightning. Here it was unfolding again, late in a second period in which the Bruins had been stumbling around the Wells Fargo Center as if they were leftover Mardi Gras stragglers from two weeks earlier.
Coyle, after losing the puck along the wall near his offensive blue line, sprinted back frantically to deep into his own zone and made a brilliant diving block of Scott Laughton’s relay toward Kevin Hayes on the right side. Some 45 seconds later, on the same power play, Grzelcyk hammered home a one-timer for the 1-0 lead (and the game-winner).
“Not good, first of all, you never want that,” said Coyle, recounting how he lost the puck, springing Laughton up the left side. “Just a bad bounce . . . you never want to give up something like that, especially with the score 0-0.”
Laughton dished to his right, with Hayes ready to rip, and in came Coyle on a one-man luge run to disrupt it.
“Hayes is kind of cocked and ready there,” noted Coyle. “He’s had a few shorthanded goals already this year . . . I think that’s all I had and I just went for it. Luckily it played in my favor.”
“Listen, it allowed us to stay on the power play in a tie game and then score a goal,” Cassidy said. “To me — and we pointed it out between periods — those are the things that don’t show up on the scoreboard. Tough play at the blue line and he didn’t quit on it, stayed with it. Our power play has been struggling, giving up some shorties . . . I thought it was the play that maybe changed the game.”
Grzelcyk, getting point duty with Krug out of the mix, stepped into a one-timer off of David Pastrnak’s sweet one-touch dish with 1:21 left in the second for the lead.
In the third, with just under five minutes to go in regulation, Bergeron carried over the blue line and snapped home the 2-0 lead, a shot that kicked off Travis Sanheim’s stick and eluded goalie Carter Hart.
Win streak over.
Searching for answers to kickstart his club’s sluggish offense midway through the second, Cassidy radically altered his trios, moves that included dropping Pastrnak over to the right wing on David Krejci’s line (with Sean Kuraly shifted to No. 2 left wing in the big boy promotion of the day).
The change delivered newcomer Ondrej Kase to the No. 1 line with Bergeron and Brad Marchand (whose assist on Bergeron’s strike extending his scoring streak to 13 games).
Coyle played the rest of the night with newcomer Nick Ritchie on his left and Jake DeBrusk on his right.
There could be more of that to follow, hinted Cassidy. The Bruins are back to work Friday night in Buffalo and face the Maple Leafs at the Garden on Saturday.
Coupled with Tampa’s 2-1 loss in Toronto, the win left the Bruins with an 8-point lead over the Lightning in the Atlantic Division. They have 12 games to go in the regular season and appear to be on a glide path to the President’s Trophy.
“Now it’s finish strong,” said Rask, now sporting a 26-8-6 record, “and head into the playoffs.”
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.