Igor Shesterkin made one mistake. Jaroslav Halak made zero.
In a duel of sharp netminders with a spicy, swinging-from-the-heels second period, Halak and the Bruins emerged with a 1-0 win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden Friday night.
A goal by Nick Ritchie, on a follow-up chance that had Shesterkin wishing for a do-over, was all the visitors needed to win their fifth in a row and run their East Division-best record to 10-1-2.
Boston now owns the best points percentage in the NHL (.846), which could wind up being the determining factor for playoff seeding in a season riddled with COVID-19 postponements. The Bruins expanded their East edge to 4 points over Philadelphia.
The Bruins have points in 10 consecutive games (9-0-1), and have won seven of their 13 contests by one goal.
In this one, they were “easy to play against,” to the eye of coach Bruce Cassidy, in a sleepy opening 20 minutes. They turned down shots (Charlie Coyle one offender), lost races to loose pucks, and couldn’t find open lanes from the point.
“Second period, first shift, we threw one at the net, it started from there,” Cassidy said. “Then the orneriness begins. I think that’s when we’re at our best.”
The caffeine kicked in, Boston outshot New York, 18-6, in the second, and Ritchie scored the only goal at 9:27. His fifth of the season, and first at even strength, came off a David Krejci breakout feed. The burly winger steamed down the right flank, put a low backhand on net, and followed by banking his rebound off Shesterkin from below the goal line.
“Pretty simple play, and he follows it up,” Cassidy said of Ritchie, who tied Patrice Bergeron with a game-high six shots, in 17:10. “You know that first shot’s not going in, especially in this league … but when they’re forced to control rebounds, deal with traffic, sort some things out, that’s where you start to get some goals.”
It was a bad one for Shesterkin, who didn’t have his short side sealed off. The Rangers seemed irritated about that, or something else, because the temperature spiked even higher.
Trent Frederic and Brendan Lemieux fought off the ensuing center-ice draw, taunting and jawing at each other from the penalty boxes. Frederic certainly wasn’t satisfied, considering how Lemieux — the son of Claude, the former object of Cam Neely’s loathing — jumped him off the faceoff, and landed six quick rights before Frederic got his bearings.
The latter recovered, and the two traded wild swings before falling to the ice. Frederic was seen saying, “We’re going again” to Lemieux as the two skated to the box. They didn’t, but teammate Jeremy Lauzon later scored a decisive win in a scrap with Pavel Buchnevich. He also earned an extra 10 minutes for landing a couple extra shots after the pair landed on the ice.
The Bruins and Rangers wound up combining for 58 penalty minutes, all told.
It was a bounce-back game for the young defense, which showed its age with some sloppy play in Wednesday’s 3-2 win at MSG.
Boston killed all six of shorthanded stints, the last of which came when Charlie McAvoy flung a puck out of his own zone for delay of game with 1:02 left. The best defenseman on the Boston roster, who also tripped Kaapo Kakko at 4:31 of the third, watched his mates seal the game, skating 4 on 6 with Shesterkin out of the net.
Brandon Carlo and Kevan Miller helped kill it off, the Rangers landing zero shots until Adam Fox’s rink-length slapper with two seconds left.
It was the final save for Halak (21 saves), sealing the Bruins’ first shutout win of the season. On an efficient, nearly rebound-free night, Halak was particularly troublesome for Alexis Lafrenière. He robbed the highly-touted rookie twice on the same shift in the first period, coming up with a kick stop when the rookie whacked a puck out of midair, and turning back a heavy one-timer from the slot.
It was Halak’s first clean sheet since Dec. 27, 2019 at Buffalo (26 saves). It was also the 51st shutout of his career, breaking a tie with teammate Tuukka Rask (and Chris Osgood) for 30th all time. Halak moved into a five-way tie for 26th, with Tomas Vokoun, Curtis Joseph, Dave Kerr, and Rogie Vachon.
The only regulation loss to date for the B’s, Jan. 18 against the Islanders, has faded out of view. But here come the grind-you-down Isles again, on Saturday on Long Island. The Bruins will try to avenge their only shutout (1-0) loss of the year. Rask will start.
“Tomorrow is a big one,” said Halak, the former Islander (2014-18).
But for this mentally-sound group, not bigger than it needs to be.