Consistent blue-line play, both in stopping attacks and starting breakouts, has been a challenge for the Bruins of late, beyond their top two defensemen. They are hurting for offensive production beyond their top four forwards. With their No. 1 netminder out of commission, goaltending is a worry.
Meanwhile, a reliable part of this operation — their best, most proven players — pulled everyone along in Saturday afternoon’s 7-5 win over the Penguins.
Brad Marchand put up a hat trick and David Pastrnak scored twice. Those two, David Krejci, and Patrice Bergeron (one goal each) helped make it a rough day for Pittsburgh goalie Casey DeSmith, who allowed six goals on 27 shots.
The Bruins (19-10-5) have 22 games to sort out the rest of it, assuming they hold on to fourth place in the East Division. Prime time to take 4 points out of a Monday-Tuesday back-to-back with Philadelphia (17-14-4, 5 points back of the Bruins entering Saturday night).
“We’re trying to build something here,” said Krejci, who recorded the 500th assist of his career. “[Twenty-two games left] seems like a lot, but it’s not. You’ve got to start creating the good habits, playing the right way, and keep winning games. That was a good step in the right direction.”
Marchand was on fire, setting up Krejci’s goal with a brilliant power-play feed, and continuing to set a fiery example for his younger mates (his scuffle with Kris Letang in the second turned up this matinee to its highest heat). His empty-netter sealed the deal with 1:01 left, and saw a few hats come flying from a crowd of 2,191. The last time it rained chapeaus at the Garden: Feb. 12, 2020, when Pastrnak scored three against Montreal in an old-time sellout.
“It was all our top guys tonight. Obviously you’re going to have games like this, with the types of résumés they have,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “We just haven’t had a lot of them, for whatever reason.
“I thought the goals we scored today were excellent. There were no fluky ones, no freebies … Nice plays. High-end plays by high-end players.”
Bergeron (nine games) and Pastrnak (five games) broke goal-less droughts. The latter nearly had a hat trick, harassing Letang into a turnover in front of an empty Pittsburgh net with the clock under three minutes. He drew a hooking call.
The Bruins came alive after a miserable first period that saw them down, 1-0, on a Mark Jankowski goal. They had one high-danger (slot and/or net-front) shot attempt in the first, according to Natural Stat Trick. They had two high-danger goals in the opening minute of the second. Bergeron (0:11) and Pastrnak (0:45) smacked home a loose puck and rebound, respectively.
Jaroslav Halak made several big stops, including a sprawling save on Jake Guentzel before Pastrnak made it 6-4 at 13:28 of the third. But he allowed a couple of shaky ones, such as a short-side Cody Ceci shot in the third, and Sidney Crosby’s shorthanded pass that leaked through his pads to make it a one-goal game.
During a faceoff with 1:11 left, Bergeron hit Crosby’s cheek with the butt-end of his stick, after Crosby got Bergeron with his blade on the shoulder. Crosby made sure the officials saw it. Bergeron sat for a double minor, but Marchand 10 seconds later added his ENG.
Satisfaction for the Bruins, who carried over much of Thursday’s 4-1 loss to the Penguins into the first period on Saturday. They had a hard time breaking the puck out, considering they were skating in quicksand. They scored five of their seven goals in the second period, and led, 5-3, after 40 minutes.
The Bruins fell behind by a goal at 3:24 of the first. A botched outlet — Jarred Tinordi couldn’t hit an open Anders Bjork on the wing — led to a faceoff in the Bruins’ zone. A loss on the draw by Charlie Coyle turned into a questionable decision. Mike Matheson’s shot was going wide, but Coyle tipped it off Jankowski, over Halak’s head, and into the net.
To open the second, the Bruins’ two-in-a-minute happened off smart, deep forechecking. On Bergeron’s goal, Craig Smith got body position on defenseman Brian Dumoulin and forced the puck to the slot. On Pastrnak’s strike, Nick Ritchie bowled over defenseman Marcus Pettersson, rimmed the puck to the point, then created traffic in front for Pastrnak to pot Krejci’s rebound.
Pittsburgh (24-12-2) showed brilliant execution on the next two goals. Guentzel tied it at the 2:45 mark, one-timing a silky backhand saucer pass from Crosby. The Penguins went up, 3-2, after Crosby and Guentzel threaded needles in traffic on a power-play zone entry finished by Jared McCann.
The Bruins found their puck-rushing confidence. At 14:56, Matt Grzelcyk jumped into the play, circled the net, and found Marchand cutting to the net. Tied, 3-3, with 5:04 left in the second.
On a power play with 1:31 left in the second, Marchand fed Krejci for a tap-in after a low-to-high exchange with Pastrnak.
Marchand sent home his second of the game with 20 seconds left in the middle period, the third straight goal in a span of 5:04, off a faceoff win. He was face-up with DeSmith, who probably should have stopped it, but he wasn’t up to stopping much to that point (five goals on 18 shots through 40 minutes).
After the goaltending the Bruins have seen of late, they’ll take it, and hope for more against Philly.