It will take at least 2-3 weeks or more to fully assess what this week’s roster remake will mean for the Bruins, but indications Thursday at the Garden pointed to a strong positive.
Taylor Hall scored a big goal early in the third period, his first strike in a Black-and-Gold uniform since being acquired in a trade Monday from the Sabres. Newcomer Mike Reilly, poised and active on the backline, chipped in with an assist on the night’s opening goal. Curtis Lazar didn’t factor in the scoring, but again centered a reliable, active fourth line.
All of that, along with a pair of goals by Brad Marchand, another by a red-hot Craig Smith, and the return of goalie Tuukka Rask (300th career win) led the Bruins to a 4-1 win over the Islanders — their first triumph in six tries this season (1-3-2) against one of the NHL East powers.
“A good solid game — I thought we didn’t let our foot off the gas,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “I liked our game all around. We really had no passengers and that’s always what you’re looking for, everyone helping the team win and I thought we got that tonight.”
The win snugged the Bruins 2 points closer to the Isles in the East, and it also kept them in fourth place, 4 points ahead of the hard-charging Rangers, who posted a 4-0 blanking of the Devils.
Hall’s goal, 1:52 into the third, was his first in six weeks. The former No 1 draft pick, sent flying down the left side with a David Pastrnak (two assists) feed, finished off with a sweep through Semyon Varlamov’s pads from the low left circle, boosting the Bruins lead to 3-1.
The spark in Hall’s game was obvious. A sullen Hall said on Monday that he was arriving here with his confidence low, following a frustrating season (two goals in Buffalo). But he had obvious jump from the start on Thursday night, and his legs really churned after he potted the two-goal lead.
“I thought all night, a lot of our guys had jump and juice,” said Hall. “We were on top of them. We were on top of pucks. As a line we created chances ... overall it’s been a fun line to play on. I can feel myself getting more comfortable as the games go on. Little plays between your linemates — [David] Krejci and Smith want to make plays and for me, it’s getting used to getting to spots where they can get me the puck, and vice versa. I think it will only improve if we work on it.”
It was great to see the puck go in the net, said Hall, while noting that there’s still a lot of hockey left to play.
“I scored the first game as a Sabre,” said Hall, chuckling slightly. “Then went on a drought after that. So it’s important to be consistent, do the right things every night.”
Rask, hindered by back woes the last six weeks, recorded his 300th career victory by turning away 22 shots. It was the Finnish tender’s first victory since Feb. 28.
“I’ve been fortunate to play on a really good team throughout my career, so that helps a lot,” said Rask, reflecting on the milestone win. “Super grateful that I’ve been able to play so many years. It’s a great milestone, one once you’re done playing hockey, and years after, thinking what you accomplished … a nice memory.”
Marchand and Smith scored in the first period when the Bruins peppered Varlamov with 23 shots. Marchand added an empty-netter with 1:36 remaining in regulation for the 4-1 closer.
The Bruins came out with new life in their legs, and put them to good use, rolling up the season-high 23 shots in the first period and backing Rask to a 2-0 lead.
Only 1:49 into the first, they put their first puck in the net, but it took a while — an extra 10 seconds for it to be officially posted on the scoreboard.
Reilly, acquired from Ottawa at the trade deadline, launched a shot from high above the left wing circle. The shot ultimately found its way into the net, ricocheting high into the twine off Marchand’s back.
However, the puck was in and out of the net so quickly, no one on the officiating crew spotted it cross the line, in part because it bounced right out off the camera that is mounted under the crossbar. Play continued until a whistle at 1:59, at which point the guys in stripes reviewed the video and called it a goal.
Bruins, 1-0, and the five skaters huddled up for a quick goal celebration/group hug in front of the Bruins bench.
It was Marchand’s 20th goal of the season and it also was the first point in a Boston uniform by Reilly.
The Bruins, frustrated of late on the power play, connected on the man advantage at 17:55 to bump the lead to 2-0. Smith drove it home with a one-time snap from the high inner edge of the right circle, set up with a perfect short-range dish from Krejci on the right side.
Smith entered the night riding a five-game scoring streak (3-5—8) and added to it with his 10th goal of the season. Charlie McAvoy picked up his 19th assist of the season with the second assist.
The Islanders, as expected, pushed back from the start of the second period and cut the Boston lead in half when newly-acquired Travis Zajac, ex-of the Devils, tucked one up high to the top shelf off a feed from behind the goal line by the ever-crafty Mathew Barzal.