Watching hats fly to the ice after he lights up the net isn’t exactly the norm for Craig Smith. Seeing it happen at TD Garden with the crowd still limited because of the pandemic was different, too.
So, after firing home his third goal of the game in the third period of the Bruins’ 6-2 win over the Sabres on Saturday afternoon, the 10-year veteran soaked in his second career hat trick.
“It was cool seeing the hats fly,” Smith said. “I don’t get to see it very often for myself, so it was interesting. It was a good time.”
Smith broke the ice in the first period off a feed from Taylor Hall, then struck again early in the third on a dime from Mike Reilly.
From there, David Krejci made up his mind that he was going to force-feed Smith until the hat trick came.
“Krejci told me before the shift, he said, ‘Just get your stick down. I’m going to try to shoot at you every time,’ ” Smith said. “It just happened to be the first one he shot, so I was laughing with him half the time.”
Coach Bruce Cassidy expected nothing less from Krejci.
“That’s typical Krech,” Cassidy said. “He’s looking for him the whole third period. Krech is obviously going to do the right thing because you know the game is still in hand, but same time looking after a teammate. Those guys have done that around here when they can.”
But Cassidy has also come to expect important contributions from Smith in his first season in Boston.
“He’s a very popular guy in the room,” Cassidy said. “Obviously new to the group. With COVID, it’s a little tougher to get to know guys, but, obviously over time, I think they appreciate his kind of lunch-pail approach and getting in on the forecheck, creating some turnovers for them, and digging around and getting to the front of the net. He’s got a great shot, so happy for him.”
Making a case
Oilers star Connor McDavid might be a lock for his second Hart Trophy. But when asked if there was a case to be made for Brad Marchand, Cassidy tried.
“It’ll be a tough argument, but everybody’s off the pace of Connor McDavid, so Marshy is not alone there,” Cassidy said. “I would make the argument that the most valuable to your team plays in every situation. [Marchand] is probably one of our leaders in the leadership group. But McDavid is that with Edmonton, right? He plays in all their situations, he’s their captain.
“So, it’s just a tough sell. It’s up to people to make that judgment, so I don’t want to go down that road. I think there’s so many guys in this league that you can make a decent argument to be MVP. I’m just glad he’s with us.”
Jake DeBrusk was back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch for two games.
Spending some time on the ninth floor was meant to send a message that Cassidy wanted to see more from DeBrusk.
“A little time away to watch from up top, sometimes players take from that, other times [it] doesn’t happen that way,” Cassidy said. “So, we just want him to sort of be grateful for his spot in the lineup. Just help us win, Jake. Get out there and play to your strengths. We’ll coach you up on the things that you need to get better on and just be one of 20 guys to help us win.”
DeBrusk landed one shot on net Saturday in 16:53 of ice time.
“We need better second effort, in forecheck situations, in puck-recovery situations and attack situations, because I feel it’s a second-effort league,” Cassidy said. “The guys that have second effort will have much more success in this league the sooner they figure that out. The uber-talented guys, which are rare, can get away with it — and I’m not even sure anymore, the way players check, that they can.
“So, you need to have that second effort. That’s always been the message for the most part with Jake, and it continues to be.”
With six games left, the Bruins still need to find playing time for Tuukka Rask to build up for the postseason.
Considering the Bruins have two back-to-backs remaining, Rask would ideally only need three games, but Cassidy said the most Rask would play down the stretch would be four.
“Now, obviously, circumstances could change that,” Cassidy said. “You might play three next week if we feel there’s a need to do that. A, we’re not comfortable with where we are in the standings. B, Tuukka needs to play more going into the playoffs, whatever the situation may be.
“But he’ll play a minimum of three, I would suspect, assuming there’s no health issues or anything else that crops up. But he would not play more than four.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.