Bruce Cassidy’s experiment, trimming David Pastrnak from the Bruins’ No. 1 line to increase scoring balance, worked well. The Bruins scored 14 goals in three games, with 13 different names credited for the strikes.
But Thursday’s date with the Wild was one with “zero flow,” Cassidy said, because of a parade of penalties. All the calls between Boston and Minnesota left those without prominent special teams roles — such as Pastrnak’s replacement, Craig Smith — with heavy legs.
Hunting for the tying goal midway through the third period, Cassidy reunited his best three forwards. Despite the best efforts of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and Pastrnak, the comeback fire fizzled.
A 3-2 loss was the Bruins’ first setback since Dec. 16, four games ago, and dropped them to 17-11-2. The Bruins remain at the edge of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference — a solid group but nothing spectacular.
They also gave Minnesota (20-10-2), which had lost five in a row after winning eight straight, a boost. In his NHL debut, Millis native and Boston College product Matt Boldy scored his first NHL goal, which stood up as the winner and earned him first star.
The Bruins’ loss wasn’t for lack of effort, particularly on the part of the top-liners. Nos. 63, 37, and 88 combined for 19 of the Bruins’ 38 shots. They had 10 of the team’s 33 hits.
Late in the third period, a diving backcheck by Pastrnak kept the Bruins’ comeback hopes alive, saving a potential goal during a two on one. The sniper, rounding out his game of late, laid out to deflect a Kevin Fiala pass to Mats Zuccarello. Marchand scored a goal earlier in the game and was his usual physical self. Bergeron (assist) was at less than his best, taking two penalties, but had a golden bid in the final seconds.
“The third period, we got going,” Cassidy said. “It was more hockey, not a special-teams scrimmage.”
The Bruins earned a 19-9 shot attempts edge (10-3 in scoring chances) as part of their third-period push but couldn’t solve netminder Kaapo Kahkonen (36 saves).
A season-high 28 penalty minutes for Boston meant eight penalty kills. Minnesota (22 PIMs) put the Bruins on the power play five times.
The Bruins had a letdown on the PK, after going 5 for 5 in their previous two games. They tied their season high in PPGs allowed, the fourth time in 30 games they surrendered two.
Cassidy commented that the officials — referees Chris Rooney and Corey Syvret — were “chasing the game,” which is to say making calls “to even things out.”
But the Bruins earned most of their penalties. Trent Frederic made the loudest noise, boarding Kirill Kaprizov midway though the second period as the Wild star was falling. Cassidy didn’t believe it was malicious. Kaprizov, who appeared to injure his right shoulder, didn’t return.
“Hope he’s all right,” said Frederic (16 penalty minutes), who had to answer to the fists of Minnesota’s Marcus Foligno early in the third. “I didn’t mean to hurt him. I was going to make a hockey play, finish a check.”
Hard to tell where it started, but the teams were angry at each other throughout. In the first, the Bruins were howling that Taylor Hall was hit high by Matt Dumba, with no call.
“The refs have a tough job,” Hall said, stating his belief he was also tripped in the second period. “It’s our job to battle through that and win games in spite of that.”
Late in the first, Frederic earned an unsportsmanlike call for ripping off Zuccarello’s helmet in a scrum. In the second, when the Wild initially came to Kaprizov’s defense after Frederic’s hit, the latter offered a beatdown to defenseman Dmitry Kulikov.
Foligno, an emotional leader for the Wild, was barking at Frederic after the second. Frederic expected he’d have to answer.
Jeremy Swayman stopped 27 of 30 shots, on a day Tuukka Rask returned to the Black and Gold fold, but he was beaten by a ripper of a one-timer from Kaprizov, Nico Sturm’s deflection of a point shot, and a skillful finish by Boldy, whose cheering section of family, friends, and ex-BC teammates went bananas when he took a cross-seam pass from Foligno and buried it upstairs.
The Bruins were missing the 24-plus minutes of Charlie McAvoy on the back end, hampering every area. McAvoy would have been a factor in all eight penalty kills and five power plays, plus heavy even-strength minutes.
Hall opened the scoring at 6:35 of the first, sneaking through a one-timer from the left circle during four-on-three play. The Wild got it back, times two. With Marchand (holding) and Brandon Carlo (interference) in the box, Kaprizov scored on a one-timer, in the same spot as Hall. Off a faceoff — Bergeron was thrown out of the circle — Sturm tipped a Jonas Brodin point shot to make it 2-1.
At 15:35 of the second, some three minutes after Boldy’s strike, Marchand cut the deficit to one with a power-play putback.
They now hit the road against Tampa (Saturday) and Washington (Monday), two of the best in the East. They’ll need to be sharper and cleaner.