On one of the coldest days of the year, two of the NHL’s hottest teams put on a sizzling show.
The Bruins emerged with a 4-3 overtime win over the Nashville Predators thanks to a second-chance goal from Taylor Hall, finishing a back-and-forth, hit-for-hit affair with a frenzy.
Following a David Pastrnak bid that trickled through Predators netminder Juuse Saros, Hall forced his way past defenseman Alexandre Carrier and knocked it home at 1:41 of the extra period.
The Bruins (22-11-2), have won eight of nine since Jan. 1, and hold a 7-point edge on the Red Wings for the second wild-card playoff spot.
The Bruins took down the Western Conference leaders (24-12-3) with pace and physicality. Hits were 46-45, Nashville, as the teams kept crashing into each other. Maybe it was the memory of the last time they played, when Filip Forsberg broke Patrice Bergeron’s nose with a questionable hit. Forsberg (COVID) was out of the lineup, but most everyone who played seemed willing to engage.
“A playoff-style game,” coach Bruins Bruce Cassidy said. “We responded well.”
With the puck, they looked like the Bruins of late: quick in transition, legs in motion, working as a unit. They had to recapture their flow after losing a 2-0 lead, built on first-period goals by Craig Smith and Mike Reilly. Colton Sissons and Luke Kunin pulled the visitors even, the latter beating a screened Linus Ullmark (26 saves) with a wrister off the rush.
Brad Marchand’s 20th of the season put the Bruins ahead, 3-2, with a power-play snipe at 3:50 of the third, raising his line to 9-7–16 in his last nine games. It’s the ninth straight 20-goal season for Marchand, and 11th of his career.
Predators captain Roman Josi took advantage of a Pastrnak turnover and tied it less than three minutes later, setting up the thrilling finish.
Special teams were critical. Marchand’s goal, on the only Boston power play of the game, came when Derek Forbort, the defensive-minded backliner, drew a holding call on the breakout and Marchand ripped one past Saros from the right wing.
Nashville was 8 for 22 on the power play since Jan. 1, but the Bruins killed both PPs they saw. While holding a 2-1 lead in the second, and their top penalty-kill defense pair (Forbort and Brandon Carlo) both penalized, Urho Vaakanainen logged 1:55, Bergeron and Marchand 1:31 each, and Tyler Lewington 1:15.
In a tied third, Bruins had to kill a Vaakanainen tripping minor with 6:26 left. Forbort was out there for 2:18.
“We didn’t get the clears we wanted, so to be able to stay composed and keep your structure,” Cassidy said. “To have the mental toughness to hang in there, eat a puck when you need to, is important.”
Before all the grittiness, there was some pretty offensive touch.
Smith, apparently a morning person, opened the matinee scoring at 3:20 of the first. The ex-Predator took a slick one-touch feed from Bergeron and ripped it over Saros’s glove. Bergeron, driving the slot, brilliantly redirected Marchand’s pass from the left wing to load Smith’s rocket. The latter served up a “Superman” celebration for the crowd.
At 7:37, Reilly made it 2-0 with patience. With the Predators making a line change, Pastrnak, Hall, and Erik Haula passed their way into space. Reilly pinched, cut across the slot after accepting Haula’s feed, and had the puck in a backhand glide for nearly a two-count before lifting it past a scrambling Saros.
On NESN, Jack Edwards flashed back to the 2008 playoffs, when Marco Sturm gave the up-and-coming Bruins a win in Game 6 over the Canadiens. Not quite a “this building is vibrating” moment, but Reilly now has a career high in goals (four).
“He had a lot of pop today,” Cassidy said.
The mood soured a bit when Sissons zipped Nashville’s fifth shot of the game past Ullmark at 14:30 of the first. Fault Lewington and Curtis Lazar for a turnover, but the Bruins, arguably the best team in the league at protecting their slot, let Sissons have free entry.
The Predators, controlling their share of play during the second period, tied it at 7:32. From atop the circle, Kunin shot it through Carlo, sneaking one under Ullmark’s arm.
Following Kunin’s goal, the Bruins had 23 of the 29 shots until Marchand, who had gauze stuffed in each nostril of his broken nose after taking an inadvertent elbow from Josi, made it 3-2.
Marchand, who was shown skating past the Nashville bench with a “shhhh” finger to his lips, later sent Dante Fabbro to the room with a green-light hit behind the net.
Pastrnak’s turnover created Josi’s tying goal at 6:26 of the third, the winger duffing a flip out of the defensive zone.
But he rebounded with a play in OT, as did Vaakanainen. The new year remains good to the Bruins, who have shaken their October, November, and December doldrums.
“You wish for that,” Bergeron said. “Early on, there was a lot of work to do getting to know everyone, meshing together, and finding the chemistry. Maybe it took longer than expected … I think that reset, the time off around Christmastime, was good for a lot of guys.”