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Bruins’ Jim Montgomery shifts his lines to spread around the scoring

The Bruins' Craig Smith looks for room along the boards as Sharks defenseman Mario Ferraro tries to squeeze him out Saturday in San Jose.Tony Avelar/Associated Press

ANAHEIM — Ducks coach Dallas Eakins paused when asked before puck drop what was the secret to stopping the dazzling line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak.

“Possibly hurting them in warm-ups — would that be the answer?” Eakins asked, with a deadpan delivery.

Jim Montgomery lifted that burden for him. He deployed Craig Smith, who scored Saturday night in San Jose, as Bergeron’s right wing. That meant Pastrnak shifted down to skate with David Krejci and Pavel Zacha, and Taylor Hall was again a third-line pal of Charlie Coyle and Trent Frederic.

“We want to spread the minutes out,” said Montgomery, whose team ended a three-in-four California road trip with back-to-back games just 22 hours apart.


That gave Eakins little comfort.

“It’s tough,” he said. “I just said to our guys, what a luxury to have Taylor Hall and Charlie Coyle on your third line.

“We have to play a perfect game.”

It didn’t happen. As Montgomery’s line shifts were practically perfect. Pastrnak’s hat trick powered a 7-1 win, his line going for 9 points, with Krejci scoring, too.

The Bruins welcomed back Chris Wagner, who played his first NHL game since last April 11 in Toronto. He slotted on the right side of Boston’s fourth line, with Tomas Nosek and Nick Foligno. With Montgomery spreading out the minutes, Wagner was low man with 12:36 of ice time.

“Go out there and enjoy yourself,” was Montgomery’s message to Wagner (9-2—11 in 27 games with AHL Providence), whom he expected to bring the kind of physicality the team didn’t show in San Jose.

Chris Wagner played his first NHL game since last April on Sunday night.Bruce Bennett/Getty

Wagner, playing in his 360th NHL game, earned plenty of cred in the Bruins’ room in the 2018-19 season. He was one of the hard-hat fourth-liners who helped bring the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Final, though Wagner’s season ended in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final in Carolina when he blocked a Justin Faulk slapper with his forearm.


He all but shrugged it off. Essentially, his attitude about it was that it cost him a summer of golf.

Eakins, who coached Wagner in AHL San Diego, kept in touch after Wagner, drafted by Anaheim in 2012, signed with the Bruins in the summer of 2018.

“I love that kid,” Eakins said. “He works. He’s got a massive heart. Just a huge heart. He’s extremely passionate about the game. It’s great to see him get another chance. I do wish it was in another building tonight because he’s going to be a pain in the ass.”

Montgomery only played Jakub Zboril six minutes and 47 seconds in San Jose — in his first action since Nov. 23 — but felt the spare defenseman was on his toes, sharp with the puck, and responsible defensively.

“As much as we can, we want to get him in,” Montgomery said. “He deserves to play again tonight. Again, we’re blessed with great depth.”

Former Bruin Urho Vaakanainen missed the first 22 games of the season for Anaheim.Allison Dinner/Associated Press

Eakins is still learning about Urho Vaakanainen, traded here last March in the package that brought Hampus Lindholm to Boston. The Bruins’ 2017 first-rounder (18th overall) was playing in his 15th game this year (0-1–1). He missed the first 22 games thanks to a concussion on a fluke play in training camp.

“He just needs a big run of a whole bunch of games in a row to really get his feet under him,” said Eakins. “We love his work ethic and his compete level.


“If you’re a left winger, you can get away with a whole lot of crap in this league. If you’re a D-man, you don’t get away with much.”

A host of former teammates caught up with Vaakanainen afterward

The other ex-Duck in the Bruins lineup was Lindholm, seeing the Honda Center for the first time since the March 19 swap (Lindholm and prospect Kodie Curran to Boston; Vaakanainen, John Moore, a 2022 first-rounder and second-rounders in 2023 and 2024 to Anaheim). He received a video tribute that, according to Anaheim video maven Peter Uvalle, aimed to showcase the well-liked Swedish defenseman’s sunny personality … Frederic, dealing with some left shoulder soreness, remained in the Boston lineup … The only plus Duck was defenseman Cam Fowler (plus-1) . . . Lindholm (goal, six shots) skated a team-high 23:13 . . . All eight of Pastrnak’s shot attempts found the net. Three went in . . . A.J. Greer (illness) was feeling better and should be ready for Thursday’s TD Garden return against Seattle … East Longmeadow product Frank Vatrano, who scored in Boston on Oct. 20, has been quiet (6-10–16 in 40 games), with zero goals in his previous seven.

Matt Porter can be reached at Follow him @mattyports.