TORONTO — Helped by an early booster shot from their defensemen, the Bruins shook off their offensive melancholia of late and snapped their three-game winless drought with a sharp, impressive 5-2 victory over the Maple Leafs Wednesday night at Scotiabank Arena.
After defensemen Derek Forbort (shorthanded) and Brandon Carlo scored in the second period, providing a 2-1 lead, A.J. Greer and Pavel Zacha (2) helped to pour it on in the third, sending the Black and Gold into the All-Star break with a league-best 39-7-5 record.
“I think we got back to our identity tonight, that was Bruins hockey,” said coach Jim Montgomery. “Our depth, our D-men, our scoring, it was fun to watch.”
Linus Ullmark, chosen the Atlantic Division’s All-Star netminder, turned back 33 shots and improved to a league-leading 26-4-1 for the season. The Swedish stopper has equaled his win total from last season (26-10-2), his first after joining the club as a free agent from the Sabres.
Mitch Marner and Calle Jarnkrok scored for the Leafs (20-5-4 at home), who closed to within 3-2 by the 8:38 mark of the third, before Zacha pumped home his 10th and 11th goals of the season to put away the win.
Zacha, recently signed to a four-year contract extension, now has 35 points, one short of the career high he set last season in New Jersey, and his 11 goals position him perhaps to surpass his career high of 17.
“It’s a great feeling,” noted Zacha. “I said from the start, I want to be part of this team, and after playing 35 or 40 games, just seeing how good of a team this is, I wanted to sign even more. It’s nice to know the team wants you here, moving forward.”
The 0-2-1 winless streak was the Bruins’ longest skid of the season. Now with much-needed rest and relaxation ahead for most of them, they won’t play again until the Capitals come to the Garden for a matinee on Feb. 11.
“I don’t think relief would be the right word,” said Montgomery, asked if snapping the winless streak took off some pressure. “It was about us getting back to our standard and our team identity. I saw it yesterday at practice — I hadn’t seen us with that pace and purpose in a while, and especially the competitive fire. That’s a real good hockey team we were able to beat on the road tonight.”
Montgomery’s pregame checklist included a reminder to his defensemen: Be shot ready. Then in the second period, the Bruins scored twice, each scored by a backliner, Forbort and Carlo, the latter coming with Carlo being fed by fellow blue liner Hampus Lindholm after Carlo activated down the wing.
After a scoreless opening 20 minutes, it was Forbort’s shorty, his second of the season, that finally opened the scoring at 6:57 of the second. Trent Frederic set up the scoring play with some heavy work on the PK, corralling the puck and bringing it all the way to the front wall, where he began to burn important seconds off the Connor Clifton tripping penalty.
Eventually, Charlie Coyle ended up with the puck, fired it into the slot, and the oncoming Forbort, with plenty of time and space, dented the net with a 25-foot wrister. Career goal No. 16 for Forbort, and his eighth in two seasons with the Black and Gold.
The Leafs, without 60-goal scorer Auston Matthews in their lineup, returned with the 1-1 equalizer at the 9:25, Marner connecting with a wrister from the right circle on the power play. It was the Leafs’ 18th shot of the night on Ullmark, who also was in net for Boston’s two other games this season vs. Toronto.
Carlo’s goal, the 23rd of his career, was yet another example of the Bruins defensemen jumping into the play in the offensive end. The D-men never ventured that far into the play during Claude Julien’s days behind the bench. Even with a more offensive-minded Bruce Cassidy as coach, the D-men rarely strayed deeper than the top of the faceoff circles. Not so with Montgomery as bench boss.
“Usually when I get into that area, I get a little lost,” kidded Carlo. “But Hampus put it right on my tape. Luckily I was able to get it on net and got the result. Initially, I was kind of thinking to pass it through the seam, and the goalie [Ilya Samsonov] was focused on that, as well. So, I poked it toward the net. It was definitely a muffin, but they don’t ask how.”
Forbort now leads the Bruins with two shorthanded strikes. His other was just last month, Dec. 13, when he scored the club’s third goal in what ended up a 4-3 shootout win over the Islanders at the Garden.
“Every time [Montgomery] emphasizes it, we seem to score a goal that day,” said Forbort, noting how the backline responded to the coach’s shot-ready request. “So, that’s kind of funny. But he was right. We weren’t doing a good job getting shots through to the net — we did a better job of that tonight.”
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.