TORONTO — Still recovering from their late-November swoon, the Bruins were an improved, sharper version of themselves for much of Saturday night at Scotiabank Arena, pinning a 4-3 win on the Maple Leafs on Brad Marchand’s goal with 7.2 seconds remaining in overtime.
Without a goal since Nov. 11, Marchand potted the three-on-three winner off a feed from David Pastrnak, just moments after Leafs goalie Joe Woll made a pad save on a Pastrnak breakaway set up by Marchand.
“Just tried to get it to him as quick as possible,” said Pastrnak, who opened the scoring with his team-high 14th goal of the season. “Great job by him . . . a big goal for him . . . so happy for him.”
Along with the two points, which allowed the Bruins to put a tiny bit more distance on their Atlantic Division foe, the night was the Bruins’ best effort since prior to the Thanksgiving break. They played at better pace and were much improved on defense, especially that large stretch behind the center-ice red line that was a minefield during their three consecutive losses.
“Our best game in a while. Maybe two weeks,” said coach Jim Montgomery, whose charges return to action Sunday night at TD Garden vs. the Blue Jackets. “Sometimes you need to face some hard times to realize it’s not going to come easy.”
The checklist of Montgomery “likes” included, “How hard we were to play against . . . the time and space . . . protecting the middle of the ice. And I loved 88 tonight.”
That 88, Pastrnak, had his name on three goals (goal, two assists) and fired a game-high 15 shots, landing 10 on net. The best of the three points could prove to be the setup on Marchand’s winner, if it proves to get him out of his protracted scoring funk
“If he was yelling, I didn’t hear him,” explained a smiling Pastrnak. “I saw him and I knew the goalie was coming back, so I shot it at Marchy, hoping he was going to handle it. Which he did.”
Another of the night’s fun subplots was Trent Frederic, who knocked in the go-ahead, 3-2 goal with 6:50 to go in regulation. He and Woll — formerly of Boston College — have been buddies since their childhood days in the St. Louis suburbs. Woll was among the many future NHLers, including brothers Matthew and Brady Tkachuk, who often played roller hockey in the basement of La Famiglia Freddy’s house.
“Yeah, we had some players down there,” noted Frederic.
In fact, Frederic said postgame, he was a goalie on the same childhood team with Woll until the day came for Frederic’s first communion at the local Catholic church.
“My parents wouldn’t let me play in our game that day,” a smiling Frederic recalled, noting he still wears a St. Christopher medal that was a gift that day. “So he was the goalie, and he went from there.”
The Leafs pulled even with 5.7 seconds left in regulation on Auston Matthews’s second goal of the night. John Tavares barreled into the crease from the right side; the puck bounded out to the left circle and Mitch Marner, who — with the Leafs’ net empty — fired across the slot to Matthews for a one-timer that forced overtime.
Linus Ullmark backed the win, stopping 37 of 40 shots, and improved to 8-3-1.
The Bruins opened November by taking a 2-0 lead over the Leafs at the Garden, and eventually needed the shootout to pocket a 3-2 win. Exactly one month to the day, the Bruins again blew the 2-0 lead, on a Matthews goal in the second and then Max Domi’s early in the third.
The Bruins carried a 2-1 lead into the second intermission, paced by goals from Pastrnak and Kevin Shattenkirk and looking far more like the cohesive defensive unit that performed so well through most of November.
Pastrnak wired in the lead at 10:45 of the first, only 13 seconds after he was denied by Woll on a wrister from the slot. Set up again by Brandon Carlo, Pastrnak connected when he snapped off a rising wrister from above the right wing circle.
🎥 @shattdeuces on his first goal with the #NHLBruins: "It's something that everyone's waiting to do when they join a new team. For me, it's to contribute and that's part of my game. Happy that it was a meaningful goal tonight and we were able to stick it out." pic.twitter.com/iagAbG0Ex6— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) December 3, 2023
Shattenkirk, who was scratched from the lineup last weekend at Madison Square Garden, flashed legit goal-scorer’s hands at 7:31 of the second for the 2-0 lead. It was his first goal of the season.
The healthy scratch last weekend was the first of Shattenkirk’s long career, and it served as a wakeup call.
“I wasn’t playing aggressive enough offensively, and Monty conveyed that to me,” said Shattenkirk. “He trusts that I can see those lanes and plays ahead of time. It’s something he encourages us all to do as defensemen.”
“For sure, it’s tough,” added Shattenkirk, asked if getting scratched 900-plus games into his career was a blow to his ego. “You know, you have family and friends going to the game to watch . . . that hasn’t happened to me before. I am grateful for that, most guys don’t get the luxury of playing most of their games. It definitely stung, but . . . in my mind there is only one thing to do. Just put your head down and go back to work.
“I had a great conversation with Monty about it and I was able to reset and focus on what I needed to do to start playing and stay in the lineup.”
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.