Wrong-footed and ham-fisted all season on the power play, the Bruins Monday night finally found their scoring shoes and soft hands with the man-advantage.
They scored not once (Brad Marchand), not twice (David Krejci) but three times (David Pastrnak) with the once-powerless power play and breezed to a 4-0 shutout of the Sabres before a reported sellout 17,565 at the Garden (it appeared some 1,500-2,000 were no-shows).
“Good to see it going in,’’ said Krjeci, whose strike, midway through the second period, delivered his first goal this season of any kind. “Hopefully there’s many more.’’
Tuukka Rask made his fifth consecutive start and picked up the shutout (career No. 32) with 32 saves, edging ahead of Tim Thomas for No. 3 in franchise history. Claude Julien, his stay in Boston now nearly the equal of the USS Constitution, recorded his 400th victory behind the Boston bench.
“Another number,’’ said a smiling Julien, who just recently began growing a goatee, a move not believed to be a means of going incognito had the Boston power play continued to struggle.
After a scoreless first period, in which the Sabres fired 30 shots to Boston’s 24 (for a 13-12 edge on shots that made it to the net), the Bruins finally broke out and scored three times in the middle period. Two of them (Marchand and Krejci) were on the man-advantage.
Marchand, without a shot in Saturday’s loss to the Rangers, started it off at 5:44, the Lil’ Ball O’Hate cashing in a Pastrnak rebound for his fifth goal of the season. Marchand saw his 15-footer squeeze by Robin Lehner, in part thanks to a big screen set by Matt Beleskey at the top of the crease. The Bruins had only their fourth power-play goal of the season and the assist brought Beleskey his first point.
It was by far Beleskey’s best game of the season, coming only two games aftrer being scratched last week in Tampa.
‘’I don’t want to say that helped me,’’ said Beleskey, referring to the benching. ‘’I just don’t want to get scratched.’’
The Sabres, down by a goal, made themselves far more trouble than they needed, starting at 7:50 when Zemgus Girgensons whacked the B’s David Backes in the mouth with his stick (4:00 minute penalty). With 2:34 still to burn off that call, the Sabres then saw Jake McCabe get nailed for a tripping minor and an unsportsmanlike conduct, setting up the Bruins with an extended 5-on-3 advantage.
Less than a minute into the two-man advantage, Torey Krug tossed over a flat pass to Krejci above the left wing circle and Krejci ripped a laser one-timer through Lehner’s five-hole for the 2-0 lead.
After scoring only three times on the power play in their first 11 games, the Bruins had a pair in less than five minutes. They were seeing shooting lanes, taking shots, and getting rewarded.
“We worked on it in the morning,’’ said Julien, referring to the power play rehearsal Monday at the club’s Brighton practice facility. “Our best players had to step it up. They did that tonight.’’
One of the issues of the power play’s previous dysfunciton, noted Julien, had been his squad lapsing into “take it easy’’ mode on the power play. That attitude saw them get scorched for two shorthanded strikes vs. the Rangers on Saturday.
“Obviously some pride tonight, making sure they were difference makers,’’ said Julien, “instead of ending up on the negative side.’’
Finally with 5:09 to go before the second break, Riley Nash potted his first goal as a Bruin for the 3-0 lead, collecting a Sabre turnover deep in Buffalo territory, wheeling up the left wing wall and connecting on a turnaround wrister. Beleskey didn’t get an assist this time, but he again provided a valuable screen, fending off Dmitry Kulikov at the top of the crease. He might not have had his scoring shoes, but he wearing his work boots.
Pastrnak made it 4-0 with an easy pot at the left post after Lehner turned back an Austin Czarnik blast from the slot with 9:45 gone in the third period.
It was, by far, the best Causeway Street performance this season by the Black and Gold, and even came with a Beleskey fight (vs. Derek Grant) in the third period. One of the few lapses came around the 13:00 mark in the second, the Bruins ahead by a pair, when ex-BC star Brian Gionta picked off a Pastrnak pass and bolted in alone on Rask from the blue line.
Rask, who turned away 9 of 10 Tampa players in a shootout Thursday at Amalie Arena, held ground and turned back Gionta’s backhanded attempt at the right post for save No. 15. There weren’t many testers in Rask’s next 17 stops.
Next stop: Montreal, Tuesday night. Is the power play truly fixed? No better spot than the Bell Centre to find out.