The angle was just right. The open space around the net perfect to accommodate a winning goal. So, all the calculations made in an instant, Drew Stafford, the galloping advanced mathematician, took his shot.
“Yeah, you see the D-man’s stick is perfectly aligned with where he’ll tip it in,’’ kidded the afternoon’s hero, embracing a thespian’s false bravado, “you know, it’s geometry . . . ”
Smiles and self-effacing humor continued to come easy Saturday afternoon on Causeway Street, where Stafford’s goal with 5.6 seconds remaining in regulation handed the Bruins a sudden-death-like 2-1 win over the Flyers.
The shot also delivered the Bruins their sixth victory in the last seven games at the Garden and improved their record to 10-3-0 under coach Bruce Cassidy, who has been on the job for less than five weeks and looks like he’ll turn his “interimship” into a tenured position. His Bruins remain in a chase for a playoff spot, but the win over Philly was a giant step toward a postseason berth, the Broad Streeters falling eight points behind the Bruins in the Eastern Conference.
With the clock winding down, Stafford, acquired at the March 1 trade deadline, sent his wishful, twisted wrister on net from some 35 feet out along the right wall. As it sailed toward Steve Mason in net, it was Flyers blue liner Brandon Manning who actually tipped it home, which is what later had Stafford kidding that he had calculated the shot with a pool shark’s eye for the side pocket.
Which is to say Stafford, now 2-2—4 in his time wearing Black and Gold, fully knew his words were full of rubbish.
“Those kind of lucky bounces you get, you just take it and ride with it,” he said in more earnest assessment. “The way this game was, we were pretty sloppy throughout. It was kind of a tough one for us. I have only been here for a few games, but I can tell this team knows how to win games. Even when you are not playing your best, you find a way to win . . . whether it’s by a lucky bounce like that; I mean, 99 times out of 100 that’s not going to go in, so you’ll take those kind of breaks.”
It was an afternoon that had both sides playing well in only brief spurts and too often looking like clubs destined not to make it to a playoff game without buying a ticket. The Bruins went into virtual hibernation in the second period when they were outshot, 9-4, and saw Jordan Weal’s goal negate a 1-0 lead the Bruins took on David Pastrnak’s power-play strike (goal No. 28) late in the first.
There are nights (and days) when teams leave the rink with a loss, thinking they deserved to win. By and large, this was an afternoon when neither side deserved to win. Too many dead spots. Too many incomplete plays.
But all that is for purists to debate. The Bruins won. The Bruins keep winning. With 14 games to go in the regular season, they haven’t claimed a playoff berth, but they’ve put themselves in prime position, both mathematically and in terms of overall confidence.
“Sometimes you’ve got to win, 5-4, and sometimes it’s 2-1,” said Cassidy, reflecting on his message to the Bruins after 40 minutes with the scoreboard at 1-1. “So let’s accept it, manage the puck, play tight, and if we get an opportunity, let’s make sure we bear down. One of those games, I don’t think we were at our best, you could clearly see that. But we still hung in there and did enough to win.”
It was another day in which the Bruins also never trailed for a second. Their lead time was brief (2:45 in total), but it added to the massive advantage in lead time (458:18 to 103:04) they have enjoyed during their resurgence under Cassidy. They also own a 47-27 scoring advantage over 13 games, remarkable for a club that had been outscored, 149-143, prior to Cassidy taking over for Claude Julien.
“That second period was pretty terrible — we just weren’t doing anything right,” said Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, his record now 32-16-4. “We just weren’t doing anything right. We kind of survived.”
The one goal that eluded Rask came amid a scramble, Weal left alone in front, Rask down and out, and defenseman Torey Krug in the crease and facing the crossbar. It doesn’t get much more disjointed. But it was the lone goal. In the last six games, the Bruins have allowed only 11 goals. Mistakes are easily forgotten when they’re so few.
“By the end,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, who logged his standard team-high minutes (26:23), “it’s like the old saying, throw the puck at the net and good things happen. We got a little break and we’ll take it.”
Less than a month to go in the regular season. The Bruins are playing their best hockey (.769 under Cassidy) of the season. The good things just keep happening.