BRUINS 3, DEVILS 2
Jim Davis/Globe Staff
Winning may not be everything, but it’s about all the Bruins do these days, even when they show up with a game better suited for off-Broadway than the bright lights of prime-time NHL.
Case in point: Tuesday night’s 3-2 trimming of the Devils at the Garden, where the Bruins twice fell behind (1-0, 2-1) amid an early offensive onslaught by New Jersey, and ultimately squeezed out 2 points on goals by Riley Nash, Patrice Bergeron, and finally the winner on Brad Marchand’s strike (No. 21) with 33 seconds remaining in the second period.
“They had more urgency than us,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, whose goalie, Tuukka Rask, stifled all 20 New Jersey shots in the opening 20 minutes with what was by far his best performance of the season. “They wanted to play behind us, create some anxiety on the forecheck . . . they did a good job with that. I don’t think we executed as well as we needed to.”
But Rask, now without a regulation loss in his past 17 starts (15-0-2), proved the X-factor, stopping 37 shots (a season high for him) as the Bruins won their fourth straight and improved to 13-0-4 in their last 17 games.
Rask is now 18-8-4 this season and the Bruins, the NHL’s hottest team since mid-November, have rolled up a mesmerizing 22-3-4 (.828) record since turning their season around in mid-November after opening a lackluster 6-7-4. No one in the Original 31 has been this hot for this long, with the win over the Devils assuring the Bruins (now with 64 points) a 100-point season even if they were to play at .500 over their remaining 36 games prior to the playoffs.
“Just one of those nights that the puck doesn’t stick to you as much as you would like it to,” said Rask, noting that many of the Devils’ early shots were from bad angles, shots that he had trouble controlling. “But you’ve just got to battle.”
Bergeron’s goal, a one-timer on a 5-on-3 power play, was his 20th. His linemates, Marchand and David Pastrnak, also have cracked the 20-goal barrier this season, making the trio the hottest line in hockey (total: 61 goals).
Miles Wood and Damon Severson scored for the Devils, each strike coming in the second period, each one answered quickly by the Bruins, first by Nash, then by Bergeron.
Marblehead’s Cory Schneider, formerly of Boston College, exited the Devils net after two periods. He looked uncomfortable when trying to prevent Bergeron’s goal in the second period.
Streaking down the right side on a 2-on-1 with David Krejci, Marchand cashed in for the winner after deking Schneider to the ice with a clever move as he approached the crease. Marchand waited for the Schneider drop, then slid a soft-serve backhander for the GWG.
The Devils, after being stoned by Rask across 20:00, finally struck for the night’s first goal at 2:05 of the second when Wood tipped home a long-range Will Butcher wrister. Butcher had too much time to shoot and Wood, camped at the top of the crease, provided the touch that beat Rask just inside the right post.
The Bruins answered less than five minutes later, at 7:03, when Nash connected on a flat-angle wrister from the goal line. Set up with a Danton Heinen feed, Nash snapped a quick wrister that beat Schneider just inside the short side for his seventh strike of the season.
The Devils, faster and sharper than they’ve been in years, jumped out to a 2-1 lead at 9:03 moments after a Torey Krug slapper felled Bergeron in front of Schneider. The Devils, quick to sense Bergeron was out of the play, rushed up ice on a 3-on-2 break and it was Severson who finished off from the left side on a sweet backhand feed from the slot by Marcus Johansson.
Penalty woes, big penalty woes, then turned the night against the Devils. First, Wood was tagged with a pair of minors, one for cross-checking and the other for interference, at 11:30. Only 30 seconds later, Johansson was whistled off for tripping, leaving the Bruins with a 5-on-3 edge for at least two minutes. It turned out to be more.
First, at 12:53, Bergeron banged home his 20th of the season on the two-man advantage. Parked in the high inner edge of the right wing circle, Bergeron one-timed in a smooth relay from the goal line by Marchand. Tied, 2-2.
It then took the officiating crew upward of seven minutes to get the clock straight, play ultimately resuming with the Bruins still working with a 5-on-3 advantage — for the 1:10 remaining on Johansson’s penalty.
They were not able to add to the lead, perhaps having lost their momentum while the officiating crew tried to decipher the rulebook.
But Marchand, set up by Pastrnak, soon had the Bruins out front for the first time.
“I thought Tuukka was our best player,” noted Cassidy.
There could be no argument about that. Good goalies cover many shortcomings, and on a night when the Bruins were short of many things, Rask was long on answers.
“You try to play your game as good as you can,” he said, “and be there for your team. A lot of these wins, we’ve played such good hockey, I really haven’t had to make a lot of great saves. I guess that is what people expect, when you give up 10 or less scoring chances, you should win.”
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