Bruins enjoy 2-for-1 special in win over Flames
The Bruins are now two-thirds of the way through the regular season, eagerly awaiting the start of the playoffs in April.
In other words, they’ve officially reached maintenance time, their record now 35-12-8 after Tuesday night’s methodical 5-2 dismantling of the Calgary Flames in front of a full house of 17,565 on Causeway Street.
Patrice Bergeron scored twice (team-high Nos. 26, 27), Riley Nash did the same (Nos. 9, 10), and team captain Zdeno Chara finished it off with a 180-foot empty-netter, completing a three-goal third period that delivered their 19th win this season on home ice.
“We made it a lot more difficult for them to get to the front of the net,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, reviewing a night that had his charges playing far more like the club that recently went 18 games without a regulation loss. “We didn’t give them odd-man rushes. Everything they got, they earned. And I think we did a little better job being a little more belligerent in the scoring area, getting to the goaltender — getting second chances.
“So we played more to our style of play and how we want to wear teams down.”
For Cassidy, it was his 82nd game behind the Boston bench, the equivalent of a full NHL season, after taking over for Claude Julien last Feb. 7. Cassidy is now a robust 53-20-9 for 115 points since taking over a team that was in peril of missing last year’s playoffs and seemingly incapable of playing with the top teams in the league.
Now about to start a five-game trip Saturday night in Vancouver, Cassidy’s club is bearing down on Tampa for the top spot in the league’s overall standings. The Bruins could play .500 hockey the rest of the way and still finish with 105 points.
Tuukka Rask finished with 28 saves and improved his record to 23-9-4, his best work coming in the first period when the Flames struck twice in the opening 10 minutes on their first seven shots. He stoned them the rest of the way, his teammates buttoning up the back end of the ice and allowing the Flames only 17 shots over the final 40 minutes.
“It was 2-2 going into the third,” noted Flames backliner Travis Hamonic. “It could have gone either way at that point. They got that one at the start of the third and we just couldn’t get back into it.”
The tiebreaker, 3-2, belonged to Bergeron, as did the 4-2 strike. Patrice the Thief, the premier defensive forward in the game, now has scored 17 goals in 19 games, the hottest streak of his storied career.
If this were Bergeron’s own Olympic Games, it’s as if he’s Team Canada and everyone else is lowly Switzerland.
“I feel like the looks are there,” said Bergeron, noting he has become more conscious of shooting. “Brad [Marchand] is finding me and I am trying to get open, whether it’s my trying to shoot more, or it’s the situation presenting itself more, I don’t know. I am just trying to make the play that’s in front of me and lately it’s been shots more than plays.”
The Bruins needed all of 28 seconds to get on the board, Nash cashing in for the 1-0 lead off of David Backes’s feed out from behind the net. Matt Grzelcyk set up the strike with a strong pinch along the left wing board, setting up his pass to Backes for the front-of-the-net relay to Nash.
But the Flames, clinging to one of the final playoff spots in the west, answered only 1:35 later, off a Grzelcyk miscue deep in the Boston end. Grzelcyk, in a puck exchange with Noel Acciari, saw the puck ricochet off Garnet Hathaway and go right to the stick of Sam Bennett for the easy doorstep pot against Tuukka Rask.
Struggling to generate shots on Flames goaltender David Rittich, the Bruins soon found themselves in a 2-1 hole when ex-BC standout Johnny Gaudreau knocked home his 19th of the season at 9:12.
Rask turned back attempts by Mark Giordano (top of circle slapper) and Matt Stajan (top of crease rebound), but couldn’t prevent the tricky Gaudreau picking up the loose change at the left post and knocking it home before Adam McQuaid could close off the play.
Nash scored again in the second period for his 10th goal this season, matching his career high and lifting the Bruins into the 2-2 tie at 16:20.
Streaking toward the net, Nash cashed in on a pass from Tim Schaller out of the left circle after Schaller collected an alert feed by Charlie McAvoy.
The assist was the first for Schaller since Jan. 2, and it was McAvoy’s first point since undergoing a heart procedure in late January.