First line leads the charge as Bruins beat Devils
NEWARK — The Bruins continued their pre-playoff push here Thursday night, only 48 hours after an easy whitewashing of the Islanders, and after a slow start they strolled to a 5-1 win over the Devils that padded a little more comfort into their hold on second place in the Atlantic Division.
Perhaps even more comforting, their No. 1 line of Patrice Bergeron (two goals), David Pastrnak (one goal) and Brad Marchand (three assists) looked like their old Primo Trio selves on a night the Bruins moved within 1 point of again reaching the 100-point plateau.
With eight games remaining in the regular season, the Bruins own a 6-point lead over Toronto for second place in the Atlantic. If they can hold that edge, it would allow them home ice in Round 1 of the playoffs, and what is all but a guaranteed best-of-seven first round against the Leafs.
“I thought eventually we’d find our game,” said coach Bruce Cassidy, his squad held shotless for almost the first 10 minutes of the first period before a crowd of 14,649 at the Rock. “I think we are a veteran enough group to know that — and eventually we did.”
Danton Heinen and David Backes also scored for the Bruins, each of them ending protracted goal-scoring droughts. Tuukka Rask, who needed to make only 13 stops for the 5-0 win on Long Island, needed to be sharper here and turned back 21 shots en route to improving his record to 26-10-5.
Amid all the positives, the Bruins lost the services of third-line center Sean Kuraly in the third period with what appeared to be an injury to his right hand when he blocked a shot, leading to the Heinen goal that pushed the Bruins to a 3-1 lead. Looking to front a shot in the Boston end, Kuraly watched a sizzling slapper by Steven Santini bang off his right glove, seemingly across his knuckles.
Kuraly, after initially reporting to the dressing room in obvious pain, returned momentarily to help kill a power play. But he soon departed again and was not seen for the remainder of the third period.
“Obviously didn’t return, so that’s never good news,” noted Cassidy. “We’ll see.”
Cassidy, upon leaving the building, was not sure if Kuraly would accompany the squad on its late-night flight to Florida for Saturday’s game against the Panthers.
“If it’s an injury that’s going to keep him out of the lineup, I suspect he would either go back from here,” said Cassidy, “or sometime tomorrow.”
Kuraly was not available to the media after the game. As he left the building, he was clutching a plastic bottle in right hand, which was not bandaged.
Bergeron, whose second goal (empty-netter) was his 30th this season, scored the first goal of the night in what was otherwise a very s-l-e-e-p-y first period. Zdeno Chara initiated the play with a cross-ice pass to Pastrnak that allowed the Bruins to put pressure on ex-BC goalie Cory Schneider. Ultimately it was Pastrnak who fired a pass across from the right-wing circle for Bergeron to pot into an open left side.
“I have to be honest, I felt way worse than last game,” said Pastrnak, who landed three of his five shots on net and reclaimed the club’s goal scoring lead (32). “Hopefully it’s going to be better and better every game — you know, I am used to knowing what play I have before I get the puck. Now I have to stop and make sure I get the puck first so I don’t lose it.”
The Bruins continued to struggle to create offense in the second, but again made the most of it, this time with their third shot in the period, Pastrnak connecting for a 2-0 lead.
The scoring play began with a faceoff in the left-wing circle, Bergeron using a second effort to push the puck slightly toward the goal line for Marchand, who then dished across the crease for the open Pastrnak. The Czech right winger made easy work of it with a quick lift at the right post for his team-high 32 goal of the season at 12:58.
The Devils, riddled with injuries this season, cut the lead in half with 5:09 left in the second when ex-Bruin Drew Stafford beat Rask with a quick snap from the left side. Pavel Zacha made the key feed, from the right-wing circle, and Rask could not move right to left in time to cut down Stafford’s attempt. Goal No. 3 of the season for Stafford, a Bruins killer in his days with the Sabres.
Heinen’s goal was his first since Feb. 12. Backes, who tipped home a Noel Acciari shot, hadn’t knocked one home since Jan. 17.
“I think it was 22 games since my last one,” said Backes. “I was looking at the stat sheet this morning and I said that was enough, we have to find a way to get on there. I had a little more of a shooting mentality out there (9 attempts, 5 on net) . . . one off the cross, another through a crowd, I don’t know how [Cory Schneider] saved.”
Eight games to go. The Bruins have 45 wins and 99 points. And all but a guarantee they’ll open the ’19 playoffs at home.