GLENDALE, Ariz. — Phil Kessel smiled and looked at the rafters. He tossed a few curses toward the Arizona sky.
“Are you [expletive] kidding me?” he wondered aloud.
Jaroslav Halak had robbed him again.
The former Bruins sniper wasn’t the only Coyote who couldn’t solve the Bruins’ backup netminder, who started the second game of the season just as he did a year ago. Just like last Oct. 4 at Buffalo, he pitched a shutout.
Halak lifted his club to a 1-0 win over Arizona at a Black-and-Gold-friendly Gila River Arena, making 35 saves and earning the 48th clean sheet of his career. Halak, fourth among active goalies in shutouts (three ahead of Tuukka Rask), didn’t play in Boston’s run to the Stanley Cup Final.
But he ended his 2018-19 regular season with a shutout — 26 saves at Minnesota on April 4 — and began his 14th NHL season in miserly fashion.
“He was good, like Tuukka the other night,” said coach Bruce Cassidy, his team 2-0-0 on the backs of their netminders, who have stopped 56 of 57 shots at the midway point of this four-game road trip.
“Great road win for us,” said Halak, likely to back up Rask in Vegas on Tuesday. “We need to keep it going. We have two tough games before we get home.”
The 34-year-old Slovak outshined Arizona’s Darcy Kuemper, who was nearly as good (23 of 24 stops). Brad Marchand, who found room short-side on Kuemper in the first period, was the only time Kuemper cracked. The Bruins found it tough to generate chances, particularly on the bottom three lines (including a second line boasting David Krejci for the first time this year).
The good news: the power trio of Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak had a few more moments, and chances, than Thursday in Dallas.
Overall, the Bruins are still a work in progress, but they remain a very tough team to beat, even with the slimmest of leads.
“We got away with some of those decisions that we’re not going to every night,” Cassidy said. “Part of that was goaltending, part of that was they were off with their shooting. We’ll clean that up. … We just have some offensive issues right now, but I think our commitment to winning, playing the right way when we’re ahead late, has always been good.”
Don’t the ‘Yotes know it. The Bruins, who won, 2-1, last Nov. 17 here, tied the NHL’s longest winning streak over a single team. They have won 15 straight against the Fighting Kachinas, last losing on Oct. 9, 2010, in Prague. The league’s other longest streak is Tampa Bay’s ongoing 15-game run over Detroit.
The visitors opened Saturday with a mediocre 18 minutes. The final two minutes of the first period were good enough to grab a lead and all the offense Halak needed.
Marchand’s goal was his first of the season, the 100-point man from last year calling his line’s play unacceptable overall.
“We were a little bit better,” he said, “but we still weren’t very good.”
He connected with running mate Bergeron in a first period where Arizona had nine of the first 12 shots, even though the zone time was about even. Halak had to shrug aside a Vinnie Hinostroza breakaway chance even before Charlie McAvoy went to the box for interference 13:01 in.
But the Bruins (3 for 3 on the PK) snuffed that, leaning on the prime-time duo of Marchand and Bergeron. They weren’t attacking with their usual effectiveness, so Cassidy dropped linemate David Pastrnak to the second line.
It lasted one shift. The next time the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line hopped the boards, the group scored, Marchand sweeping home a feed from Bergeron with 1:19 left in the frame.
“I didn’t see anything,” said Marchand, who snuck one between Kuemper and the short-side post. “I just tried to get it on net.”
Kuemper rebounded, more than pulling his weight in the goalie battle.
After squaring his blocker to Pastrnak’s 2-on-1 shot from the right dot about seven minutes in, Marchand was looking at an empty net, and his second of the night. He couldn’t elevate the rebound chance, and Kuemper exploded to his left for a killer pad save.
Halak had more in store, too. He denied Clayton Keller in front on a tic-tac-toe play, preserving the slim lead.
“I just tried to get there,” Halak said. “Luckily it hit my pad, or my skate, or something. I wasn’t sure if it was behind the net or whatever.”
The Bruins’ power play, 1-for-4 in the opener and a bit off-kilter on the first unit, had a chance when Connor Clifton drew a high-stick at 17:59 of the second. The power play lasted eight seconds. Arizona veteran Michael Grabner, forever a threat on the penalty-kill breakaway, got loose. Pastrnak interfered with him before Grabner — six shorthanded goals last year, 21 in his career — could score another.
Grabner’s team never did, thanks largely to Halak, who weathered fleet-footed Arizona’s 14-9 shot edge in the final period to give the Bruins something on which to build.
“We’re such a deep team. We believe in our group. We’re so good,” Marchand said. “You’re not going to win the Cup and make playoffs the first two games of a year. It’s a process, and we’ve been through it before.”