The Bruins’ first line is a must-watch for anyone who appreciates hockey.
They find seams where they will be, not where they are. They finish plays that develop at a breakneck pace. The levels of skill and chemistry are off the charts.
While superstars David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand (goal each) made their usual drops in the piggy bank Tuesday night, the Bruins banked a 4-2 win over the Maple Leafs in another way: The supporting cast cashed in.
Boston’s rejiggered second line, missing injured center David Krejci and right wing Karson Kuhlman, deposited a go-ahead goal at 6:35 of the third. Brett Ritchie scored his second as a Bruin, and fellow newcomer Par Lindholm sealed the deal. It gave the Bruins (6-1-2) their first regulation win in a week, and their third point in consecutive games over their Atlantic Division rivals.
The winner came when Charlie Coyle and Jake DeBrusk forechecked their way into a chance. DeBrusk shot, and Ritchie, the ex-Star, cleaned up the rebound. That’s not how Boston drew up a second line last offseason, but against a John Tavares-less rival, it was enough of a yield.
Particularly since Lindholm provided the dagger with 2:03 left, dinging the team that brought in the 28-year-old from Sweden last year, and that top line keeps producing highlights.
Tuukka Rask was solid in Boston’s net, stopping 27 of 29 in his 500th career game. In win No. 269, he allowed two second-period goals on Bruins breakdowns: on a penalty kill to Alex Kerfoot, and on a hammer of a slapper from Kasperi Kapanen that came off a sluggish backcheck from the forwards and a slack gap from the defense. They cleaned up in the final frame.
“We’ve been around,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “They recognize when the game’s on the line and they need to step it up.”
The Bruins got their money’s worth all night from the top line. Pastrnak scored a beauty of a power-play goal at 17:15 of the first, giving Boston a 1-0 lead.
It was absurdly skilled: He had his back to Leafs goalie Michael Hutchinson when he took a pass from Marchand, on the goal line, about 4 feet off the right post. Pastrnak pulled the puck between his legs and found room underneath the pads of Hutchinson (four goals allowed on 39 shots).
Still gliding backward, Pastrnak pointed several times at the puck in the net.
“I’m not really happy about that celly,” he said. “I’m going to go for some lessons from Jake DeBrusk.”
Pastrnak was so demonstrative because his first goal of the evening did not count.
At 10:48 of the first, Pastrnak was denied. After he and his linemates worked over Toronto’s Auston Matthews-centered top line, Pastrnak ended a net-front battle by sweeping a shot off the bar and in. Toronto challenged that Patrice Bergeron was offside.
He was, even though he was waiting at the blue line when Pastrnak entered the zone, and was only offside because he started a crossover too early . . . 12 seconds before the goal.
The Leafs tied it at 4:23 of the second period, when the Bruins left a trailing Kapanen alone and the Finn stepped into a drop pass and smacked it past Rask from 41 feet.
But Pastrnak wasn’t done, and Boston had the lead again less than two minutes later.
All Pastrnak did to set up Marchand for the 2-1 goal was haul the puck up the boards from behind the net, with Matthews and Andreas Johnsson chasing him, and sling it cross-ice, through three Leaf sticks, to Marchand’s tape before Mitch Marner could recognize the winger cruising into the slot. Simple enough, right?
“Unreal,” said an appreciative Lindholm.
The Leafs’ second-unit power play tied it again at 12:54 of the second, forcing the penalty killers, and Rask, out of position with their puck movement. Kerfoot, ex- of Harvard, finished from the high slot after William Nylander and Kapanen went east-west.
After Ritchie’s go-ahead strike, the Bergeron line had two glittering chances on successive shifts, including a steal by Bergeron on the forecheck, a quick feed to Pastrnak in the slot, and a one-touch to Marchand, all alone in front. Toronto had no answer for them. Few teams do.
They couldn’t get another, though, and it was tense to the end.
Sean Kuraly’s high-sticking penalty against Johnsson with 4:12 left forced Boston to kill two minutes. The Leafs had nothing, calling time out 45 seconds into their man-advantage. It was their last gasp.
Kuraly sprang from the box and went on a two-on-one break with Lindholm, who cleaned up a Kuraly shot that Hutchinson couldn’t glove. Lindholm equaled his goal total from last season (one), in 64 games between Toronto and Winnipeg, and displayed a bit of postgame confidence.
“We can score goals, the other lines,” Lindholm said. “We’re not a one-line team.”
Follow Matt Porter on Twitter at @mattyports