While the Red Sox are making their fans wish for another six weeks of baseball winter, the local hockey team is making all the right moves.
The Bruins (32-10-12), running neck and neck with Washington and St. Louis for first place in the NHL for much of the season, made it four wins in a row Tuesday with a 4-0 pounding of visiting Vancouver.
Goals by Charlie Coyle, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, and Karson Kuhlman put them on top, but their three-zone play gave the Pacific Division-leading Canucks (30-19-5) little chance of a win.
“We were the better team tonight,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said.
No doubt. Boston kept the visitors at arm’s length all night, breaking up passes and would-be plays and letting few of the 25 shots test Tuukka Rask, who posted shutout No. 3 of the season. There were responses (Sean Kuraly, after a healthy scratch, played with his hair on fire) and confidence-inspiring finishes (Marchand’s hands are back; he has scored in two straight games). The Bruins even won an offside challenge on the opening goal.
“We’re playing hard and fast and our forwards are so good at the transition and forechecking side of the game,” said defenseman Charlie McAvoy, who had two assists. “No matter who’s in there, we play a responsible brand of hockey.”
About the only gripe: the Bruins’ formidable power play (second in the league) went 1 for 6, despite having 2:15 of 5-on-3 time.
There’s always something.
The Bruins were dealing with an opponent at less than full strength; the Canucks came to town at the end of a three-in-four stretch, their body clocks adjusting from Pacific to Eastern Standard Time. The Bruins led, 2-0, after 40 minutes, and doubled up the visitors in shots (30-15). It could have been double the score, too, had netminder Jacob Markstrom not come to play.
The lanky Swede (6 feet 6 inches, 202 pounds) made 38 saves, denying David Pastrnak seven times (including some golden chances). He also booted away a loud Krejci one-timer in the middle frame. Markstrom collected the win in last season’s wild 8-5 meeting in November. He was more than good enough to steal a point Tuesday.
On Canucks power plays, Markstrom made more saves on Bruins breakaways (3) than his teammates had shots (1).
The Bruins cracked Markstrom with 5:36 left in the first, when a McAvoy shot from the point produced a big rebound off the pad. The Canucks didn’t pick up Coyle, who curled high in the slot and came cruising down Broadway to pick up the rebound and pot his 10th goal of the year. Coyle has eight points (3-5—8) in his last 11 games.
Vancouver coach Travis Green challenged for offside, since it appeared Kuraly hadn’t cleared the zone when McAvoy pushed the puck over the blue line on a re-entry. But McAvoy walked the line without touching the puck in the zone, essentially creating a delayed offside until Kuraly tagged up.
“When I looked at it, I thought, ‘Jeez, that looks like it was offside,’ ” said Cassidy, who realized McAvoy’s wise move upon replay. “I was just happy to see the goal stand.”
No team has more overturned goals than the Bruins (5), who are tied with the Blues and Jets in that dubious category.
Just when the Canucks were thinking about stealing a point, Marchand made it 2-0 with 4:25 left in the period by dunking a quick centering feed from Patrice Bergeron. The left winger, his hands missing last month, scored his 23rd of the year.
Kuraly, out of uniform on Saturday for inconsistent play, responded with an assist, four shots (six attempts), five hits, and a drawn penalty. Skating left wing on a line with Coyle and Anders Bjork — a promotion from his usual fourth-line center role — he was a factor.
“I liked it a lot better,” Cassidy said of his game. “He had the puck, he was assertive, getting to the net. All we’re going to hear about is that move from him with about a minute to go [a spin move in the offensive zone]. We can live with that.
“He showed the player he can be for us.”
He fed Krejci for the 3-0 goal, the centerman finishing a second-effort chance in the slot. That was one of two goals in the final 5:51.
Kuhlman, making a case to stick in the lineup through the Feb. 24 trade deadline, knocked in a reverse backhander with 1:50 to go, off a pass from Coyle, that caromed off defenseman Troy Stecher in front.
Though this game didn’t reach the Winnipeg boil-over of last Friday — no fights — the Bruins played with bite. Matt Grzelcyk dumped All-Star Elias Pettersson on his first shift, a tone-setter, though late and behind the play. Pettersson returned and laid three hits of his own, but Green was salty about it afterward.
“You know, what, I’m so frustrated with it,” the Vancouver coach said. “This guy is one of the best players in the league and he gets hit when he’s totally defenseless. It’s two seconds after he lets go of the puck . . . he feels like there’s no way he’s going to get hit in that spot.”
Despite his team taking a beating on the scoreboard, top-line forward J.T. Miller wasn’t impressed with Boston.
“I don’t think they’re anything special,” said Miller, who faced the Bruins in the playoffs during his time with the Rangers and Lightning. “I mean, they’re a good hockey team. But I’m not sitting here saying, ‘Oh man, we’re playing this team tonight.’ We’re a good hockey team. We should have swag about that.”
His coach, Green, was less defiant:
“We were trying to push back and they didn’t budge.”