Through the first 26 games of the 2021-22 season, the Boston Bruins failed to notch a signature win on their resume. That all changed on Jan. 8 when they beat the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning on the road, 5-2. Two nights later, they collected an impressive 7-3 victory over the Washington Capitals. Two wins against two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference was an impressive two-game road trip.
Saturday afternoon at the TD Garden, the vaunted Bruins schedule continued as they hosted the Western Conference-leading Nashville Predators. The third time proved to be the charm for the Black and Gold in taking down one of the NHL’s top teams, as Taylor Hall scored in overtime for a 4-3 win. Here are three takeaways from the Bruins’ eighth win in their last nine games.
Vaakanainen Continues to Impress
The Bruins defense has been hit with injuries and COVID-19 protocols. The case could even be made that Charlie McAvoy is playing through an injury that is not fully healed, but youngster Urho Vaakanainen is continuing to develop into an NHL defenseman.
For the third consecutive game, he logged over 20 minutes (21:09 against the Predators) and was second to his partner in the game, McAvoy with 31 shifts. He was second out of the defensemen in the game with three shots on the net, but his biggest play of the game was in overtime to make up for a penalty late in the third period in a tied game.
After his teammates killed the penalty in the final period to the extra session, Vaakanainen broke up Nashville’s zone entry in overtime, which led to a 3-on-2 break. Vaakanainen made a pass to Hall, who passed to Pastrnak whose shot was stopped by Predators goalie Juuse Saros, but Hall crashed the net and was able to score the game-winning goal into an open net off the rebound.
Vaakanainen is going to force some tough decisions for coach Bruce Cassidy when the Bruins get healthy on defense, as to who is going to be in and who is going to be out of the lineup.
Bruins Win Special Teams Battle
Coming into the game, Nashville’s power play had been clicking, which moved it up to fourth in the NHL. One of the messages from Cassidy before the game should have been to stay out of the penalty box, which the Bruins did for the most part, but when forced to kill penalties, they kept the Predators off the scoreboard.
In the second period, Brandon Carlo was called for cross-checking, but the Bruins top defensive penalty killer found himself in the box next to his usual penalty-killing partner, Derek Forbort, who was serving a major for fighting Michael McCarron 32 seconds before Carlo was sent off.
Boston killed the penalty with Vaakanainen and Tyler Lewington, in the lineup for a second consecutive game, getting some major time on ice down a man. Nashville’s other man advantage was late in the third period of a 3-3 game when Vaakanainen was whistled for his minor penalty, but again the Bruins were up to the challenge to kill the two minutes.
The Bruins had one power play in the game and took advantage in the third period. Brad Marchand buried a wrist shot from the right circle to give the Black and Gold a 3-2 lead. That goal and the two penalty kills by Boston turned out to be huge at the end of the game.
Bruins Survive Defensive Zone Sloppiness
Early in the game, the Bruins had excellent zone exits, but late in the first period and in the third period, they failed to get two pucks out of the zone and the Predators made them pay.
Lewington failed to clear the puck out of the zone in the opening period, which allowed Colton Sissons to collect the puck, skate between the circles, and beat Linus Ullmark to cut the Boston lead to 2-1. In the third period after Marchand’s power-play goal, Pastrnak attempted to flip the puck out of the zone from along the boards. Instead of it going up in the air, it slid along the ice to Philip Tomasino, who made a pass to Roman Josi who scored on a wrist shot through a screen to tie the game.
Once again the Bruins were able to survive defensive zone turnovers that turned into goals, but clearly, they need to clean things up in getting pucks out of the zone. Vaakanainen made up for his penalty with the defensive play in overtime, Pastrnak made up for his defensive blunder with his overtime rush that led to Hall’s goal. The Bruins will not be as lucky each night if they continue to make mistakes in their defensive end.
Boston closed out an impressive week with three wins in seven days over three of the top teams in the NHL. After two days off, things don’t get any easier as they host the red-hot Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday night, before the Capitals follow two nights later. As good as the Bruins are playing, they have to continue their strong play against more of the iron in the Eastern Conference.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. A frequent user of the Oxford comma. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.