After a 16-day break that included a COVID-19 shutdown for the Boston Bruins and then a league-wide shut down for six days, the Black and Gold returned to action for the first time since a 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders on Dec. 16, when they hosted the Buffalo Sabres on New Years Day. For the first time in a long time, coach Bruce Cassidy had most of his roster intact for the game.
In the Bruins loss on Long Island last month, Boston played without Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and Craig Smith among seven players that were in the league’s protocols. On Saturday against the Sabres, the Bruins rallied from two goals down after the second period for a, 4-3, overtime win to begin 2022.
Third Period Rally Fuels Come Back Victory
Things did not look good after the first 40 minutes with the Bruins outshooting the Sabres, 26-13, but trailing 3-1. That all changed early in the final period, thanks to, believe it or not, some secondary scoring. Jake DeBrusk supplied his linemates with his best rush of the season that allowed Nick Foligno to score his first goal of the season. Then 1:25 later, Taylor Hall, who has also struggled this season putting the puck in the net, tied the game with a toe-drag wrist shot under the crossbar.
The Bruins took advantage of Buffalo playing their third game in four days in the final period by holding a 14-4 advantage in shots. Overtime lasted just 34 seconds as Charlie Coyle came off the bench, took a pass from Marchand, and beat Sabres goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen with a wrist shot to the far post to complete the comeback. It was Coyle’s eighth goal of the season and the irony was that he was the final member of the Black and Gold to clear protocols in time to play in the game.
Cassidy’s New Look Lines Performed Well
At practice on Friday, Cassidy moved around his lines in an effort to get some of his struggling players some confidence. Smith, who scored the first Bruins goal in the second period, was bumped up to the top line with Marchand and Bergeron, while David Pastrnak was moved to the second line with Hall and Erik Haula. Coyle, who had spent most of the season as the second-line center, dropped down to the third line with Foligno and DeBrusk.
For one game, the shifting of lines worked with each line scoring at least one goal. Smith fits in well with Marchand and Bergeron on the first line. The trio combined for 11 shots in the game, while the new-look line of Hall, Haula, and Pastrnak combined for nine shots, with Hall recording five. Hall looked like a different player with two new linemates as he had a different jump in his game and was aggressive on the forecheck and shooting the puck. Haula provided a net-front presence on Hall’s goal, something that Bruins have been lacking. Not to be overlooked, the line of Foligno, DeBrusk, and Coyle had their moments as well, with the trio beginning the third-period rally with Foligno’s garbage goal off a rebound.
It was only one game, but the returns were positive from the changes by Cassidy. The question is, can they keep it going moving forward? We’ll find out on Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings.
Defensive Zone Struggles Nearly Cost Bruins
For the second time this season, Linus Ullmark faced his former team and after winning the first meeting in a rather less than stressful manner, his teammates provided more work than was necessary on Saturday. Ullmark made 21 saves, but the three goals he gave up were all hardly his fault.
Vinnie Hinostroza scored the first Sabres goal in the first period when the Bruins failed to clear the puck out of their end. The puck found the 27-year-old Hinostroza and his wrist shot deflected off of Foligno for a 1-0 lead. In the second period, Boston once again failed to clear the puck out of the zone after Smith tied the game and Joel Skinner made the Bruins pay when he pounced on a loose puck and beat Ullmark through a screen with a wrist shot. Later in the second period, Smith took an offensive zone penalty, which led to a Buffalo power-play goal when Alex Tuch caught the Black and Gold running around in their own end and he one-timed a wrist shot from the slot over Ullmark’s shoulder and under the crossbar.
The common theme on all three Sabres goals? Charlie McAvoy was on the ice for each one and his partner Matt Grzelcyk was on the ice for two of them. There were times in the game where the Bruins sacrificed their body to block nine shots in front of Ullmark, but they need to do a better job moving forward of getting the puck out of their own end when they have a chance. They have been burned too many times this season and it has cost them games when they have left their goalies alone on an island and facing more shots than they need to.
All in all, it was two points that the Bruins needed as they began a stretch of 56 games remaining in the 2021-22 season, the most of any club heading into Saturday’s game. There are going to be few off days moving forward and Boston needs to collect as many points as they can on a nightly basis to stay within the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference.