Things are heating up pretty quickly for the Boston Bruins as the calendar is about to turn to April and the final month of the 2021-22 regular season. In this edition of Bruins Weekly, the Toronto Maple Leafs send a clear message to the Black and Gold, the power play is becoming a concern, a new defenseman is settling in nicely while another is finding himself on the outside, former teammates make a return to the TD Garden, and more.
Maple Leafs Send Bruins Message
Going into Tuesday night’s game at the TD Garden, the Bruins were looking for a statement win over the Maple Leafs. Instead, Toronto handed the Black and Gold a statement of their own jumping out to a 6-2 lead through periods before leaving Boston with a 6-4 victory in a game that was not really as close as the final score indicates.
Related: Maple Leafs Pose Big Challenge for Bruins
The Bruins failed to handle the speed and skill of the Toronto forwards, who scored three goals in each of the first two periods to chase Jeremy Swayman from the game with Linus Ullmark taking over in the third period. Boston was outshot, 34-32, and outplayed in just about every category. In two games this season, Boston has been outscored 11-6 in two losses to Toronto, but the more concerning thing is how the Black and Gold have played in terms of turning the puck over, not adjusting to the speed of the Maple Leafs and just digging too deep of a hole to climb out of in both games.
“I mean, you hope it’s a one off,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, whose club fell behind Toronto by two points in the Atlantic Division standings. “We’ve been going pretty well, and the guys were trying to work their way back in the game, whereas early in the year, I think sometimes – I don’t know if we got feeling sorry for ourselves or doubted ourselves, but we’re well beyond that in these types of games.
“I think we were working back to it, and obviously some guys got frustrated with some calls, so they took themselves out of the right mindset, so you have to work through that…it’s a loss, a home loss. They were clearly better than us – a team we may see down the road, so it’s disappointing in that regard.”
Toronto came into the TD Garden and sent a message to the Bruins that despite their recent success, they were not going to be intimidated on the road and outplayed, outworked, and was the better team for 60 minutes. This was not an encouraging sign for the Bruins should the two teams meet up in the Stanley Cup playoffs. There is one more meeting on April 29 in Toronto in the regular-season finale.
Power Play Struggles Becoming a Concern?
Boston has won 14 of their last 18 games and what makes the run even more impressive is that they are doing it without much contributions from their power play. The Bruins have scored just four goals in their last 26 opportunities. There have been times prior to their game against the New York Islanders last Saturday where the power play has struggled to just set up in the offensive zone, never mind creating good scoring chances.
Captain Patrice Bergeron missed four games during the power play struggles with an arm injury and he returned to the lineup during the 6-3 victory over the Islanders. The Black and Gold had two first-period power plays and they were the two best opportunities that they have had in a while. On the first chance, the first unit kept the puck in the zone for nearly the entire two minutes with some good puck movement, created several scoring chances, and looked like the unit that was clicking earlier in the season.
On their second chance in the final minute of the opening period, Taylor Hall redirected a Charlie McAvoy pass past New York goalie Semyon Varlamov for a goal. Against the Maple Leafs, the Bruins scored on their first opportunity when David Pastrnak’s pass across the front of the net was deflected into the goal by a Toronto defenseman.
It was not too long ago that the Bruins’ power play was ranked fourth in the league, but they went into the matchup with Toronto with the 10th ranked unit. The fact that the Bruins have been banking key points in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference getting very little production from their power play is a little surprising.
Lindholm Settling in With Bruins
When general manager (GM) Don Sweeney acquired Hampus Lindholm from the Anaheim Ducks, it was thought that the 28-year-old left-shot was going to be paired with McAvoy. While he is going to add help on the defensive end, he has given the Bruins’ offense a jolt in his first three games wearing the Spoked-B.
Related: Bruins Acquire Hampus Lindholm From Ducks
In Boston’s 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 24, the Bruins were trailing 1-0 in the second period when Lindholm began a breakout out of the defensive zone with a pass to Erik Haula, whose cross-ice pass to Pastrnak allowed the Bruins leading goal-scorer to brake in behind the Tampa Bay defense and led to a goal to tie the game. Lindholm has led several other breakouts that have led to chances and he is complementing McAvoy nicely.
The McAvoy/Lindholm duo 5-on-5 in the defensive end has limited the opponent’s high-danger chances, limited shots in front of Swayman and Ullmark, and the Bruins have outscored their opponents. It’s still early, but the early returns have been just as good as Sweeney and the Bruins would have hoped.
Reilly Finding Himself as Odd Man Out, Could Be Back in Lineup Thursday
When the Bruins acquired Lindholm, there was going to be some left-shot defenseman left on the outside looking in during games. In the last three games, Mike Reilly has been the guy finding himself as a healthy scratch. That scenario may change following Tuesday’s dismal performance from the defenseman in their loss to the Maple Leafs.
Reilly, who was acquired from the Ottawa Senators at the 2021 trade deadline, re-signed with the Bruins last summer for three years at $3 million per season and has been inconsistent this season. In 57 games, he has four goals and 14 points and has given Cassidy some key penalty-killing minutes, but finding consistency has been Reilly’s biggest problem. Finding more ice-time for Reilly is going to be difficult as Derek Forbort, another key penalty-killer, is the most likely player that he would replace, unless an injury occurs to Lindholm or Matt Grzelcyk.
Bruins Welcoming Back Rask
The Bruins are going to honor former goalie Tuukka Rask against the New Jersey Devils Thursday night with a ceremonial puck drop before the game. Rask, who tried to come back from offseason hip surgery in January before calling it a career in early February, is the franchises’ all-time leader in wins with 308 over 15 seasons.
Rask won a Stanley Cup in 2011 with the Bruins and was the 2014 Vezina Trophy winner. He finished his career with a 2.28 goals-against average (GAA) and a .921 save percentage (SV%).
Chara Most Likely Played Final Game in Boston
When Zdeno Chara signed with the Washington Capitals right before the 2020-21 season, it was strange to not see him wearing the Black and Gold. After the Bruins eliminated the Capitals in the first round of the 2021 playoffs, there was a lot of talk as to whether or not he would retire or come back for one more season at 44 years old. Chara signed a contract with the New York Islanders last offseason and most likely made his final appearance at the TD Garden Saturday afternoon.
In the Bruins’ win over the Islanders, Chara, who turned 45 on March 18, finished with 18:46 in time-on-ice and registered an assist on Brock Nelson’s first-period goal when Nelson put home the rebound of a Chara shot that hit the crossbar. Chara is averaging 18:23 a night this season and has 10 assists. He took a couple of hits in the game and took his time getting up. The next time the former Bruins captain is on TD Garden ice is when his No. 33 is lifted into the rafters.
The Week Ahead
- Thursday: vs. New Jersey Devils, 7 p.m.
- Saturday: vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, 7 p.m.
- Monday: at Columbus Blue Jackets, 7 p.m.
- Tuesday: at Detroit Red Wings, 7:30 p.m.