If there is one grand assessment to be made after Tuesday night’s solid 3-1 win for the Boston Bruins over the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena, it’s that the Bruins are going to be just fine with eight games left in the regular season.
Sure, the New York Rangers still trail the Boston Bruins by a handful of points in the East Division for the final playoff spot. And the East Division playoff picture is going to be the ultimate toss-up between those top four teams that do actually make the postseason with the Capitals, Penguins, Islanders and Bruins all very evenly matched.
The only thing that seems to be tripping up the B’s right now is the heavy schedule, a whopping 17 games in the month of April, that they’re playing down the stretch, with tired minds and heavy skating legs featuring prominently in back-to-back losses in Buffalo and Pittsburgh.
With a few days rest, the Bruins best players dominated the Penguins in the 3-1 win and left their head coach with little to critique afterward.
That is the ultimate sign that a hockey team just played a close-to-perfect game.
“A lot to like from everybody tonight, to be honest with you. We played a good, determined game. Our top guys did the finishing,” said Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “Our bottom guys did a lot of the dirty work, the grunt work, the physicality. It’s a good formula for us.”
It wasn’t all there when the Bruins were mismanaging the puck en route to giving Buffalo six goals last weekend, and there certainly wasn’t enough offensive push in the Sunday matinee shutout at the hands of the Penguins. But the Bruins once again proved they will be able to score even strength goals against quality teams with both David Krejci and Taylor Hall kicking in dazzling snipes, and the Perfection Line dominating from the very first shift of the game.
Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak combined for the Marchand second-effort score in the third period, 14 shots on net and 22 shot attempts, which is their level when they’re really buzzing during the postseason. Bergeron won 20-of-30 draws and the trio routinely torched Sidney Crosby’s line in a head-to-head matchup that I’m not sure the Penguins are going to want in a potential playoff matchup.
Krejci and Hall each finished with four shots on net apiece and that second line had 12 shot attempts as well, giving the top-6 forwards plenty of puck possession (34 shot attempts) and offensive output (three goals).
The much-maligned bottom-6 forwards were solid as well.
Trent Frederic jumped back into the lineup with a gritty, energetic performance that had the Penguins agitated while Frederic, Sean Kuraly, Chris Wagner and Curtis combined for 20 registered hits. Everybody up and down the lineup crowded the opposing net and got to the inside ice that’s been inconsistent at best for the B’s throughout the season.
“The way our team is built we’re at our best when we’re rolling four lines and everybody is kind on the same page out there,” said Tuukka Rask. “We’re playing a tight game, chip in and chip out and then when the time is there to make a play they do. And the skill takes over. When the bottom lines aren’t scoring, they’re doing valuable work otherwise. When everybody is on the same page like we were today, I think we have a better chance of winning.”
Jeremy Lauzon dropped the gloves and hammered Teddy Blueger in a fight, and Charlie McAvoy created a number of transition opportunities in his 27 plus minutes of ice time, including the nasty Krejci backhander that eventually opened up the scoring midway through the game.
None of it even mentions the solid goaltending performance Rask, who stopped 25 shots and has won four of his five starts with a .937 save percentage since coming back from a suspected back injury.
Add it all together and it’s a clear picture of what the Bruins are going to bring to the Stanley Cup playoffs in a couple of weeks. It’s confirmation to the B’s players that they have the goods when they kick things up a notch, and a statement to the Blueshirts that they aren’t going to be passing Boston in the standings over the season’s final weeks.
If anything, it looks like the Black and Gold are going to climb past an Isles team struggling since the loss of Anders Lee. They are just one point back of the Islanders with two games in hand and wins in seven of their last nine games since solidifying the roster at the NHL trade deadline.
“We addressed some things before the game. Obviously, we know where we’re at in the standings and what’s going on around us. We talked about some stuff and for the most part we stuck to the game plan and did exactly what we talked about,” said Krejci. “I think we’re a good team, especially when guys do what they’re good at. That’s what happened tonight in a big game as the last one on a road trip.”
Prior to last night’s win the Bruins had a 92.9 percent chance of qualifying for the playoffs, and that number just went up after tacking on another two points against the Penguins.
Now they’re looking at two more at TD Garden against the hapless Sabres to close out the week.
At this point it’s much less “if” and much more “when” the Boston Bruins qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs, and Tuesday night gave them a pretty good barometer of just how postseason-ready they are once they settle into Stanley Cup playoff mode.