The Bruins had been so hot lately that it's easy to see a point in the not-too-distant future when the team stops getting points from every game it plays, and last night's game, for stretches, looked a little bit like a correction. But somehow, it didn't matter, the Bruins still grabbed two points, even if they surrendered the OT marker to a non-divisional opponent.
Make no mistake, though, the visiting New Jersey Devils threw virtually everything they had at the Bruins at TD Garden on Sunday. At one point, the Devils squad, playing on a back-to-back, was outshooting Boston 21-10. The inconsistency in getting the puck out of the defensive zone that'd plagued the Bruins hodgepodge defensive corps had returned, and New Jersey, not exactly the speediest squad in the NHL, had the Bruins pinned for multiple shifts.
The Bruins had actually leaped on Schneider relatively early, with Loui Eriksson losing the Devils coverage in front and taking a fabulous backhand pass from David Krejci and blasting it by the New Jersey goaltender. With the Bruins on a full 24 hours more rest, there was a briefing feeling that Boston might just keep right on rolling; the Bruins came in 4-0-1 in its last five, and it would not have been shocking to see the switch flipped against a team playing on less than 24 hours rest.
Instead, the Devils, and Schneider, rose to the occasion. Aided by two Power Plays but not exclusively benefiting from the man advantage, New Jersey limited the Bruins to zero SOG in the final nine minutes-plus of the first, going up on the Bruins 8-4 in terms of pucks on net. The Devils couldn't break through, thanks to some nifty goaltending by Jonas Gustavsson and The Hockey Gods, the former of which probably played his best game of the year while the latter contrived to keep the puck out of the net on at least one mad scramble where Gustavsson had no idea where the puck was.
The Jersey surge continued into the second period, as Andy Greene leveled the score by re-directing Lee Stempniak's pass to the slot. If Gustavsson's night was largely something off a much better goalie's scoresheet, the goal allowed was pretty typical Jonas Gustavsson, actually - Green's re-direct, while subtly impressive, in the way that Greene's game has been over the DMan's career, the Bruins goaltender didn't appear to pick up the puck until well after the red light had already gone off.
As mentioned above, the Devils really didn't let up for a time. After scoring 1:51 into the 2nd, they pretty much have the Bruins playing defense through about the midway point of the second. It was then the Bruins found another gear, and turned the run of play towards the visitors end. Indeed, the Bruins finally made the Devils look like the team that was on the road back-to-back, and only one of the most brilliant goaltending performances I've ever seen live kept the game tied at 1 through to the second intermission. As good as Gustavsson was, Schneider was easily better, but that's not even fair to "Goose" -- the number of great chances Schneider snuffed out heartlessly would put most goalies' best games to shame.
The third period was actually a pretty even affair, until another massive surge by Boston in the last five minutes of regulation could've easily, again, broken the tie. But Schneider stood tall. Locked in an unlikely goaltender's duel with Bruins back-up netminder Jonas Gustavsson--who for my money, had his best night of the seasoon--the Marblehead MA native turned aside scoring chance after scoring chance down the stretch. Fitting, regulation ended with the Bruins drawing a penalty on a scrambling Devil defender.
As he's been wont to do, Claude Julien went for jugular at the first sign of a chance to end OT quickly, deploying a four-man unit of David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Ryan Spooner, and Torey Krug. No dice. I'm short of words for how good Schneider was in the OT period. Just go watch the damn highlights, whether you've already seen them or not. It's hard to figure on how the game didn't end two or three different times. Heck, Gustavsson made a pretty ridiculous pad save on a 2-on-1 the other way, somehow awake enough to face down the Devils' threat despite having very little to do beforehand.
The Bruins should have won the game in OT, but logic and hockey don't always mesh, especially over sixty-five minute spans. Schneider stopped Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on a 2-on-1, then made a sprawling stop on Marchand's follow-up wraparound attempt. Even with the tired legs and the penalty, with Schneider's play the Devils probably would've been an even-money bet if there'd been a twenty-minute OT period. Instead, we went to the SO, and we're sort of used to see subpar performances from the Black and Gold in the skills comp.
However, the Devils are one of the few teams that's arguably worse-equipped for these situations than the B's, and even then it was a game of inches. Say this, to be fair to the skills comp: if ever a game needed the skills comp to avoid extending us all past our bedtimes on a work night (and screw you very much, anyone who's already off for the holidays), this was that game.
Ryan Spooner scored on the forehand after a nifty speed approach from his off-wing, quickly switching backhand-forehand and firing a wrister for what was actually his first NHL SO tally (he'd been 0-for-5 previously). What followed was a somewhat baffling collection of skilled players being robbed in improbable ways (Lee Stempniak on a JG half-pokecheck, Patrice Bergeron having Schneider stand on his head), one player nailing the high glass from so close in I swear it broke physics to do so (Kyle Palmieri), Claude forgetting you can't play defense in a shootout (Maxime Talbot), and then we got the Bruins finally earning the second point when Mike Cammalleri's laser beat Gustavsson but not the glove-side post.
Despite the loss of several golden opportunities for a ROW and some nagging inconsistencies with how this team gets out of its own zone against a sustained forecheck/neutral zone lane-clogging, it's really difficult to find reasons to be upset at getting two points from this game. The Bruins took on a goalie who laid out a gem of a performance normally reserved for "vs. Boston Braden Holtby," and took the maximum number of points available. For a team that looked as if it opened the season with its collective confidence in the tank, this is another performance that the Bruins can build upon during a stretch where the team just keeps finding ways to win.
In no particular order:
- The Fancystats story aligns with what you saw, really, which was a game that went back-and-forth, was about even overall, and the Bruins ended up with considerably more dangerous chances.
- The factor that can't be overstated in the Bruins' resurgence over the past month is goaltending. It may oversimplify things to a degree, but Rask's hot play and Gustavsson's tonight is exactly what this defensive corps--which still gets lost or simply can't clear for stretches--needs. The young defenders are currently in a place where the hot 'tending behind them is giving them more of a chance to try things and make mistakes. This unit simply isn't going to be a strength of the 2015-16 Bruins, pending outside help, but the invaluable experience/opportunity that guys like Colin Miller are getting is important for when the goaltending goes cold (or even, you know, not superhuman) for stretches. TL;DR, if you're wondering why the Bruins are "good again," it's largely "it's the goaltending, stupid" but you can see the trickle-up effect it's having on the Bruins overall play. When your goalies are covering up mistakes, it's easier to change up your breakouts on the fly instead of having to just cut the ice time of the weaker pairings.
- With the victory tonight, the Bruins are back over the fake .500 mark at home, as they improved to 8-7-4 within TD Garden.
- Brad Marchand did not score tonight, but is still elite.
- As you might have heard (it was actually hard to see during the NESN Broadcast), Maxime Talbot threw a rather inexcusable hit at the head of Jiri Tlusty with 5:23 left in the 2nd Period. Apparently, that's being (correctly) reviewed by the Department of Player Safety, as it's really hard to figure what Talbot thought he was doing hitting anyone that late (and that high).
- This win moved the Bruins within a point of the division-leading-but-falling-fast Montreal Canadiens, with the Beantown Bombers having two games in hand. Montreal has the ROW tiebreaker, but this is still a heck of a time to be alive.