This may continue to be an extremely up-and-down season for the 2015-16 Boston Bruins, but at least two different demons were exorcised last night.
The first, alluded to above, was this Bruins team finding a way to grab a win against the Philadelphia Flyer for the first time in three tries. Tuukka Rask was on point, saving 34 of 36, and at least a few of those stops were highlight-worthy. After two excruciating losses to Philly earlier in the year--5-4 in OT after leading 4-2 through through two periods, and 3-2 in the first contest at Wells Fargo--the Bruins gamely pulled out a back-and-forth game where the Flyers outchanced them.
The second? Well, ask Brett Connolly about that. Before Connolly's game-winner slipped past Flyers goalie Michal Neuvirth and into the net, Connolly was on an epic run of goal-scoring futility. Connolly has not been a high-volume shooter in his NHL career, putting 258 Shots On Goal in 184 career games; he hasn't even been unlucky in converting those shots to goals, as far as we know, as tonight's goal bumped his SH% to 11.9% (he's a little under 10% for his career). Still, Connolly scored his 4th goal of the season on Halloween night. He scored his 5th goal on November 27th. He scored his 6th goal against Buffalo Jan. 15th, notably without a goalie actually being in the net at the time. He was, you may recall, a healthy scratch in Saturday's SO win again the Colubus Blue Jackets.
For those keeping track, this means that last night's game-winner was Connolly's first goal-scored-on-a-goalie in 59 days. Too Long, Didn't Read? It's about time Connolly scored again (especially given that he hasn't exactly been playing with schlubs, though let's allow for the fact that Connolly's skillset [he's actually pretty solid lugging the puck] might be slightly redundant with 63-37), and it really couldn't have come at a better time in last night's contest. Connolly tip of a Zdeno Chara wrister put the Bruins up for good with 1:54 left, and allowed the Bruins to enter tonight's contest vs. the Anaheim Ducks, the last before the All-Star Break for the B's, one point ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning for 3rd Place in the Atlantic Division.
This game did not start out looking as if it would require Connolly's--or any other Bruin's--heroics, really. The Bruins dominated most of the first period, scoring twice. Patrice Bergeron equal Brad Marchand's team-leading total with a PPG 5:04 into the game, after Michael Raffl got the gate for holding Torey Krug (I mean, can you blame him?). Ryan Spooner put the puck right in Bergeron's wheelhouse on the ensuing man-advantage, redirecting a cross-ice David Krejci pass, and Bergeron potted his own richochet through a Loui Eriksson screen after the initial attempt had been blocked by Flyers D-Man Radko Gudas.
Towards the end of the period, with the Flyers hanging on for dear life, the Bruins again converted on a 5-on-4 chance. With Michael Del Zotto in the box for slashing David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand one-upped Bergeron by taking a beautiful boards-to-opposite-circle feed from Zdeno Chara and snapping it home faster than Neuvirth's glove could follow (Colin Miller, back in the line-up at Joe Morrow's expense, picked up the secondary). It was 2-0, the Bruins would outshoot Philly 16-8 for the period, and things looked as if Boston might finally run away with one.
However, someone hit the wayback machine to "2013-14 Second Period," as best illustrated here:
Barf. The Bruins essentially burned through all of our goodwill that the first period had so rightfully earned them, and only some outright highway robbery from Rask kept the Flyers from tying the game. It's often said that your goalie is your best penalty-killer, though in this case it's fair to say Rask was the best anything for Boston in the second. It cannot be restated enough; with the multiple surges that Flyers turned on in the second period and for parts of the third, Tuukka did more to earn these two points that anyone else.
The Flyers finally found a crack in the B's previously-thought invincible Penaly Kill unit thanks to Wayne Simmonds whacking home a Brayden Schenn rebound mere seconds into the Bruins second penalty of the period (which was Seidenberg for a crosscheck) the first was, as many noted, a pretty amazingly dumb-looking Marchand slashing call right off the second period faceoff). The Bruins' lead was halved, they were suddenly scrabbling, and the fact that they'd spend another four minutes of next eight killing Zach Trotman's and Jimmy Hayes's penalty sure didn't do much for them finding a foothold. The Flyers would outshoot Boston 15-6 in the middle frame, and we went to the third period with the Bruins leading 2-1.
The third period was better, if not exactly a good example of how to close things out (rather than rely on last-couple-minutes heroics). The Bruins started the period with 1:36 of Power Play time thanks to a Mark Streit hooking penalty towards the end of the second, and, while the Bruins didn't score, that and the rest between periods seemed to give them fresh legs for a time. Though once again Rask would be called upon to make a big save or two, it looked as if the Bruins might eek out a 2-1 decision.
That plan blew up thanks, again, to Wayne Simmonds. Wayne Simmonds makes his living scoring from in close, even moreso than most hockey players. Wayne Simmonds scored another goal from in close with a little under eight minutes remaining, putting himself on hat-trick watch by beating Dennis Seidenberg to a rebound of a Jakub Voracek shot and pushing the rebound past Rask (replays did show the play may've been offside, and Claude Julien did challenge, but no dice). Voracek, with the SOG+Rebound Assist, extended his team-leading helper total to 28. At the time, the flow of the game seemed to favor Philly, but this set the stage for Connolly saving the day.
And remember that way-back machine I mentioned? Zdeno Chara had a pretty fabulous game overall, grabbing the primary assist on the game-winner, as well as Marchand's 20th of the season. It was a good night for Big Z, and a good ending for the B's.
The Bruins have to turn around and do it again, 24 hours from last night's start time, in hosting the Anaheim Ducks at TD Garden tonight at 7. The Ducks are another team in Philly's situation, chasing the Wild Card hunt despite their offensive talent, and I'd expect another close one tonight.