BOSTON (CBS) -- So, the Boston Bruins are still alive. And surprisingly enough, they're sitting somewhat pretty.
Sure, they can't exactly get comfortable, given that their wild-card lead over Ottawa is just three points, and the Senators still have that game in hand. If the Bruins lose Tuesday night to Florida, Boston's lead over the Panthers will be just two points. There's still no room for error.
But all things considered, the Bruins entered a brutal schedule in March -- one that included back-to-backs on every single weekend -- and they're coming out in decent shape. Not great shape, but decent shape.
Of their six games remaining, two are at home against Florida and Toronto. Both are winnable. Their four road games include trips to Detroit, Washington, Florida and Tampa Bay. A win over Detroit could possibly help the Bruins catch the Red Wings in the Atlantic Division standings, which is something thought to be an impossibility as recently as last weekend. And the top of the conference standings could already be determined by that final day of the season, when the Bruins are in Tampa, so the Bruins may catch the Lightning giving some star players their rest before the postseason.
All of this, of course, is dependent on the Bruins actually playing well, an unreliable proposition at best. For more on that, let's explore some leftover thoughts from the weekend.
--It is beyond cliché to refer to the Bruins as a Jekyll and Hyde hockey team, but that's what they are. I wish there were a better term for it, but that's what they are. Just look at this weekend.
They came out on Saturday afternoon and suffocated the Rangers from the very start of the game. They made life very difficult for rusty Henrik Lundqvist, scoring goals on
kicks non-kicks, wristers and breakaways, and they didn't miss a beat after Tuukka Rask left the game 10 seconds into the second period. Just like they did during their five-game winning streak, the Bruins resembled a team that not only could make the playoffs but could potentially make some noise in the second season.
And then came Sunday. Ryan Spooner scored early, but the Bruins were outshot in both the second and third periods and seemed to take an approach of "Eh, maybe Tuukka Rask will carry us" for the umpteenth time this season. They played with fire and got burned by a Nathan Gerbe goal late in the final minute of the second period. It was a mostly uninspired game, one where the last-place Hurricanes played with more pep in their step than the team scrapping to make the playoffs, but it was salvaged when Soderberg's pass missed Milan Lucic and slid directly to David Pastrnak. The rookie banged home the game-winner, his 10th goal of the year, and the B's managed to come away with a four-point weekend.
You just don't know which Bruins team you're going to get from one day to the next.
--It's somewhat frightening to think where this team would be without David Pastrnak. His numbers aren't necessarily gaudy (10-15-25 in 40 games played), but he seems to have a knack for scoring in moments when the team needs it.
For comparison's sake, check out Pastrnak's rookie season compared to Tyler Seguin's:
Pastrnak: 10 goals, 15 assists, 25 points, 3 GWG, 40 games, 570 TOI
Seguin: 11 goals, 11 assists, 22 points, 0 GWG, 74 games, 904 TOI
Pastrnak's posting one point for every 22.8 minutes on the ice; Seguin registered one every 41 minutes.
Obviously that isn't to say that the Bruins now suddenly employ one of the best goal scorers in the league, but it's a promising sign for the 18-year-old's future.
--Confidence couldn't be higher right now for Pastrnak. He started celebrating that OT winner before most of the world could tell that it even crossed the goal line -- which is pretty impressive, considering he fit it through the clown's mouth on Anton Khudobin:
--What a flick by Torey Krug over to Milan Lucic on the Bruins' second goal on Saturday. It was so quick and so casual that veteran defenseman Dan Boyle was left clueless as he pirouetted in open ice.
I think Boyle ... just now realized that Krug passed that puck.
--I believe that Lucic's first goal Saturday would not have counted in previous years, but in that preseason memo announcing rule changes (for which we all distracted our focus by discussing the removal of the spin-o-rama from shootouts as well as the implantation of diving fines), the league said that the burden of proof, as it were, for a "distinct kicking motion" had to be higher. And so given that Lucic merely redirected the puck and never actually kicked the puck, the call on the ice of a no-goal was overturned. He clearly tried to direct the puck to his stick blade by angling his skate, but no kick, no matter.
I suppose the NHL tweaked this rule in order to get more goals on the board. But if the end result is the confused scenario that played out on the Boston ice -- puck goes into the net, referee signals no-goal, players awkwardly huddle, refs review play, players stand around, call on the ice gets reversed, goal horn sounds, players awkwardly celebrate five minutes after the fact -- then it's not necessarily ideal for the sport.
--Let's just hope that the deciding goal of a Game 7 this spring isn't scored in that fashion.
(Oh, who am I kidding? I would love to see that happen. Some men just want to watch the world burn.)
--Reilly Smith might have turned in his best shift of the season in the moments that led up to his goal on Saturday. He swooped behind the net with the puck, turned up ice and banked a self-pass off the boards to keep possession at full speed. Once Derick Brassard applied pressure at center ice, Smith got the puck over to Torey Krug, who comfortably set up a scoring chance with Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson. Smith stayed high to cover for Krug as Henrik Lundqvist was able to turn away Eriksson's doorstep bid, but Smith again came flying in to pounce on the rebound and bury the puck into the open net.
--Lucic, Smith and Soderberg combined to score four goals on Saturday. In the 10 games prior to Saturday, that trio had combined to score exactly two goals.
--Last Thursday, Cam Neely said on Felger & Mazz that "some of the guys that I like to see play physical, for whatever reason maybe haven't played as physical as they have in the past." It was hard to take that as meaning anything other than "Milan Lucic is not playing with the type of physicality we expect from him." Maybe that's putting words into Neely's mouth, but when you look at the roster, there aren't many other realistic subjects for that comment.
And I have to say, since Thursday, Lucic has looked much more engaged, flying around the ice, lowering his shoulder into bodies, and generally looking like Lucic at his best. That's not always going to lead to two-goal games like Saturday, but finding that type of success after a gentle kick in the butt from the team president is not a coincidence.
--Forget about the Bruins -- the best goal scored by a Boston hockey player this weekend came off the stick of BU senior assistant captain Evan Rodrigues. BU is the real deal this year and really needed to earn a trip to at least the Frozen Four to rightfully fulfill expectations, but tied 2-2 in the final minutes against Minnesota-Duluth, BU's season was hanging by a very tenuous thread.
And in the waning seconds of a power play, Rodrigues took a feed from Bruins prospect Matt Grzelcyk, stepped to the slot and faked a shot, sending a UMD defender sliding on by. Rodrigues then ripped and fired, beating the goaltender with the awesome name (Kasimir Kaskisuo) and punching BU's ticket to the Frozen Four.
--Bruins fans should also like what Grzelcyk did in BU's win on Friday night in setting up the overtime game-winner. The Yale defense was the best in the country, and BU had trouble beating it all night. But Grzelcyk dug deep to find a burst of energy at the end of a long shift to take a tour around the offensive zone to disrupt Yale's defense and get the Bulldogs out of position. He went off for a change after making a pass, and he wasn't on the ice for the game-winner, but he played a big role in making it happen.
--Grzelcyk is a really difficult name to spell.
--The other unreal play from the weekend in college hockey came from Louie Belpedio from the Miami RedHawks. He made a diving play to prevent a rolling puck from crossing the goal line into an empty net, and he paid the price for it, slamming into the end boards at full speed.
I thought for sure his teammates had to score the game-tying goal after that. Alas, the RedHawks had used up all of their miracle juice in the three goals they already scored with the goalie pulled.
--How about Bob Essensa just casually sauntering down the tunnel to sit on the edge of the Bruins' bench and get some face time in the waning seconds of Saturday's win? What a move.
Essensa is the team's goaltending coach, and the 50-year-old hasn't played in an NHL game since March 4, 2002. His last start in the NHL came Jan. 17, 2002, and he took a loss after allowing three goals on 18 shots to the L.A. Kings. You just know that's been digging at him for 13 years now. Claude Julien should have let the dog out of his cage.
(Side note: I was always under the impression that his last name was pronounced Ess-EN-za, with the emphasis on the second syllable. But Jack Edwards knows how to pronounce everyone's name, and he pronounced it ESS-en-za. So I figured I was wrong. But on Sunday, Dave Goucher pronounced it Ess-SEN-za. The mystery of Goalie Bob lives on.)
--Raise your hands if you made inappropriate "puup" jokes on Saturday when Tuukka Rask left the game. Go ahead. Come on. Don't lie. Alas, they were all for naught, as Rask said Sunday that it was a migraine that forced him off the ice. There is simply not as much humor in making migraiinne jokes.
--If you watched "Behind The B" on Sunday night, then you caught a glimpse inside the Providence Bruins' locker room.
Holy smokes. I've seen mite teams with bigger locker rooms. Not a glamorous thing, living that minor league lifestyle.
--I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Pastrnak's no-look pass to set up the Spooner goal. That was pretty slick. Check it out, starting at the 29-second mark below.
--Here's an observation, and maybe it's misguided, but it seems like there's just not a ton of happiness in the Bruins this season. There are exceptions -- Pastrnak has that unbridled joy that you'd expect from an 18-year-old who's playing well in the greatest hockey league in the world. But on Sunday, Spooner scores two minutes into the game and doesn't even raise his arms. Whenever Soderberg scores, his face resembles that of a man being held hostage. Even in the mic'd up segments on "Behind The B," there's a lot of yelling and congratulations after goals, but most of it follows along the lines of "nice work" and "good job with that pass." They don't even seem like celebrations; they seem like fulfillments of obligations.
It is very business-like, and it just does not appear as though there is much fun being had on the Bruins this year. I don't know the chicken/egg answer of whether that's a function of an underachieving team currently in playoff limbo or whether they are in that position because of this general joylessness. But it's noticeable.
They can't still be bummed out about losing Johnny Boychuk (at least, I think that's the case). Maybe if they can secure a playoff spot, some of the weight will be lifted off their shoulders and they might be able to enjoy themselves a little bit.
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