Friday night should have been a perfect opportunity for a get-right game for the Bruins after back-to-back losses. After blowing a third-period lead and suffering an emotional loss against the league-best Avalanche on Wednesday, the Bruins got to follow it up with the Coyotes, the team with the second-worst record in the NHL.
They got the two points, beating Arizona 2-1, but they didn’t really get right. This was the definition of an ugly win, with the Bruins seemingly playing down to the competition, never really taking control of the game the way they should have been able to, and allowing the Coyotes to hang around long enough to make for an uncomfortable final few minutes of the third period.
If it weren’t for another strong start from Linus Ullmark in goal, the Bruins may have ended up losing or going to overtime. On a night when the pregame story was Tuukka Rask’s lower-body injury and the possibility of a Jeremy Swayman recall, Ullmark offered another reminder that he may very well be the most stable part of this whole goaltending equation. (Rask, by the way, hasn’t yet been ruled out for Sunday’s game in Dallas.)
Ullmark stopped 31 of the 32 shots he faced Friday and is now 10-1-1 with a .921 save percentage over his last 12 starts.
“His game was excellent tonight,” Bruce Cassidy said of Ullmark. “Finding pucks, tracking pucks with a lot of traffic. Recovering, playing inside the post. I thought he did a real good job.”
The Bruins looked especially sleepy for the first 40 minutes. They weren’t creating nearly enough offensively as they should have been against this Coyotes team, and they actually wound up pinned in their own zone quite a bit. The Coyotes -- the second-worst possession team in the NHL entering the night -- had a 34-22 advantage in 5-on-5 shot attempts through the first two periods.
The Bruins managed to carry a 2-1 lead into the third, though, thanks to a go-ahead power-play goal from Charlie McAvoy. The man advantage at least remained a bright spot, as this marked the eighth straight game in which the Bruins have scored a power-play goal.
The Bruins also did a better job clamping down defensively for most of the third, as the Coyotes mustered just one 5-on-5 shot attempt and zero 5-on-5 shots on goal in the period. But they couldn’t extend their lead, and that set up a few white-knuckle moments in the final minutes when Arizona pulled its goalie for the extra attacker.
Jakob Chychrun, Clayton Keller, Lawson Crouse and Nick Schmaltz all had grade-A chances during the 6-on-5 finish, but Ullmark stood tall with a few of his best saves of the night and Keller missed a mostly empty net on one of his looks.
In a fitting symbol of how tough things got, Ullmark finished the game with a tissue stuffed up his noise to try to stop a bloody nose suffered at some point late in the third. He left the ice after the final buzzer with a smile on his face, but also blood dripping into his mustache and down the front of his jersey.
A win’s a win, but this one wasn’t pretty.