The Predators gave the Bruins a tough test Saturday afternoon at TD Garden, but Boston ultimately found a way to prevail in overtime for its fifth straight win and eighth win in nine games in the month of January.
After Matt Duchene and Jake DeBrusk both hit posts in the 3-on-3 overtime, Urho Vaakanainen sparked the game-winning play by picking off a pass and then starting the rush the other way. David Pastrnak fired a shot that leaked behind Juuse Saros, and Taylor Hall buried the rebound to give the Bruins the 4-3 win.
The assists marked some redemption for both Vaakanainen and Pastrnak. Vaakanainen -- in an otherwise strong performance -- had taken a bad penalty in the third, while Pastrnak had committed a bad turnover on Nashville’s third goal.
The goal also marked the second of the game featuring contributions from the new-look second line of Hall, Pastrnak and Erik Haula, as that group continued to stay hot since being put together. That line also created the Bruins’ second goal of the game off the rush, as Hall took a hit to move the puck to Haula for the zone entry. Haula then pulled up before zipping a pass across to Mike Reilly, who finished with a patient backhand flip past Saros.
In their nine games together, the Hall-Haula-Pastrnak line has now outscored opponents 7-4 while having 54.9% of shot attempts and 56.8% of shots on goal when they’re on the ice at 5-on-5.
The Bruins’ top line also stayed hot. Just three minutes into the game, Charlie McAvoy and Vaakanainen combined to start a clean breakout that led to a zone entry for Brad Marchand. Marchand then fired a pass to Patrice Bergeron, who made a clever one-touch pass over to Craig Smith for a shot that beat Saros over the left arm.
With the game tied 2-2 in the third, Marchand gave the Bruins the lead on the power play with a snipe over Saros’ glove for his 20th goal of the season. With his goal and assist on Saturday, Marchand -- somehow not an All-Star -- now has nine goals and seven assists in nine games in January. He’s up to 20 goals in 30 games (35 team games) this season, putting him on pace to easily top 40 goals for the first time in his career.
While Saturday’s box score may not look as impressive as a 5-2 win over the Lightning or 7-3 win over the Capitals, this was nonetheless a big win for the Bruins against another playoff team. It was a hard-fought, very physical game -- the kind of smack in the face that can sometimes end a losing streak for a team that’s been rolling and might subconsciously start to think things are going to come easy.
The Bruins had to work for Saturday’s win, they had to match Nashville’s physicality, and they did. The teams combined for 91 hits, and the Bruins had just one fewer than the Predators. Their third and fourth lines didn’t score, but Anton Blidh and Oskar Steen each landed six hits while Curtis Lazar had five. McAvoy had six. Marchand had four, including a big, clean one that sent Dante Fabbro to Nashville’s dressing room in the third.
“You have to play 20-something like that in the playoffs, typically,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said after the game. “It’s nice to see we came out of that game, matched them hit-for-hit. I think we even had some of the better ones that I’m sure they’re licking their wounds a little bit, just like our guys are. But it does hurt to win. It hurts to win. By that I mean you have to take hits, give hits, you have to block shots.
“I think when our team gets drawn into those games, we’re fine with it. We were missing a couple guys that are big men, but other guys went in and matched them. You don’t have to be the biggest guy on the ice to deliver good, clean hits. We saw that with Marchy a couple times. Steener finishes his checks. So again, I think it’s a style of play we relish playing.”