The Bruins were going into the All-Star break with the best record in the NHL no matter what, but they did not want to go into it on a four-game losing streak.
Thanks to some improbable scorers and a return to playing the way they want and expect to play, they won’t be. Derek Forbort, Brandon Carlo and A.J. Greer started the scoring Wednesday night and Pavel Zacha finished it as the Bruins beat the Maple Leafs 5-2 in Toronto.
The Bruins didn’t fix every problem from their three-game losing streak -- their one power play on the night still wasn’t pretty -- but one hallmark of this team that has helped get them to the top of the standings was certainly on display: their depth.
They’ve gotten their defensemen more involved on offense all season, and it was two D -- probably the most unlikely two -- who scored their first two goals Wednesday.
While the Boston power play came up empty in the first period, the penalty kill proved dangerous early in the second when Trent Frederic beat Mitch Marner to a loose puck in the Toronto zone and moved it to Charlie Coyle. Coyle then found Forbort joining the play, and Forbort snapped a shot past Ilya Samsonov for his second shorthanded goal of the season.
The second Bruins goal came from Carlo, who didn’t necessarily need a goal, but did need a good game as much as anyone. Carlo had a particularly tough go of it during the three-game losing streak, as he was on the ice for five five-on-five goals against and zero for.
He bounced back Wednesday with one of his best games of the season, including the goal, which saw him pinch down the weak side and flip a shot past Samsonov. Carlo also got back to playing the stout defense he had been playing pretty much all season, including a sequence where he cleared Michael Bunting away from the front of the net a few times, resulting in one of several instances where Bunting went whining to the refs looking for a penalty call.
In addition to the goals from Forbort and Carlo, the Bruins also got assists from three other defensemen (Hampus Lindholm, Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk), further adding to the season-long theme of more offense from the D. The B’s now have 118 points from defensemen this season, seventh-most in the NHL. Last year they ranked 24th with 150 for the whole season.
In the third period, the forwards took over the scoring, starting with the fourth line. Jakub Lauko, playing his first NHL game since Nov. 3, made a nice play to win a board battle and work the puck up to A.J. Greer from the defensive zone. Greer then raced in and snapped a shot past Samsonov for his fifth goal of the year. Apparently still riding high after the goal, Greer then dropped the gloves with Wayne Simmonds right off the ensuing faceoff, although that endeavor didn’t prove quite as successful.
The Leafs cut the lead to 3-2 with 11:22 to go, but then the Zacha show began. He restored the two-goal lead just 30 seconds later during a four-on-four, making a nice cut inside a Toronto defender before ripping an absolute snipe into the top corner. Three minutes later he scored again, finishing off a nice setup from linemates David Pastrnak and David Krejci to cap off a strong shift and strong game for the Czech mates. With Zacha scoring his 10th and 11th goals of the season, the Bruins now have nine players with at least 10 goals this season -- another sign of their remarkable depth.
“I think we got back to our identity tonight, and that was Bruins hockey,” Boston coach Jim Montgomery said after the game. “Our depth, our D-men, the scoring, our fourth line coming through like they did, and Charlie Coyle’s line played unbelievable. It was fun to watch.”
It was. After a three-game skid, this was a return to form for the Bruins, and that form has been fun to watch all season as they’ve stormed to a league-best 39-7-5 record. Now the Bruins can go into the All-Star break feeling good instead of stewing on a four-game losing streak until they return to action on Feb. 11.