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Coming into the season, the Boston Bruins appeared to meet all the qualifications of a team whose window to win a Stanley Cup was closed.

The B’s looked as if they would be heavily reliant on stars who were either in the latter years of their prime or past it; they’d made questionable trades of young stars and had a goalie coming off back-to-back mediocre seasons.

Instead, Boston is not only competitive, but they’re also making a case as the NHL’s second-most-dangerous team behind the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Boston ranks No. 3 in team Corsi for percentage, second in even-strength goals for percentage, ninth in power play percentage and eighth on the penalty kill.

Simply put: The Bruins’ Stanley Cup window is wide-open.


Elite players are still elite

Years down the road, we might find that age curves shifted in the 2010s. With an emphasis on health, fewer fights and head hits as well as more work being done to study factors like dehydration and workload, it’s possible that hockey players’ primes will last into their 30s instead of ending in the late 20s, as current age curve models suggest.

The Bruins could be evidence of this effect. Forwards Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, ages 32 and 29, respectively, are having among their best seasons in 2017-18.

With a hat trick on Thursday night, Bergeron has 19 goals and 19 assists in 39 games. His 57.9 percent Corsi for percentage ranks third in the NHL among forwards, with only Chicago’s Brandon Saad and Columbus’ Artemi Panarin ahead of him. When Bergeron has been on the ice this season, the B’s have taken 161 more shots than their opponents and outscored them 30-9.

Bergeron’s longtime linemate Marchand is leading the team with 46 points, placing him just inside the top 20 in the league despite missing a handful of games. He ranks fifth in even-strength scoring rate, with 3.39 points per 60 minutes.

These numbers are all on par or better than when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2010-11. Bergeron produced 57 points in 2010-11 with a 54.2 Corsi for percentage, while Marchand had 41 points in 77 games.

Zdeno Chara, who will turn 41 in March, is still playing more than 23 minutes per game, down about just two minutes from 2010-11. And while his shot differential numbers have slipped from seasons past, the 6-foot-9 blueliner still isn’t letting anyone get in front of the net. With Chara on the ice, the Bruins have produced 158 high-danger chances to their opponents’ 129, according to Natural Stat Trick.

Veteran stars David Backes (33) and David Krejci (31) have missed time this season, but when in the lineup they are each making significant contributions. The former Blues captain has 18 points in 27 games and wins 52.9 percent of his faceoffs, while Krejci has 23 points in 26 games.

The combination of all of Boston’s veterans clicking at once has helped push the Bruins to an 8-0-2 record in their past 10 games and moved them into the top five in even-strength goals for and fewest goals allowed.

The youth movement

Bergeron, Marchand, Chara, Backes and Krejci aren’t driving the Bruins’ success alone. For a team that has rarely drafted early in the first round during the past decade, Boston has a remarkable number of key players under the age of 23 playing key roles. In fact, of the Bruins’ top six scorers, four are 23 and under.

That group starts with David Pastrnak, 21-year-old right winger flanking Bergeron and Marchand on Boston’s deadly top line. Last season, the Czech forward broke out to the tune of 70 points in 75 games. He’s been even better this season, with 41 points in 44 games.

The Bruins selected Pastrnak with the 25th overall pick in the 2014 draft. The knock on him was size and strength, but his high-end skill allowed an instant jump from playing in Sweden. Of all the players drafted in 2014, only Leon Draisaitl has more points than Pastrnak.

Another first-rounder Jake DeBrusk, 21, has made an immediate impact in his rookie campaign, scoring 20 even-strength points in 40 games while largely playing alongside Krejci.

The pleasant surprise of the group is Danton Heinen, a fourth-round pick in 2014 who scored more than a point per game at the University of Denver and had a solid 2016-17 in the minors. He’s made the jump smoothly, adding 19 even-strength points in 40 games, playing the majority of his minutes with Riley Nash and Backes.

The biggest difference-maker in the bunch is 20-year-old rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy. He joined the Bruins in the postseason last spring and immediately took on a top-four role. He’s built on that experience this season, averaging 22:47 per game in ice time. The former Boston University blueliner has 24 points, 15 of which have come in even-strength assists. McAvoy has become a consistent puck-moving partner for Chara.

Boston’s collection of under-23s isn’t just bringing them value in the form of impressive production; those players are also allowing the B’s to survive huge veteran contracts.

Take the Chicago Blackhawks for example. With mega deals handed out to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, Chicago struggles to find cheap depth that will support its stars. For the Bruins, the total cap hit of DeBrusk, Heinen and McAvoy is just $2.65 million. Boston saved in per-season spending by doing a six-year deal with Pastrnak, whose cap hit is a reasonable $6.66 million.

The youngsters also give the Bruins the type of depth required to go deep in the postseason. Even if players like DeBrusk, Heinen and McAvoy are inexperienced, Boston has them playing alongside veterans who have made deep postseason runs.

The goalie

No matter how deep we dig into the numbers or what technology arises, we might never fully understand a team’s impact on goalie performance. But in Boston’s case, it’s pretty easy to draw a connection between a stronger, deeper team and a better defense corps this season helping out Tuukka Rask.

At his absolute peak, Rask’s even-strength save percentage was an otherworldly .943. That mark slipped for three straight seasons, all the way down to .919 in 2016-17. Normally a goalie’s even-strength numbers are more predictable from season to season than his overall save percentage, so a three-season slide would be cause for concern. But he’s rebounded to a .928 save percentage in 2017-18, which may have something to do with the Bruins allowing the fewest high-danger chances in the NHL, per Natural Stat Trick.

Debates will rage for eternity as to whether teams should pay big money for top-notch goalies, but one thing is clear: Good goaltending is a requirement to win the Stanley Cup. Rask has been excellent in his postseason career, posting a .928 save percentage and giving the B’s quality starts in 62.3 percent of his starts.

Adidas Cheap Patrice Bergeron Bruins Jersey Sale Outlet

The Boston Bruins and the Boston Bruins Foundation announced today, January 11, the first annual Patrice Bergeron & 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Pucks and Paddles, which will be held at Royale Boston (279 Tremont St, Boston, MA 02116) on Thursday, February 15 from 4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. The tournament will feature players from the active Boston Bruins roster, on-air personalities from 98.5 The Sports Hub, and patients from Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center.

The event will feature a single elimination tournament featuring Bruins players, on air talent and the winning bidders. The rounds will advance to a championship game featuring the final two teams, with a winning tandem being crowned the Patrice Bergeron & 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Pucks and Paddles champions. In addition, the four best Bruins ping pong players will participate in a separate informal singles competition to demonstrate their talents to the crowd. All attendees upon arrival will have the opportunity to purchase an entry into a raffle to participate in additional ping pong games against select players.

Fans have the opportunity to bid on the opportunity to play doubles ping pong with the celebrity of their choice. Fans can place their bids by visiting bruinsauctions.org.

Fans can purchase tickets for both the VIP and General Admission sessions by visiting bostonbruins.com/pingpong.

VIP attendees will enjoy a pre-event meet & greet with members of the team. When purchasing VIP tickets, guests will either choose to be a part of the Gold VIP session featuring Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask, Torey Krug and David Krejci or the Black VIP session featuring Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchand, David Backes, and David Pastrnak .

Tickets will be available to the general public on January 11. Prices are as follows:

VIP: $200 – includes admission to autograph session

GA: $50 – entrance into the event (no player access)

Bruins season ticket holders will have exclusive early access to purchase tickets on January 10 and be able to purchase tickets at a discounted rate:

VIP: $175 – includes admission to autograph session

GA: $40 – entrance into the event

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Despite a thrilling four-goal outburst in the second period that propelled the Bruins to a two-goal lead, Boston headed into their bye week with a 6-5 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday night at PPG Paints Arena.

Evgeni Malkin potted his second goal of the night at 2:51 of the extra session, marking a sour – albeit respectable – end to the B’s first half, as they head into their five-day break riding an 11-game points streak.

“We got the start that we wanted, we got that first goal. But then we got away from our game and they took it to us,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We know they’re a good team, especially on the power play. We didn’t go a good job on the penalty kill. We got back, the second period was a great period and third was up and down, we could have done some better things.

“But they’re a good team, they’re good offensively and there’s some breakdowns that were uncharacteristic of us lately, but we stuck with it and got a point out of it. Obviously we know we can be a lot better.”

After the four-goal barrage during the second, which included tallies from Brad Marchand, Noel Acciari, David Pastrnak, and David Backes, the Bruins appeared poised to pull away for another convincing victory as they opened up a 5-3 advantage. But Pittsburgh was not interested in going down quietly.

With 3.6 seconds to go in the middle frame, Malkin struck for his first of the game and the Penguins’ second power-play tally of the night to get back within a goal. It was not quite a dagger, but it was certainly a damaging blow, as Pittsburgh came out with plenty of momentum in the third and tied the game, 5-5, on Riley Sheahan’s tally just 2:54 into the period.

“I imagine it gave them more life than sucked life out of us. We still had a lead, we came from two down. But I think it gave them some pop going into the third and it showed,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “You don’t want to give those up. We had two opportunities to clear, that’s the unfortunate part. But that’s been a bit of an Achilles’ heel – our PK’s been terrific all year, the one area that we need to sure up is our clears and it got us there.”

Boston had a golden chance to re-gain the lead when Marchand was awarded a penalty shot with 1:01 to go in regulation. Marchand nearly sneaked a backhander through Matt Murray, but the netminder – who had replaced Jarry following the Bruins’ fifth goal – made the stop, as he did on all six shots he faced in relief.

“When I pulled to my backhand it got stuck in the snow a little bit. There was room there, I just missed it,” said Marchand, who had a goal and an assist. “Back-and-forth game. We didn’t have the start that we wanted, but we bounced back. Gave away a point there, but three out of four on a back-to-back is not bad and now we have to make sure we continue after the break.”

Boston’s five-goal output marked the fourth straight game and fifth time in the last six that it has scored at least five. Four of the goals came within a 9:50 span of the second period.

After Marchand’s goal brought the Bruins back within a goal at 7:18, Acciari struck just 60 seconds later when a Brandon Carlo shot tipped off his chest to tie the game at 3. Pastrnak followed up with his marker just under four minutes later to put Boston ahead, before Backes doubled the lead with 2:52 remaining in the third.

“Ebbs and flows I guess,” said Cassidy. “It seemed like we had pockets of really good hockey. We had pockets where we just lost focus and didn’t look like the team I’m used to seeing every night, in terms of how we played, respect of the game, manage pucks and decisions on line changes – right to the bitter end.

“At the end of the day, we get a point out of it, so you look at the positives, against a good hockey club. But it looked like we were gonna do better than that.”

Bergeron Stitched Up

After taking a Kris Letang shot to the inside of his right knee, Patrice Bergeron needed assistance as he hobbled down the tunnel to the dressing room in the closing seconds of the first period. But the centerman, fresh off a four-goal, five-point night against the Hurricanes, escaped any major damage and returned for the second

Bergeron said he felt more and more stable on the knee as the final two periods progressed. X-rays taken during the first intermission were negative, though he did require a few stitches following the game.

“It didn’t feel good. It was one of those that hit where there was no padding and it was a pretty good shot,” said Bergeron, who still managed to play over 18 minutes. “It definitely stings. We just wanted to make sure there was nothing – X-rays were negative, nothing’s broken. I needed stitches there.

“I was trying to get that going and we decided to just do them after the game so that I could come back for the second. It was good that I had the intermission to kind of reset.”

His return was certainly appreciated by his teammates.

“He’s a warrior. Got to give that guy a lot of credit, he’ll play through anything. We’ve seen it plenty of times before,” said Marchand. “He’s the kind of guy you want to follow and that’s why we’re good because we have that leadership. He’s an incredible player to watch and learn from and we’re lucky to have him.”

Rask Streak Continues

Tuukka Rask (29 saves) extended his career-high points streak to 13 games (11-0-2) with the overtime setback. But Boston’s ace netminder was far from pleased with his performance, as the six goals allowed were a season high.

“I was [bad] all game, all night. I felt like [crap] and didn’t see the puck,” said Rask. “Wasn’t sharp. Weak goals…one of those days. Not feeling as sharp as usual. Against a team like this that’s going to create some scoring chances, probably not ideal.”

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When David Backes was placed on injured reserve on November 2, his recovery time from colon surgery was a projected eight weeks. Tuesday’s game against the New York Islanders will mark eight weeks exactly. Fortunately for the Bruins, Backes made an almost super-human recovery, returning to the lineup after merely four weeks.

Backes was expected to miss the entire month of December. Instead, the Minnesota native played in all 14 games, recording 7-7=14 totals. Backes was especially impressive towards the end of the month, recording multiple points in each of the past four games (3-5=8). Powered by Backes and his recently formed third line with Riley Nash and Danton Heinen, the Bruins have recorded at least a point in eight consecutive contests (6-0-2).

Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy lauded Backes for his recent play.

 

“The puck is finding him… You get on a bit of a roll, hopefully you can sustain it. He’s always been a consistent scorer, so good for him for getting to the dirty areas and the puck is finding him there.”

 

Not only are Backes and his linemates finding the back of the net, they are being relied upon to play valuable minutes in all situations.

 

“They play a lot. They are playing against good players so they have a lot of responsibility. They’re digging in. I think David missed some time, so he’s hungry. They’ve just jelled.”

 

In a 5-0 win over the Ottawa Senators on December 30, Backes led all Bruins forwards in time on ice (18:02), followed by his linemates Riley Nash (17:26) and Danton Heinen (17:16).

 

Backes was rewarded for his recent strong play by being named the NHL’s third star of the week.

 

“I concentrate on the process and the results will end up being there,” said Backes. “I think that’s been kind of the MO for the line that I play on and the power power play – do the right things all the time and eventually pucks are going to find you. It’s going to be your opportunity and you have to capitalize on it.

 

Backes was quick to credit his teammates for contributing to his success and the success of the team.

 

“I think it’s all pointing in good directions,” said Backes. “While it’s my name maybe on the third star, there’s a lot of credit to spread around for teammates and guys that I’m on the ice with. Being productive is great, but being productive in wins – especially against good teams is a great feeling to have.

 

Even the guys that aren’t piling up points on a game-to-game basis are all being very productive members of our team. Blocking shots, taking hits and killing penalties… that means the difference in winning and losing a lot of games and we need to focus a little of the spotlight on those guys too.”

 

RASK ROLLING

 

Things are clicking for Tuukka Rask, as the Finnish goaltender has backstopped the team to at least a point in 11 consecutive appearances. That streak is the longest of his career, and he is 10-0-1 in that span. In the month of December, Rask has only allowed 13 goals, recorded a goals against average of 1.22 and a save percentage of .955.

 

The scorching run for Rask follows a period in which he briefly ceded the net to Anton Khudobin for a four-game stretch while Khudobin was performing at an exceptionally high level.

 

Cassidy believes that stretch helped motivate Rask.

 

“Tuukka is clearly – however you want to summarize it – benefited from being pushed or not playing, finding his game, whatever you want to call it. He’s dead on…The passion was there. He wanted the net back.”

 

Rask noted that the competition has been very beneficial for the whole team.

 

“This year [Khudobin has] played great too,” said Rask. “I think it’s always good to have two good goalies and we are always pushing. No matter who the other guy is, you’re always trying to push yourself and have that competition.”

RETURN TO HEALTH

 

While most teams enter opening night with their full complement of players, the Bruins had to wait a bit to see their lineup come to fruition. With the exception of Adam McQuaid, who is nearing a return, the B’s are excited to finally see their full team on the ice.

 

“Kind of funny if you look at it that way,” said forward David Krejci. “It’s almost half the season behind us, this is the first time we have a healthy lineup. But at the same time, maybe it’s a good think that we got all those injuries out of the way early on in the season and hopefully we can stay healthy for the rest of the season.”

 

Patrice Bergeron also noted how the return to health has impacted the team.

 

“We’re healthier than we’ve been most of the year,” said Bergeron. “So that definitely has been helping a lot for us to get back to playing some good hockey. Like I said, you need everyone to be successful.

 

It’s not every night that you’re going to have the same guys. It seems like everyone is kind of falling in place. If it’s not one line, it’s going to be the other line on any given night so it’s been great.”

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Finding ways to win when you may not have your best is one of the truest tests of a good team. For much of the first two periods on Wednesday night, the Bruins looked anything but the group that had won eight of their last 10 games.

Boston managed just two shots on goal in the first period – none over the frame’s final 18 minutes. The Red Wings played a stifling brand of defense for much of the night, zipping shut shooting lanes with 22 blocked shots.

But the Bruins were not deterred.

Boston twice battled back from down a goal to tie the game in the third period, before Brad Marchand sealed the come-from-behind victory with a backhand breakaway just 35 seconds into overtime at Little Caesars Arena. The Bruins’ ninth win in 11 games was, perhaps, its most telling.

“It’s big. It just shows the character that we have in the room and that we’re really learning a lot and starting to come together,” said Marchand, who also delivered a slick assist on David Pastrnak’s tying marker with 1:26 remaining in regulation.

“Different guys are stepping up every night. To have a good team you need that. We’re going to need that still going forward, but it’s great to see.”

After a Dylan Larkin shorthanded tally put Detroit ahead midway through the third, Marchand forced the game to overtime with a stellar dish to Pastrnak with the goalie pulled.

Bruce Cassidy summoned Tuukka Rask to the bench with 2:32 remaining, allowing him to deploy David Backes as the extra skater, a luxury Boston’s bench boss was without during the winger’s absence earlier this season.

With Backes’ big body parked at the top of the paint, the slightest of lanes opened up through the slot, allowing Marchand to thread a pass through three Detroit defenders. Pastrnak was positioned at the far post where he ripped the puck into an open net to tie the game, 2-2.

“What goes unnoticed is that’s where we missed Backes a little bit earlier in the empty nets [situations]. He’ll go right to the top of the paint,” said Cassidy. “He’s going to occupy the goaltender, at least one defender, so that does open up lanes. I thought [David Krejci] did a really good job up top.

“Obviously finding the lane was the key part of it and that’s on Pasta to move around to find it.”

Pastrnak did just that, admitting that he only picked up the pass from Marchand at the last second. His 15th goal of the season extended his league-leading points streak to nine games (5-6-11).

“I didn’t even see Marchy,” said Pastrnak, who was playing in his 200th career game. “Last time I saw him he was coming down the wall. I thought he was going to shoot it. I saw the puck real last second. It was not an easy shot; it was coming pretty hot. But I got it on the ice and had an empty net. I’m surprised I even hit that puck.”

Boston started the extra session with Patrice Bergeron, Torey Krug, and Marchand – Cassidy’s preferred overtime trio. They wasted little time ending it.

Bergeron helped Marchand dig the puck off the wall in the Bruins’ end, before Marchand quickly moved it to Krug (two assists) and started a 2-on-1 through the neutral zone. With Mike Green closing on Krug, the blue liner sauced a backhand to Marchand in open ice.

Marchand broke in all alone on Jimmy Howard and shook off a late attempt by Green to break up the play, roofing a backhander over the sprawling Howard for the winner just 35 ticks into extra time.

“They played a really good defensive game. They didn’t give us a whole lot,” said Marchand. “They play really tight, almost a man-on-man over the whole ice; they really collapse in the D-zone. If you don’t take care of pucks, which we didn’t do a good job of early on you’re not going to get much and they worked hard.

“They out-battled us early on. Luckily we were able to bounce back.”

While Boston’s top dogs carried them to victory in the end, it was a more unheralded group that lit the match early in the third period. Down, 1-0, the Bruins got a boost from its fourth line to spark the offense.

After losing a faceoff in the attacking end, Tim Schaller and Noel Acciari charged hard into the corner, forcing a turnover behind the net. Acciari scooped up the loose puck and had his attempt to tuck it in at the post denied by Howard. The rebound popped out to Schaller, who had two more attempts stoned by Howard.

Fortunately for the Bruins, Acciari had circled the net and was there to finally swat it home and knot the game 3:02 into the final frame.

“We talked about it after the second period that sometimes you need other guys to step up in these moments,” said Cassidy. “Tonight our top guys were having a tough time getting through their checks. Good for Noel and [Sean] Kuraly and Schaller to do that…gotta give them a lot of credit because they gave us some juice.”

It may have taken a little longer than they would have liked, but the Bruins got what they wanted. Another balanced effort with contributions from up and down the lineup. And two more points in the bank as they continue to climb up the Eastern Conference standings.

“A lot of pride in that room realizing we needed to be better,” said Cassidy, while still preaching the importance of producing a full 60-minute effort. “Guys wanting to win, appreciating what to do to play winning hockey eventually.”

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Jake DeBrusk has never been considered your average goal scorer. His abilities range far beyond what a typical top-six winger usually provides.

Among those attributes is a bit of an ornery side. And for the first time in his young career, the full wrath of that side came out during the second period of the Bruins’ 3-1 victory over the New York Islanders on Saturday night.

After Casey Cizikas delivered a heavy hit on Charlie McAvoy by the Islanders bench in the second period, DeBrusk took exception, stepping in and dropping the gloves for his first career fight. The former first-round pick was issued an instigator penalty and a 10-minute misconduct for his efforts and was forced to watch most of the second period from the Bruins dressing room as he served his 17-minute banishment.

When DeBrusk returned, the more traditional side of his game shone through, too. On his first shift after the penalty, the 21-year-old delivered with a spin-o-rama snipe from the slot for what proved to be the deciding goal.

It was a sequence that could prove to be a defining one for the rookie.

“He comes through there and he sticks up for his teammate, that shows a lot,” said Bruins alternate captain David Backes. “Then to capitalize on a goal after not playing for 17 minutes – I was asking if he jumped on a bike there in the second period or what to keep going, because I know that can be a tough thing to get your feet back under you and get up to speed again.

“He made good of that opportunity and it ends up being the game-winning goal. Two points for us and that’s what we we’re looking for.”

DeBrusk has never been shy to drop the gloves. The 6-foot, 183-pounder fought five times over three seasons in the WHL and twice more with Providence last season. Despite being known more for his offensive prowess, DeBrusk’s rough-and-tumble side is no surprise given the fact that his father, Louie, was once one of the NHL’s premier tough guys – fighting 115 times over his 11-year career.

“It really showed that he’s a great teammate,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. “You don’t have to be a big guy to drop gloves and stand up for your teammate and he did. Good for him, he showed a lot of character in that act. He did pretty well. Obviously the toughness is something he has in his family. It’s a great sign of being part of a good team.”

DeBrusk, who had zero career penalty minutes before the fight, said he believed Cizikas’ hit on McAvoy was clean, but felt it was important to stand up for his fellow rookie.

“I think it was a clean hit, it was just a really hard one and I didn’t like it…I verbally asked him if he wanted to go and he said yes and he dropped his gloves, so that’s how it happened,” said DeBrusk. “It was a bit of a different scenario, to say the least. It was something that happened, and I honestly didn’t try to get an instigator or anything like that.”

It was the type of penalty that Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy was happy to live with.

“I think it’s good for his teammates to know that he’s going to get in there, whether people think it’s right or wrong…he’s in there looking after one of his teammates, so guys appreciate that,” said Cassidy. “At that time and juncture in the game, I think everyone’s fine with it and it will help him in the room.”

Nevertheless, DeBrusk wanted to make up for having to spend 17 minutes in the dressing room. With plenty of jump in his step, DeBrusk returned in the third period and took advantage on his first shift.

“I watched the period in here and just felt a little out of sorts and just wanted to get back in action and make the first shift a good one. Was lucky enough to cash in on a goal,” said DeBrusk.

The tally was a shining example of DeBrusk’s scoring touch. The winger picked up a bouncing puck off a pass from Torey Krug and made his way to the slot, where he spun and fired a blistering wrister by Jaroslav Halak with 13:15 remaining to build a 2-0 lead.

“I just wanted to get the puck on net. I was kind of trying to honestly generate maybe a rebound,” said DeBrusk. “It was kind of a weird play…I didn’t really know where the net was. I kind of had an idea, but I just turned and just shot as hard as I could and it went in.

“It was nice to see that and obviously missing a whole period and then coming back, it was huge.”

It was a look into what could be a very bright future. And a sequence that his teammates certainly won’t forget.

“I thought it was great to see him stepping up for Chuckie there and then getting that goal,” said Patrice Bergeron. “He was in the penalty box for a while and sometimes your legs can get stiff and cold, and he didn’t miss a beat. Then he was ready for when he got a tap on the back, and came back on the ice.

“It was a huge goal for us. We needed that. So kudos to him for stepping up and making those two big plays.”

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The Bruins knew they had their work cut out for them on Saturday night. Boston was getting its first look at rookie sniper Matthew Barzal, who has joined an already potent New York Islanders lineup that includes John Tavares, Anders Lee, and Josh Bailey to form one of the NHL’s best offensive attacks.

A strong defensive effort was needed from top to bottom. And that’s exactly what the Bruins put forth.

Led by a 30-save performance by Tuukka Rask and some stifling play from the back end, the B’s charged to a 3-1 victory over the Isles at TD Garden for their eighth win in 10 games.

“We talked about the one thing that we had to really take care of was our D-zone tonight and we definitely did that,” said Patrice Bergeron. “Especially against an offensive team like the Islanders with so many gifted players, you can’t give them space and room, especially in the slot. I thought we kept them on the outside for the most part.

“Obviously they’re going to get some chances, they’re good players, but I thought it was a really good effort.”

Contributing to the stingy performance was Boston’s penalty kill. The unit had a perfect night in shutting down all four of New York’s power plays, which included two five-minute majors in the third period – one on Brad Marchand for interference and one on David Backes for head butting. On both majors, the Bruins drew penalties which helped limit the time they spent shorthanded.

“Those majors ended up being kind of three-minte power plays for them and then we draw a penalty. We cut it in half twice,” said Zdeno Chara. “That’s something that shows guys are working hard even away from the puck. Even when we are shorthanded we are capable of being dangerous and that’s what happened, we drew some penalties.”

Boston has now allowed one goal or fewer in three of its last four games and is playing its best all-around hockey of the season in front of Rask, who has won four straight starts. Including his relief performance in Nashville, the B’s ace netminder has allowed just five goals over his last five games for a 1.10 goals against average and .955 save percentage.

“Making those saves you can see he’s clear. He’s ready for anything, for every shot, and he looks confident,” said Bergeron. “Tonight he was great.”

After a tough month of November, during which he ceded the net to Anton Khudobin for a four-game stretch, Rask has found his stride and appears relaxed and composed between the pipes. Rask credited the play in front of him for his recent success.

“I’ve had good rhythm to my game,” said Rask. “Guys are doing a good job eliminating the second chances and obviously if you don’t get rebounds all the time it helps too, but we’re skating back so hard that we are kind of forcing them to take shots in bad spots and when they don’t have all the time in the world to pick the corners up, it’s kind of easier for me too.

“I think that’s played a huge part of that, coming back to our own zone and shutting them down in the slot area and also blocking a ton of shots. We’re not shying away from that, so I think all of those things together have made it.”

Much of the strong play in front of Rask came from the pairing of Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo. With Boston’s No. 1 duo of Chara and Charlie McAvoy assigned to track the Islanders top line, the responsibility of defending Barzal, Andrew Ladd, and Jordan Eberle fell to Krug and Carlo. The tandem had a terrific night as they kept the Islanders second-line trio off the board.

“That kid’s a heck of a player,” Krug, who had two assists, said of Barzal. “Seems like the puck follows him around. A couple bigger bodies that play with him and get to the net. It was a fun matchup for Brandon and myself. We both skate well and tried to shut them down with good gaps. When he’s coming at you with all that speed it’s tough, but I thought we did a good job overall.”

Barzal did manage a point – with Chara and McAvoy on the ice as the penalty to Backes expired – when he picked up an assist on Lee’s goal that cut the Bruins lead to 2-1 with just 3:08 remaining. It was all the Islanders could muster.

“We did a good job – obviously they’re a good team with some firepower and some really skilled guys, so we did a good job of defending from the inside out and Tuukks played a heck of a game,” said Krug. “He got a chance to see a lot of pucks and played it with a lot of confidence and our penalty killers were great.”

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Goals and points are the easy way to determine how well a player is performing.

But there may be one other stat column that best provides a read on the way someone is playing, particularly a defenseman like Matt Grzelcyk. The uptick in the rookie blue liner’s minutes over the last two games makes that clear.

After bottoming out at a season-low 8 minutes on Nov. 29 against Tampa Bay, Grzelcyk has surged to an average of 15 minutes of ice time per game over his last three contests, while becoming increasingly more comfortable on the left side of Boston’s third pairing with Kevan Miller.

“He’s earning the trust of the coaching staff, so good for him,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “He put a year in in Providence [last season], he was asked to do certain things and had a really good game to start here, finished camp well, we just had healthy numbers. He’s had an opportunity and he’s starting to kick the door open.

“That’s what you have to do if you want to stick, you really do. You’ve got to beat somebody out of a job and take advantage of the opportunity and right now he’s done a good job with it.”

Grzelcyk believes being awarded more ice time is the greatest compliment a player can receive.

“It feels nice that they trust you a little bit more in certain situations, especially in the third period,” said Grzelcyk. “You’re getting a little bit more time, so I think that’s huge and it gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

Not that his confidence hasn’t already been growing. The Charlestown native is in the midst of his third stint with the Bruins, having played two games a season ago and in the season opener in October. Grzelcyk returned to Providence following Opening Night and played in 14 games before being recalled to the big club again in late November.

Since the call-up, the 23-year-old has played in seven games, notching a goal and two assists to go along with a plus-4 rating. It is a stretch during which the 5-foot-9, 174-pound Grzelcyk has adjusted well to the speed and strength of the NHL game.

“I think being up for two or three weeks or so has helped me adjust a lot. I think my game has grown since then,” said Grzelcyk. “It’s obviously the biggest challenge when you come back up, just the speed of the game and how fast everybody moves the puck.”

Grzelcyk appeared plenty poised during Boston’s 6-1 win over Arizona on Thursday night. On what proved to be the deciding goal, the rookie pinched down the left half wall, won a puck battle, and backhanded a pass to Riley Nash, who had rotated into Grzelcyk’s spot at the point. Nash wristed a shot towards the net with David Backes tipping it by Scott Wedgewood for a 2-1 Bruins lead late in the second period.

“The first period we weren’t sustaining much time in the offensive zone,” said Grzelcyk. “I just tried to keep the puck alive as best we could – I think good things happen when that happens. I started skating back up to the point so their forward kind of dives down and Nasher was wide open. Just tried to get him the puck, he snapped a quick one and Backs made a great tip.”

It was a play he’s not sure he would have made two weeks ago.

“When you initially get called up your first thought is probably not to make a mistake, but I don’t think anyone really benefits if you’re playing like that,” said Grzelcyk. “I think maybe having a few games in a row under my belt kind of helps that confidence and allows me to hang onto pucks more. Just kind of have a little more freedom to be more creative.”

That aggressiveness in the offensive zone is exactly what Cassidy and the rest of the coaching staff have been looking for from Grzelcyk.

“We’ve tried to instill that attack mentality in him, be aggressive not reckless,” said Cassidy. “He needs to survive in this league by playing to his strengths and he has. He’s pushed the pace of the game, breakouts have been clean, neutral zone transitions, added to our offensive blue line play – we saw it on the goal last night.”

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Just when the Bruins thought they were nearing full health, more bad news arrived at the doorstep on Tuesday afternoon.

While David Backes, Brad Marchand, and Ryan Spooner all participated fully in practice and appear close to a return to game action, Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci missed the session and have been ruled out for Wednesday night’s tilt with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

DeBrusk, day-to-day with an upper-body ailment, will become the 14th Bruin to miss time because of injury this season. Krejci, meanwhile, re-aggravated an upper-body injury that sidelined him for 11 games earlier this season. The pivot (also day-to-day) had played in five games since returning and was riding a two-game scoring streak (2-1-3).

“It’s tough. Every team goes through it though. You see it all around the league,” said Marchand, who has sat out six straight games and eight out of 10 because of injury. “I think Anaheim is in a similar situation as well. You have to battle through and the guys have. We’ve won four of the last five and we’re starting to come together. It’s good that guys are able to step up and guys are getting opportunities to take control and be big for us.

“Guys have done that and we have to continue to find ways to win. At the end of the year, you don’t want to have any excuses, you want to battle through it and it’s going to make the team better.”

Marchand shed the burgundy non-contact jersey for Tuesday’s session and will be a game-time decision against the Lightning.

“Not very much fun wearing that, nice to get the regular one back on and take part in the full practice,” said Marchand, “So it was good, I felt good today – felt good the last few days. I guess we’ll see.”

David Backes has also been termed day-to-day and a game-time decision for Wednesday night and appears to be well ahead of schedule in his recovery from colon surgery. Backes was originally given an estimated recovery time of eight weeks after the procedure on Nov. 2.

“Feeling pretty good,” said Backes. “Another step today in practice with full contact, trying to egg a little more contact with the day off yesterday and trying to push and test things so that you’re still in a little bit more of a controlled environment.

“If things are not good, you can call timeout, where as in a game there’s not that luxury or tell everyone to take a second to regroup. Went well, we’ll see what tomorrow brings.”

Ryan Spooner was also back at practice after missing Sunday’s game against Edmonton.

“Had some time off, so he’s doing well. Looking good for tomorrow,” said Cassidy.

Bjork Returns

In other positive injury news, Anders Bjork was back on the ice for the first time since suffering an undisclosed injury against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Nov. 11. The rookie winger, who has missed the last six games, was donning a burgundy non-contact jersey and did not take part in the second half of practice, which consisted of several battle drills. He will not play against Tampa Bay.

Goalie Decision Coming

Cassidy did not divulge which goalie will start against the Tampa Bay Lightning, saying he will announce his final decision on Wednesday morning.

“Ideally, I’d like both goalies to give us a chance to win every night and be at the top of their game,” said Cassidy. “I think we’ve seen that with Anton [Khudobin] now, Tuukka [Rask's] not there yet. We’ve got to find a way. At the start of the year that’s what we had said, we want both goalies to play well and give us a chance to win every night. That’s what we need. That hasn’t changed.”

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With each passing day, the Bruins are inching closer to a return to full health. But there is still some work to be done.

Brad Marchand and Torey Krug skated with the team on Tuesday, but will not travel to New Jersey and have been ruled out for the game against the Devils on Wednesday night. Ryan Spooner, meanwhile, appears close to a return from the torn adductor that has sidelined him for the last five-plus weeks.

“It was a long 5 ½ weeks,” said Spooner, who took his normal reps with the first power-play unit during Tuesday’s session. “Not sure if I’m gonna play yet, but I’m gonna go with the team, skate in the morning, and go from there. I felt good, first practice I’ve had and felt fine, so that’s good.”

Marchand started practice in his usual white sweater, but ditched it for a burgundy non-contact jersey roughly halfway through the session. Krug – who left practice early – and David Backes also donned the non-contact jerseys.

For Marchand, it was the first step in his return from an undisclosed injury that has caused him to miss the last three games.

“Good to be back out with the guys and feel like part of the team again,” said Marchand. “It’s frustrating any time you have to miss games and time away from the team. It’s disappointing. The guys had a great road trip and are playing well, so it’s fun to watch. It would be nice to be back in the lineup and be part of the team again, but it will come.”

Boston’s No. 1 left winger has missed five of the team’s last seven games. After sitting out two games with an upper-body injury, Marchand returned for the back-to-back against Toronto some 10 days ago and was nicked up again on the second night in Boston.

“I’m feeling a little better and progressing,” said Marchand. “Today was really the first day I skated high-intensity. We’ll just keep going day by day.”

Though disappointed to be out of the lineup, Marchand was impressed with the team’s play on the West Coast during his absence and had particularly high praise for Boston’s youth.

“I think the younger guys did a really good job stepping up, Jake DeBrusk had a great game [against San Jose],” said Marchand. “Throughout the lineup guys are playing with more confidence and stepping up their game. That’s what we need, guys stepping up at different times. We’re getting that.”

Grzelcyk Back Up

With Krug still out, the Bruins recalled Matt Grzelcyk from Providence. It’s the Charlestown native’s second stint with Boston this season, having played in the B’s season opener against Nashville.

The 5-foot-9, 174-pound blue liner had four assists and a plus-4 rating in 14 games with Providence this season and is often compared to Krug in both stature and skill set.

“Puck mover, he’s quick, he gets up the ice, supports the rush, good distributor, a lot of similarities to Torey. And naturally it’s always, ‘Well, because of their similar makeup…’ But they are similar,” said Cassidy. “Torey at this level, and even at the AHL level his first year, is a more dynamic offensive player. We’re still looking for that from Grizz. Whether it’s in him or not, time will tell. We believe it is, we’ve just got to get it out of him.”