BOSTON — The Bruins closed out their season-long five-game homestand on a high note Saturday night.
A 22-save shutout by Tuukka Rask and a late goal by Zdeno Chara propelled Boston to a 2-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at TD Garden.
As the Bruins prepare to head back out on the road, let’s take a spin through some leftover notes from Saturday night.
— Brad Marchand came this close to netting one of the prettiest goals of the NHL season.
The Bruins winger came up empty on that bid, but he did find the back of the net later in the night, potting an empty-netter with 6.5 seconds to play to seal the win.
— Saturday was Jimmy Hayes’ 26th birthday. He celebrated by peppering Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer with five shots, second on the team behind Torey Krug’s six.
— Winger Frank Vatrano missed the game with an upper body injury, forcing coach Claude Julien to reconfigure some of his line combinations. One tweak involved Ryan Spooner shifting from center to left wing on the third line and centerman Joonas Kemppainen bumping from the fourth line up to the third.
Spooner lacks experience on the wing (“I think I’ve played there less than 20 games my entire life”), but Julien views the temporary position change as a way to get the offensively gifted 23-year-old more ice time without sacrificing defensive stability.
“I think it’s a great option to have,” said Julien, who’s tried Spooner out at wing on multiple occasions this season. “It doesn’t mean he’s not going to play center again, but I like the fact that I can, instead of maybe moving Kemppainen up against certain teams because they’re a heavy game, and we need maybe a little bit more late in the game, then I know I can move him to the wing and he’s still going to be a helpful player, instead of just necessarily leaving him on the bench and waiting for the next power play.
“So, no doubt, there’s some things you can do with Ryan, and it’s nice to see that he’s embraced that challenge on the wing at times, so we can utilize him. It’s his advantage. He’s not just a centerman, now he’s a centerman and a winger.”
— Beginning next season, each NHL team will enjoy a “five-day bye” week during either January or February. Unsurprisingly, players seem to be big fans of this change.
“Those are the months where the season hits a little bit of a lull, so it’s a nice touch,” center Patrice Bergeron said Saturday morning, via CSNNE.com “It’s also smart injury-wise for all those guys so they have a chance to regroup, and feel better. (It’s about) having more exciting games for the fans because if guys are well-rested then it will be better hockey.”
“I think it will especially be good for the guys that go to the All-Star game,” added defenseman Adam McQuaid, who also serves as the Bruins’ NHLPA representative. “Those are the guys that are leaned on pretty heavily by their teams, and they don’t get that break. It will be good for those guys. It will condense the schedule a little bit, but it also give guys a chance to heal up some bumps and bruises at that time of year. I think it will be a positive thing.”
— Saturday’s game was the first end of a home-and-home, with the second set for Monday at the Air Canada Centre.
The Bruins play the same team in consecutive games four times this season, as home-and-homes with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres await later on the schedule. That’s a sharp uptick from last season, during which the Bruins never played back-to-back games against the same opponent.
In fact, this is their first time doing so in the regular season since 2013, when they played the Senators on Dec. 27 and again on Dec. 28.
“I think that’s part of the schedule, and I think that we know that both teams are going to be battling again for another win,” Chara said. “(The Leafs) play really well. It’s a new structure (under new coach Mike Babcock), new system they’re playing. You know, very disciplined. They battle hard. They skate well. It’s going to be a game for us and I’m sure for them, as well.”
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Boston Bruins left wing Brad Marchand during a game against Toronto.