The Bruins did not come close to playing their best game in either of the two contests against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden this week and yet they left Manhattan with all four points available.
It has been that kind of a season for the Bruins thus far.
The B’s made Nick Ritchie’s goal midway through the second period stand up and rode out some nasty emotions for a 1-0 win on Friday. The B’s improved to 5-0-1 in the second games of two-game series in this unusually scheduled season.
Jaroslav Halak made 21 saves for the shutout, the B’s fifth straight win and 10th straight in which they’ve earned a point. It is starting to feel like this could be a special season.
“We have a lot of fun and I think it shows, too, on the ice,” said Jeremy Lauzon, who assisted on the lone goal and had a fight. “Right now we’re winning hockey games, we have a pretty close group. It’s been really fun.”
The evening started off playfully enough. Brad Marchand and the Rangers’ Mika Zibanejad, both of whom have a superstition of being the last one off the ice after warmups, would not give in. They stayed out on the Madison Square Garden ice, staring at each other as the Zamboni circled the ice. Zibanejad even started working on his stick in order to wait out Marchand. Finally, the two decided to have a rock-paper-scissor contest, with Zibanejad winning and forcing Marchand to go off first.
Nothing in the first could top that for entertainment value in the scoreless first, as the B’s again started much too slowly for coach Bruce Cassidy’s liking.
“Some things were addressed,” said Cassidy. “I didn’t like the way we were playing again in terms of offense, being easy to play against, turning down shot opportunities. That’s what I mean by being easy to play against, not shooting the puck when the opportunity is there so that people know to get to the net … Some things that happened earlier in the year that you’d hoped you’d be a little farther down the road. We discussed that and reminded them that ‘hey, this is how we intend to be a good offensive team 5-on-5.’”
After the sleepy first, the two teams forced themselves to wake up in a contentious second period that saw two questionable Ranger hits, a couple of fights and the lone goal of the game. The physicality brought the best out in the B’s as they outshot the Rangers 18-6 in the second and took the lead they’d never relinquish.
The Rangers’ Brendan Lemieux first raised the blood pressure by hitting Sean Kuraly between the 5 and the 2 on Kuraly’s back for a boarding penalty, but the B’s could not capitalize on it.
Later Blueshirt defenseman Jacob Trouba hit Jakub Zboril up high as Zboril was stretching out for a puck and took a roughing minor for it. Charlie McAvoy went to mix it up wth Trouba in defense of Zboril but not much came of it. Both players got minors, but Trouba got the extra two for the hit on Zboril. Again, the B’s could not cash in, though goalie Igor Shesterkin had to be good to keep it scoreless.
At at 9:27, the B’s finally broke through. David Krejci made a nice cross-ice feed to Ritchie on his off wing on the right side. When New York defenseman K’Andre Miller fell down, Ritchie took the puck to the net. Shesterkin made the initial save on Ritchie’s backhand attempt but Ritchie stuck with it, jamming home the rebound inside the shortside post. It was not the prettiest scoring play, but it was the kind of work Cassidy had been hoping to coax out of his team. It was Ritchie’s fifth goal of the season and first 5-on-5 tally.
“Its nice to score a goal any way. It doesn’t matter if it’s power-play or 5-on-5. Whatever way, it’s just nice to see the puck go in,” said Ritchie.
Then things got really nasty. Off the ensuing faceoff, Lemieux and Trent Frederic dropped the gloves. Lemieux got the drop on Frederic, landing a few shots before Frederic got going. The Bruin eventually got a few punches in of his own before Lemieux wrestled him to the ground.
Sporting a small cut under his left eye, Frederic was not happy, wanting to continue the bout even after the officials got in. He kept pointing his finger menacingly at Lemieux as the two took their seats to cool down, but they would have to wait for another day.
There was another bout in the period, but it wasn’t between those two. Jeremy Lauzon went with Pavel Buchnevich, with the Bruin feeding the Russian with some heavy right hands. Lauzon got an extra 10 minutes for what appeared to be a late shot in the fight, and he was lost for a good chunk of the third period.
“The orneriness begins and that’s when we’re at our best. We’re perfectly comfortable in those games. It got a little bit physical and all of a sudden our guys are engaged in the game,” said Cassidy, who called the misconduct on Lauzon “marginal.”
The B’s went 6-for-6 on the penalty kill, including a couple of instances when they had to dig down deep. Early in the third, they were forced to kill off a McAvoy tripping penalty while top killing defenseman Lauzon was in the box still serving his misconduct. Then with 1:02 left in the game, McAvoy took a delay of the game penalty, creating a 6-on-4 with Shesterkin pulled for the extra skater. But Kevan Miller and Brandon Carlo did a masterful job of mucking the puck along the boards behind the Bruin net to kill off most of the advantage and seal the victory.