The Bruins needed one point over the New York Islanders on Monday at the Garden to clinch third place in the East Division and a date with the Washington Capitals in the first round of the playoffs.
They did their job, and a little more. After securing the point in regulation, Taylor Hall slipped a self pass between the legs of Nick Leddy and then beat Ilya Sorokin with a backhander to lift the B’s to a 3-2 victory in front of 4,565 fans at the Garden in their regular season home finale. It was Hall’s second goal of the game and it highlighted just how far he’s come since being acquired from Buffalo, where his confidence was in the dumps.
That, clearly, is no longer the case.
“It’s probably some of the most enjoyable hockey of my career,” said Hall of his brief time so far in Boston. “I hope there’s more to come.”
There is indeed. And it will begin with the Capitals and the B’s former captain Zdeno Chara, who chose the already-physical Caps over a reduced role being offered by Bruins. We’ll soon find out who’ll have more regrets over that decision. And, of course, there’s Tom Wilson, who was suspended for seven games because of a head shot on Brandon Carlo that sent the B’s season into a tailspin until he just recently pulled out of it.
After the two teams finish out the regular season Tuesday night in a game that will no doubt feature a few AHL players, Game 1 is set for Saturday at Capital One Center (7:15 p.m.).
“I think if you look back at the start of the year, you probably could have guessed that it would play out this way. Obviously, it adds another story line to the series,” said Brad Marchand, who had the other goal in the game and just missed his 30th into an empty net late in regulation. “They’re obviously a very dominant team, physical, and that’s where they gain a lot of emotion and energy from that. They have a lot of guys that play that way. … They’re built for the playoffs.”
Time will tell who will gain the upper hand in the battle between Chara and his old mates.
“He knows (Patrice Bergeron) better than anybody, and (Brad Marchand). He’s seen them play for years,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “One of the reasons they signed Z is this time of the year. His impact there probably hasn’t been truly felt yet and we’re going to be the first ones to find out what it is. On the other side of things, we’ve got to worry about our own group, get ready to play, break down Z like we would any other player. By the same token, we know a lot of his tendencies. Maybe that will help us in certain situations.”
It wasn’t all good news for the B’s. Ondrej Kase, who’d missed four months because of a concussion, returned only to leave after 6:49 of icetime. The club termed it as an “upper body” injury.
“He left, he couldn’t finish the game, so that’s never a good sign,” said Cassidy, who didn’t expect him to travel with the team for the regular season finale.
One player Chara does not know quite as intimately as some of of his former Bruin teammates is Hall. And on Monday, Hall looked an awful lot like the Hart Trophy winner he was in New Jersey three years ago.
Hall was turbocharged from the drop of the puck. He drew two penalties in the first period, the second of which eventually led to a 5-on-3 goal, a one-timer off a pass from his new best friend, David Krejci.
The only blemish to his game was a retaliatory penalty on Nick Leddy early in the second that produced an Oliver Wahlstrom 4-on-3 goal that the Islander whistled over Tuukka Rask’s blocker.
The B’s regained the lead a little later in the second when Marchand established position at the top of the crease and Krejci hit his stick blade with another perfect pass.
Hall pointed to Marchand as someone he’s watched to get his game back.
“Confidence is such a special thing in sports. When you have it, you don’t even know you have it. But when you don’t have confidence, it’s certainly apparent,” said Hall (8-6-14 in 16 games in Boston). I can’t say what the turning point was, but when I watch a guy like Marchand play and the things he does, it was a really good thing to watch him play, to see how hard he is on pucks, to see his second effort to get puck back. … He’s a guy that our whole roster feeds off. But for me personally, to see how he plays, I know I can play a similar style.”
The B’s could not hold the lead that Marchand gave them as Mat Barzal answered back. But after the B’s secured the point, holding off the Islanders in regulation after they had pulled the goalie for an extra skater, Hall nailed down the win with a beauty of a move.
“That’s the Taylor Hall we were hoping to get,” said Cassidy. “And so far so good.”