Bruins winger Frank Vatrano scored in his first NHL game of the season in Thursday’s win over the Panthers. (Robert Mayer/USA Today Sports)
On the shelf for the first 34 games of the season as a result of September foot surgery, Bruins winger Frank Vatrano was counting down the days to his NHL return.
He had to be patient, had to bide his time (you could tell just how badly Vatrano, recalled and cleared to play after two games in the AHL last weekend, wanted to play against the Islanders the other night), and had to understand that even when he did come back, that there might be some time until he made a noticeable impact for the Big B’s.
That time, as it turned out, was just one-plus period.
On the ice for just his sixth shift of the night (and first of the middle frame), Vatrano beat Panthers James Reimer netminder with a signature quick wrister fired just 2:09 into the second period in a 3-1 win over the Panthers at the BB&T Center.
Reunited with Austin Czarnik — Vatrano’s preferred playmaking centerman during his absurd run with the P-Bruins a year ago — on the B’s third line with Riley Nash on the right side, the 22-year-old provided a noticeable spark and played with the shoot-first mentality that the Black and Gold had penciled into their top six before Vatrano went under the knife after a freak foot injury sustained while jogging.
The Bruins rolled with the momentum of Vatrano’s first goal of the season with a power-play goal from Patrice Bergeron, scored just 3:04 after their first goal, for Bergeron’s first goal in nine games.
And with a 2-0 edge through 40 minutes of action, the Bruins went into a defensive shell against the trailing Panthers, and it was Aleksander Barkov that beat Tuukka Rask up high, scored with under seven minutes to go in the third.
But the Bruins caught a break on a 6-on-5 chance for the Panthers when Keith Yandle whiffed on a puck at the attacking blue line after a Florida faceoff win and allowed Brad Marchand and David Backes to charge towards an empty net, where Backes deposited a goal for the dagger in a 3-1 final.
With the win, the Bruins improved to 3-0-0 against the Panthers this season.
Here are four other things we learned in the win…
Power play tweaks come with noticeable jump to Bruins
The Bruins knew they had to tinker with their absolutely moribund power play. Getting both Vatrano and David Pastrnak back in action allowed Claude Julien to do just that, too. Off the top unit (if you care to call it that) went David Backes and David Krejci, and up to the first unit went Ryan Spooner and Pastrnak (to the point opposite Torey Krug).
And hey, it worked.
Although the Bruins failed to get a goal on their first opportunity of the night, the Bruins had a straight-up relentless attack from the second unit — with Krejci and Colin Miller on the point, and Backes, Czarnik and Vatrano as the forwards — and peppered Reimer with multiple looks (and the ever important second-chance opportunity).
In what was their best 5-on-4 night in weeks, the Bruins finally broke through with a tangible result, too, behind Bergeron’s power-play goal (his second of the season and first since Nov. 19).
The B’s are now 3-for-32 on the power play in the month of December.
Rask rebounds with strong showing
Tuukka Rask was not at his best Tuesday night against the Islanders. Pulled for the first time this season (something that happened to No. 40 all of three times a year ago) after he allowed three goals on 13 shots, Julien shut any talk of Rask being rattled right the hell down. “He’ll be fine,” Julien said after the loss. And he was right.
Back in the cage for tonight’s game, Rask was his usual poised self, and turned away 29-of-30 shots against.
This was Rask’s 18th win in just 22 career games against the Panthers.
Panthers serve as cautionary tale to Fire Claude crowd
The frustrations surrounding the B’s are understandable.
This team should be better than where they are right now, and the team should not no-show with the frequency they do (think: losses to the Avalanche, Maple Leafs, and Islanders). A lot of that blame tends to get placed on the team’s coach, too. And by now, Julien’s been fired a billion times. And if the Bruins continued to stink up the joint (read as: lost this game), the demand for change probably would have wildfired to the other New England states. But the team the Bruins beat tonight should serve as a reminder that simply firing a coach is not always the way to actually fix whatever is ailing a team.
Frustrated with the overall play and malaise of the team after a franchise-best year the season before, the Panthers fired Gerard Gallant after the team stumbled to an 11-10-1 (23 of a possible 44 points) start out of the gate. The Panthers replaced Gallant with general manager Tom Rowe, and the club has gone 4-4-4 (12 of a possible 24 points) since. They’ve accumulated some more loser points, sure, but it’s clear that whatever bugged the Panthers then is still bugging them.
Of course things could change and the Panthers could catch fire. But if they do, it won’t be because of a coaching change. And if they don’t, they’ll be just another team that found out that the coach was not the problem.
If the ingredients are bad and expired, the meal’s going to taste bad no matter the chef.
Jaromir Jagr moves into sole possession of second place on NHL’s all-time points list
Chasing history, and in need of just one point to move ahead of Mark Messier for sole possession of No. 2 on the NHL’s all-time points list (Jaromir Jagr recorded three assists Tuesday night to move into a tie with Messier, at 1,887 points), Jagr did just that with an assist on Barkov’s third period goal in a losing effort.
“It went off my ass,” Jagr, an ageless wonder and treasure, said in a bizarre in-game ceremony to celebrate the milestone.
The modern day Gordie Howe in terms of productivity at his age, Jagr recorded nine of those 1,888 points with the Bruins.
Next up for the legendary Czech winger? Wayne Gretzky.
Next up for the Bruins? A Friday night head-to-head with the Hurricanes.