Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask stopped 28-of-29 shots, but took a loss as the B’s fell to the Wild, 1-0, on Thursday night. (Brad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports)
A meeting between the goaltenders with the league’s best and second-best mark in both save percentage and goals against average came with the performances — and lack of goals — you would expect in Thursday’s meeting between the Bruins and Wild at Xcel Energy Center.
At one end, though particularly unchallenged on the night, the Wild’s Devan Dubnyk continued to be his normal dynamite self, with zeros on the board through 40 minutes of play. At the other end, Tuukka Rask, in the best season-opening groove of his professional career, was just as strong with a slightly larger workload thrown his way.
Pestered by a Wild group that dominated the puck for much of the night, the Bruins leaned heavily on Rask (as they have all trip and all season for that matter), and Rask stood tall, with his biggest stops coming with two momentum-stopping saves on Minnesota winger Jason Pominville in the second period.
With Rask doing his job in the B’s crease, the Bruins appeared to finally get their goaltender a lead to work with on a net-front putaway from Minnesota native David Backes with 5:24 left in the second period, but a challenge and subsequent review determined that it was Ryan Spooner that was offside on the zone entry half a minute prior. (Krejci, Backes, and Spooner were actually offside on the play as the puck danced laterally across the blue line while they all skated over the blue.)
Worked over on a review for the umphteenth time since its introduction last season, the B’s best chance of the scoreless draw came with an early third period breakaway chance for Matt Beleskey off a Mathew Dumba turnover, but Beleskey’s bid was slammed shut by a diving poke and cover from the 6-foot-6 Dubnyk.
But in a night of heavy Wild pressure, it was their final push on Rask that finally broke the dam.
In the B’s end for over 40 seconds, the Wild struck for the game’s first goal with 44.5 seconds to go, as a puck banked off a groggy Adam McQuaid and into the B’s net for Mikael Granlund’s fourth goal of the season.
It was a goal that seemed completely avoidable, too, as the Bruins whiffed on chances to clear the puck out of their zone long before McQuaid’s legs were taken out and then used by the Wild as the tip-in for the game-winning tally.
The Bruins gave it one final push with a Torey Krug slapshot at the buzzer, but it was blocked, and Dubnyk rolled to his second shutout in as many head-to-heads with the Bruins this season, this one behind a 25-save performance.
Krejci takes blocked shot to knee, returns
Bruins fans everywhere held their breath for a moment when center David Krejci took a Christian Folin bomb off his knee and collapsed down to the ice. As Krejci struggled to get back to his feet, you thought about all of Krejci’s injury struggles over the last two years, and how important Krejci has been historically, and how No. 46 was just starting to look like himself out there on a second line with Ryan Spooner and David Backes. Your fears were reinforced by the sight of Krejci heading back to the B’s room after he slowly made his way to the bench, and you immediately started armchair coaching up some new lines. But as soon as you found the perfect winger for your sans Krejci second line, the crafty Czech pivot was back on the ice. Huge. Bullet. Dodged.
Although Krejci feels the wrath of B’s fans at times, he’s still without a doubt the club’s most offensively gifted playmaker, and eases the overall workload on guys like top-line center Patrice Bergeron, and even David Backes, to a lesser extent.
Morrow gets in game for second straight night
It’s official: the Bruins are holding tryouts on their blue line. With the return of Kevan Miller (fractured left hand) looming, B’s coach Claude Julien is clearly trying to figure out what he has from every one of the seven bodies on his point before the club has to actually make a move on one of them. So for the second game in a row, and for the first time since Oct. 20-22, defenseman Joe Morrow found himself in the lineup for consecutive nights while Colin Miller sat as a scratch once again.
When No. 86 returns to the ice, somebody is going to have to go and likely hit the waiver wire. And of that group, either Morrow or Colin Miller seem like the likeliest candidates (unless the Bruins ditch having a 13th forward, which seems unlikely), so giving them both an equal shot at earning their keep in the B’s lineup and on the roster for that matter, is only fair.
Usage of slumping Jimmy Hayes still seems odd
Down David Pastrnak (undisclosed), the Bruins had just one natural right winger (unless you want to count Backes, who has played both center and wing throughout his career depending on the situation/line/etc.) dressed for tonight’s game: Jimmy Hayes. And where did Hayes skate for this game? On the fourth line, of course. See, this is weird. While we go on and on about Hayes’ struggles in Boston (and we have), Pastrnak’s spot on the first line was seemingly wide open. So why not Hayes? Is it viewed as ‘wrong’ to potentially reward Hayes — who has not scored in 31 games dating back to last season — with such a spot? Maybe. But it’s also worth noting that that line is perhaps the best way to get a ‘passenger’ going and/or masked. When the Bruins acquired Hayes from the Panthers in 2015, it was with the hope that he could chip in 20 goals a season (something he nearly did with the Panthers during his final year in town), and while that seems incredibly unlikely at this point, why not give him an opportunity typically reserved for a 20-goal scorer? Bogging him down on the fourth line does little for anybody.
Late collapse brings back shades of last year
It was nine days ago in Montreal that the Bruins allowed a goal with just 1:03 to go in the third period to drop a 3-2 final to the Canadiens. Tonight, they allow the game-winning goal with just 44.5 seconds. In a combined 1:48 between two games, the Bruins have now left at least two points on the table. For a team that’s likely going to battle for one of the Eastern Conference wild card spots this season, that’s huge, and especially so when you realize that the Bruins have missed out on the postseason by just three points last season, and two the year before. So while you’ve liked the team’s ability to protect a lead on most nights (and something they did very well in the first two games of this road trip), breakdowns like the one that cost the Bruins at least one point tonight are absolute no-nos as the club settles into the grind of the season.
The Bruins are back in action on Saturday night at TD Garden against the Winnipeg Jets.