The Boston Bruins beat the Minnesota Wild Thursday night by a 4-2 score thanks in large part to Loui Eriksson’s hat trick (he now has 9 goals on the season) and solid play between the pipes by backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson.
The win was significant also because it was only the third victory on home ice this season for Boston, which was an important two points for the team to get on the heels of Tuesday night’s loss to San Jose at the TD Garden. Additionally, that the B’s beat the Wild, the ranking modern expansion era nemesis for Boston, was an important moral win for a team that will take positives in any form these days. It was only the third time since Minnesota joined the league for the 1999-00 season that the B’s had beaten the Wild, which is a remarkable statistic when you consider the success the Bruins have had since 2008.
With defenseman Kevan Miller on the shelf after suffering an upper body injury in the third period against the Sharks, the B’s got a boost with the return of Colin Miller who had missed the previous couple of games to injury.
The story of the night was the play of Boston’s two Swedes- Eriksson and Gustavsson- who paced the home team to a solid win on home ice. For Eriksson, it was his third career three-goal game, and Gustavsson upped his record with Boston to 4-1, a 2.20 GAA and .915 save percentage. He’s making a case to see more ice, which could let Tuukka Rask get a little time to work through his struggles right now. Not surprisingly, I’m seeing some Twitter chatter mocking Rask and elevating ‘Gus’ but still believe Rask is not only a superior goaltender to Gustavsson but he’s capable of infinitely better play than he’s demonstrated to date. This is not a goaltender controversy per se and it would be absurd to argue for Gustavsson to push Rask aside at this juncture, but Gus has played well enough to perhaps get the next game or two and see what he does with the opportunity.
Loui’s first goal of the night happened when he threw the puck at the net from the near the left wing boards and it appeared to hit Brett Connolly and bounce in past Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk. In actuality, the puck hit Wild forward Jason Pominville’s skate who was locked up with Connolly and backing in towards his net, meaning the goal belonged to Eriksson, his seventh of the year.
The second goal happened on the power play, when Torey Krug took the puck in from the blue line and near the top of the left circle put a hard pass into the slot where Patrice Bergeron was set up. Bergeron then moved the puck over to Dubnyk’s left and Eriksson buried it for his second of the game.
Eriksson completed the natural hat trick when he finished off a nice give-and-go with David Krejci to close out the scoring. It all started with a good save by Gustavsson and a heads-up pass from Matt Beleskey to spring Krejci and Eriksson on a 2-on-1 in the neutral zone.
As for Eriksson, he’s continuing a fine season in which he currently sits third on the team in scoring with nine goals (team lead) and 17 points in 18 games.
Eriksson was never going to provide the superstar potential Tyler Seguin took with him to Dallas and that was a known risk Boston was taking when they dealt the 21–year-old in 2013. However, this version of Eriksson was the guy the Bruins felt like they were getting back as part of a larger package that to date has not turned out as hoped.
Eriksson’s play this season has made GM Don Sweeney’s job a tough one, as he will have to decide whether Loui is part of a solution going forward past 2016 or if the team should trade him at or near the deadline to get what could be a pretty significant return. We’re too early in the season to figure out whether Boston will be in a position to make a trade or will be better served sticking with him, but one thing is for sure: Eriksson is doing the things we had always seen from him in Dallas. You know what you have in the guy, so if you give that up for the uncertainty of future returns in the form of prospects and/or draft picks, you might just find yourself wishing the team had stuck with Eriksson instead.
It’s no doubt a debate that will continue to be had and heat up after the Winter Classic when playoff positions will start to solidify and we will better know if Eriksson can sustain his impressive scoring pace.
Beleskey and Krejci played superb games as that line carried the night- it’s another sign that while this Bruins team might lack the talent on paper to be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, they’re going to show up and give a top effort most nights.