The Boston Bruins benefited from a superb goalie duel between Tuukka Rask and James Reimer, winning a second consecutive home game for the first time this season in sending the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs away in a 2-0 contest.
The game was scoreless going into the final five minutes, as both teams waged a see-saw battle that began with a good, uptempo pace from the opening puck drop and continued throughout, with just a couple of penalties to slow the momentum.
This was hockey the way it was meant to be played, even though there was just one goal scored with a netminder between the pipes- Brad Marchand’s empty-netter in the waning seconds made sure the Leafs didn’t send the TD Garden faithful into a panic with late-game heroics.
Reiner stopped Boston’s first 35 shots on him and has reinvented himself after buying into the head trajectory concept, which is gaining momentum with goalies around the NHL. In a word, it comes down to this: tracking. By tracking the puck by leading your save movement with the head and maintaining a visual at all times before the shot, at the time of save and through completion of its trajectory on the rebound, Reimer is on a hot streak, having entered the game with a .951 save percentage since pushing Jonathan Bernier out of the Toronto crease.
Alas, Reimer’s excellence in net was not enough for the Leafs, as Matt Beleskey won a puck battle down low late in the third period, dishing the puck out to Zach Trotman at the right point. Trotman faked a shot to freeze his man, then slid the puck over to his d-partner Zdeno Chara. Instead of shooting, Chara had a lane to the net and took it- skating about 15 feet in and uncorking a hard snapshot that beat Reimer through the wickets with traffic in front.
The Boston captain’s third goal of the season was all the Bruins needed.
In net, Rask was good when he had to be, making several key stops on Leafs forward Shawn Matthias, including a first period breakaway when Colin Miller lost an edge on a reverse crossover at his own blue line, allowing Matthias to walk in alone.
Zdeno Chara- Big Zee gets a lot of flak on my Twitter feed as a diminishing star who is not the player he once was, but tonight, he reminded us all of why he’s a future Hall of Famer. He played a snarly game, doling out hits and cracking Toronto pest Leo Komarov in the back with his stick during one sequence. During a scrum between Marchand and James van Riemsdyk, Chara locked up with Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf and dearly wanted to fight him, something Phaneuf seemed all too happy to let the officials keep from happening. Then with a little under five minutes left, Chara unleashed a bomb from the slot to win the game. Life means that certain sports fans will adopt a “what have you done for me lately?” attitude and there’s not much you can do about that. People are entitled to their opinions, and while Chara’s best years are behind him, it was nice to see him at the top of his game on this night.
Tuukka Rask- The Leafs have been kicking themselves ever since trading him to Boston nearly a decade ago, and Rask posted his 28th career shutout- good for fourth all-time in Boston franchise history behind Cecil “Tiny” Thompson, Frank “Mr. Zero” Brimsek and Tim “Timmy” Thomas. It’s been a tough year for Rask, but he came up big when his team needed him, and he was pretty quiet in the net, keeping things simple and making the saves look pretty routine. It was a nice change of pace from the off-kilter Rask we’ve seen more often than not this year, and goes to show that when he’s on, he’s one of the best in the game.
Brad Marchand- Marchand played a great game. He had a highlight reel sequence in the opening frame when he screwed Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly into the ice on an inside-out move, then decked Reimer, ultimately losing the puck off his stick before he could get a shot off. During a collision with Komarov that looked worse than it was, van Riemsdyk went to him and Marchand dropped the gloves, pulling the much-larger JVR to the ice and getting a roughing penalty in the process. He played with speed, energy and grit all night and didn’t get too out of control, which is usually the only issue with him. His ENG was icing on the cake of a solid night overall.
Zach Trotman- I tweeted that he’s my unsung hero for the past week-plus for steady, effective play since getting a chance to skate regularly in the lineup again. He’s never going to be a top defenseman or two-way threat, but Trotman has the size, mobility, smarts and character to be a serviceable defender at this level. He was unfairly banished to the press box after having to debut on opening night with Matt Irwin, who had a disastrous two-game performance that caused Trotman to pay a larger price, missing about a month of games as a healthy scratch. But, the former Lake Superior State standout didn’t sulk or complain- he just kept working at it and was ready to go when his chance came. NESN analyst and colleague Billy Jaffe takes it a step further, saying that Trotman has been among the team’s best defensemen since returning to the lineup. Not bad for the last overall selection in 2010…
Matt Belesekey- His point totals are nothing to write home about, but this guy is a quintessential Bruin in the way that he blasts around the ice doing the little things. I think the production will start to flow more in the coming games, but you certainly notice the guy and he made the right play on Chara’s winning goal. If he doesn’t win that battle for a loose puck, maybe this game gets to OT and we have a completely different outcome. Luckily for Boston, he didn’t lose and a few seconds later, Chara’s rocket was tickling the twine.
James Reimer- He’s a good guy off the ice and you have to give him credit for reinventing himself on a team that started horrendously. I don’t know that he’s for real- we saw a similar run back when he debuted and captured Toronto’s collective hearts in early 2011 when he was called up and stymied NHL shooters before coming back to earth and battling injuries in subsequent seasons. And of course- he was in net against Boston in the 2013 playoffs for that agonizing overtime defeat in Game 7. Tonight, he did everything in his power to give his team a chance to steal a couple of points.
No downers tonight. The Bruins got an important win for their psyche and are sitting in one of the two wild card spots as we speak. There’s still much hockey to be played, but given the way things started, I think most people will take that.