Final Buzzer: Bruins take Black Friday matinee over Rangers

The Boston Bruins showed the urgency of rabid Black Friday shoppers in a 4-3 come-from-behind victory over the Eastern Conference power New York Rangers in a post-Thanksgiving matinee.

Ryan Spooner and David Krejci scored goals 2:03 apart in the third period to erase a 3-2 deficit and give the B’s their fifth consecutive victory, a season high. Patrice Bergeron and Brett Connolly also tallied for Boston, keeping the team in the thick of the Atlantic Division standings. Tuukka Rask made 24 stops and was good when he needed to be in getting over .500 (8-7-1) for the first time this year.

For the Bruins, they put forth a strong effort in scoring four goals against longtime nemesis Henrik Lundqvist. In contrast to other recent wins, the team played a solid 60 minutes, losing an early 1-0 lead to stay within striking distance to negate 2-1 and 3-2 scores to grab an emotional two points at the end of regulation.

For Boston, the offense has played pretty well over the course of the season, posting an NHL-best power play (two goals) but the team defense has been much improved during the five-game winning streak. A lot of it has to do with the return of Dennis Seidenberg, who has stabilized the pairings with his experience and strong defensive play after missing the first month of the regular season.

The Rangers did’t play their best game at TD Garden, but on paper, the Broadway Blueshirts are a significantly better team than the Bruins are. Where Lundqvist is concerned, there might be a psychological edge over Boston (though the 2013 playoffs went a long way towards erasing a long-term dominance he had previously enjoyed), but he looked mortal in this one.

Boston got on the board first when Bergeron converted a blocked Torey Krug drive after the veteran center won an offensive zone draw to the B’s top scoring defender. The puck hit traffic out front, but Bergeron was on the spot and zipped a shot through Lundqvist’s five-hole to get the home crowd into the game early. It was the eighth goal of the season, the 214th of his career. Bergeron is closing in on 600 career points with 571.

Rangers goals by Oscar Lindberg and Rick Nash in the first five minutes of the second period put Boston in a 2-1 hole, but Connolly got the equalizer on the power play, the first time the B’s scored with the man advantage in three games. Connolly found the back of the net after Colin Miller faked a shot from the point and then put a pass to the streaking forward’s tape.

The Rangers grabbed a lead once more in the final period when J.T. Miller got a power play goal thanks to a Brad Marchand goalie interference penalty. The call drew a cascade of boos from the TD Garden because it appeared that Lundqvist was on the edge of his crease and fell to the ice as if shot once Marchand made contact with his knee to the goaltender’s head, but the call stood, and the Rangers capitalized.

With time winding down, Jesper Fast took a hooking penalty on Miller which set the stage for Boston’s furious comeback.

With the Bruins in possession of the puck, Krug got another shot from outside through to the front of the net. Loui Eriksson got his stick on it and found Spooner who was driving towards the crease from the right circle. He took the puck and flipped it up and over Lundqvist who was down on the initial shot and unable to make the save. Spooner’s fifth goal of the season came with 3:46 left in the third period.

Krejci then tallied the winning goal with 1:43 left when he drove a hard shot from the outside that appeared to pinball off a Rangers player (Emerson Etem) in front and into the twine behind Lundqvist.

The game was not without some controversy, as Matt Beleskey drilled Derek Stepan with a hard check that drove the Rangers star into the boards, breaking several ribs as the team would report afterwards. The hit itself was not an illegal one, but delivered perhaps a tad late and with Stepan off balance as he was turning to chase the puck he had just passed. When Dylan McIlrath challenged Beleskey and was assessed an extra two minutes for instigating, Connolly scored on the ensuing power play, adding insult to injury.

Claude Julien moved rookie fan favorite Frank Vatrano to the right side on a line with Bergeron and Marchand, and showed some promise on his off-wing. He’s using his speed and hustle to win puck battles along the walls and has been so impressive given how quickly he’s emerged as an NHL option. His father recently pointed out that in one calendar year Vatrano has scored his first NCAA, professional (AHL) and NHL goals- talk about a white Christmas!

The Bruins are off until Wednesday, when they go on the road for three games in Western Canada, but with Rask enjoying his best stretch of hockey this season and the rest of the club playing with confidence and verve, the B’s are giving their fans a lot to be happy about. As expected, the season has been a series of peaks and valleys, but the brutal start to the year and winless homestead seems to be a distant memory.

The Bruins showed they can run with some of the NHL’s big dogs with this win over the Rangers, and after some poor showings at home, are giving their fans more reasons to get excited for the games again.

UP

Seidenberg2

Dennis Seidenberg has been ‘steady as he goes’ since returning to the lineup this month (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

David Krejci- Scored the winning goal late by doing something he hadn’t been doing enough of in recent seasons- shooting the puck on net. A core player who was signed to a big extension a year ago, one that raised eyebrows, the Czech veteran has been one of the NHL’s top offensive players since opening night and is one pace for his best scoring season at age 29.

Matt Beleskey- He didn’t have any points, but had five hits including the momentum-changing play on Stepan, five shots on net, a fight and key drawn penalty resulting in Connolly’s PPG, along with 13 minutes of ice time. As Bruins analyst Bob Beers has said- Beleskey might not be getting the points, but he shows up every night and makes a difference in other key areas. He’s not going to give you the pure physical dominance of Milan Lucic (when he was on his game) but Beleskey is giving the team every ounce of his talent right now.

Ryan Spooner- The debate on his even strength effectiveness continues, but he came through in the clutch when the B’s needed a power play goal with a key score that took full advantage of his speed and puck skills. Simply put- when Spooner has extra time and space, he’s been deadly in the season’s first quarter. As long as he continues to produce, he’ll stay firmly in the mix with the big club.

Colin Miller- With two goals and 10 points, Chiller is on pace for a superb rookie season. His skating and puck skills are so obvious whenever he’s out there, but his defensive game is progressing and the former Kings farmhand’s confidence is growing with each game. With Dougie Hamilton struggling in Calgary, Miller is giving the Bruins comparable production and has been an important factor in Boston’s current hot streak.

Loui Eriksson- His assist on the game-tying goal was typical Eriksson- a heads up play by a poised veteran. He could have just tried to drive the puck past Lundqvist, but instead recognized Spooner was attacking from an oblique angle and had a better chance of beating the Rangers goalie with it. With nine goals and 20 points in 22 games, he’s playing the best hockey of his Bruins tenure by far.

Dennis Seidenberg- He’s not fancy, but the German veteran is playing well after coming back from injury earlier this month. His overall play is up compared to his problems a season ago when he was returning from a major knee injury suffered in January of 2014 and appeared tentative and ineffective. He’s no longer in his prime, but Seidenberg’s experience and poise has helped to stabilized Boston’s defense. They’re not a top group by NHL standards, but with the team’s offense and goaltending, they’re good enough to get the job done. He’s a big-time shot blocker and leads by example, even if he’s not going to provide the pure talent and production of other defenders on this club.

Brett Connolly- Scored his first goal in 12 games. He’s got some zip and has the ability to be the scorer that the Tampa Bay Lightning felt good enough to pick sixth overall despite missing just about all of his draft season. Connolly is a low-cost player who could be a key to keeping this offensive chugging away, but consistency is the main thing.

DOWN-

Alain Vigneault- We can understand the frustration over losing a key player like Stepan to the Beleskey hit, but invoking the Aaron Rome hit from the 2011 Stanley Cup final? Come on, man. Vigneault has a good track record as an NHL coach, but he also has an earned reputation for being a whiner and this was vintage AV.

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