Hockey is one of the few sports that gets it. The National Hockey League has been known for its time-honored tradition of taking Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off from the hectic and rigorous schedules that comprise life in the world of professional sports.
Before we get to that point, there was still some business to attend to.
The Boston Bruins were in action on Tuesday night against the St. Louis Blues in what was the final game before the holiday hiatus.
Don’t look now, but the B’s were just one point out of first place (prior to puck drop) in the Atlantic Division with three games in hand when it comes to the Montreal Canadiens. The B’s are on such a surge that they are saying to a man: “Enough, it is time to take over.”
That might be what they are saying in the locker room, but the actions and results out on the ice are more crucial to the success of this team. The Bruins were just days removed from sweeping a home-and-home series against the Pittsburgh Penguins as well as an afternoon game on Sunday against the New Jersey Devils—a 2-1 shootout victory. The fatigue might have settled in right now, but the team is in such a grove that it is hard to slow the momentum. Which would you rather have? Accumulating points, of course.
When it comes to the opponent, the Blues are always going to be near the top of a very competitive Central Division. They would be at the summit if it were not for the hottest team in the league, the Dallas Stars. St. Louis was in Philadelphia on Monday for a grueling back-and-forth affair with the Flyers. Unfortunately, the team possess a record of 2-3-0 in second games of back-to-back sets. Tuesday night did not bode well for the Blues, especially coming off a loss.
A vulnerable team coming into an unfamiliar building to face a Boston squad that has secured at least one point in 14 out of its last 15 games. This had the potential for Boston to run away with this one. Let’s see if the Bruins could spread some holiday “Blues” to St. Louis prior to the break.
Tuukka Rask (13-7-3, 2.42 GAA, .918 SV %) opposed Jake Allen (15-8-2, 2.14 GAA, .925 SV %) in the goaltending matchup. Both teams rolling with their best netminder, which makes for stingy goal scoring opportunities.
In the first period (and throughout the game), the latter statement proved to be accurate. Both Allen and Rask looked sharp in goal. The Bruins had more shots on goal in the opening 20 minutes (14-10), but the Blues still had some quality scoring chances. That said, St. Louis got most of its scoring opportunities due to the numerous failed attempts by the Bruins to clear the puck. Those second-chance shots will haunt you. Luckily, no worse for wear for either team as the first period was scoreless…and sluggish.
“I think with these types of games you have to fight for every inch,” said Patrice Bergeron. “They are a great team with a great system, so hats off to them.”
As the second period progressed, the pace quickened. Despite the rapid movement of the game, the constant changing of possession in neutral ice was like watching a tennis match. With very little stoppages throughout the night, it was rather difficult for either team to sustain a rhythm. One thing that was for certain is that the physical play was off the charts for this game. You definitely had to give a hit to take a hit from start to finish. The game remained scoreless after the first two periods, setting up a potential stellar ending to the night.
“This was a measuring stick game for us,” said B’s head coach Claude Julien. “We were fine for the first two periods, but we had no net-front presence and we tried to force things.”
Yes, that quote is foreshadowing the end result.
In the third period, the Blues got on the board first on a nifty shot by Vladimir Tarasenko. It took nearly 50 minutes for the puck to cross the crease for the first time in the game. Arguably their best offensive player, the Blues needed Tarasenko to come through, and he did just that by netting his 22nd goal of the season. Shortly after the first tally, Robby Fabbri blasted the puck past the glove of Rask to put St. Louis on top by a score of 2-0. That is how this one would end from the TD Garden for the Bruins.
“It was a chess match the entire night,” said Julien. “We would have loved to get a chance on the power play, but things like that happen.”
One would have thought that once Tyler Randell dropped the gloves with Ryan Reaves, the B’s would have woken up. Instead, they had to rely too much on their goaltender. Rask did what he could to keep his team in the game by making 27 saves, but he had no offense in front of him. This was Boston’s first regulation loss since December 7th against the Nashville Predators.
“They capitalized on the breakdowns that we had tonight, but I do not think we had a bad period,” said Brad Marchand in regards to the two goals allowed in the final 20 minutes. “Their goalie made some big saves tonight. That is the way hockey goes sometimes.”
The Bruins will play their next game on Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres. In the meantime, enjoy the holidays.
Lineup for Dec. 22 vs. St. Louis
Matt Beleskey-David Krejci-Loui Eriksson
Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Brett Connolly
Frank Vatrano-Ryan Spooner-Jimmy Hayes
Zac Rinaldo-Landon Ferraro-Tyler Randell
Zdeno Chara-Adam McQuaid
Dennis Seidenberg-Colin Miller
Torey Krug-Kevan Miller
Side Notes: Max Talbot is currently serving a two-game suspension after he delivered a late hit on Devils forward Jiri Tlusty during Sunday’s contest…..David Pastrnak is now on a conditioning assignment down in Providence. He last played with the big club on Oct. 31 and has been sidelined with a foot injury…..Alexander Khokhlachev was recently sent back to Providence after skating in two games with this most recent call up…..Torey Krug entered this game two points shy of his 100th NHL point…..Boston entered the night with the best road record in the Eastern Conference (11-2-2), but possessed a mediocre 8-7-2 home record entering Tuesday.