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Freddie Stands On His Head As Leafs Drop Bs, 4-2

Yes, they lost on this put-back. Blecch.

When the Bruins lost their best forward and top defenseman last week, there was mopey doom ‘n gloom about how boring they’d be while Patrice Bergeron and 41-year-old Zdeno Chara were out. And while the Bs are struggling to find the twine in the last half-dozen games (just 11 goals), the games have been entertaining barn-burners with some nailbiting endings: three OT affairs, two one-goal games that went down to the wire, and one puck line cover last night. The Bruins got at least a point in the first five but fell 4-2 in Toronto last night, thanks largely to a superb performance from Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen.

The great Dane stopped 38 of 40 Bruins shots, including a handful a monster saves to either maintain a tie or one-goal lead. Andersen currently leads all goalies with 13 wins and his .932 save percentage is third among starters. Save for the all-world Mitch Marner’s three helpers, the Bruins held the Leafs big guns in check. But it was their depth that got the job done tonight.

Travis Dermott’s rising shot beat a solid Jaroslav Halak to give him his second career goal and the Leafs a 1-0 lead late in the first to start a game of catch-up with the Bs. David Pastrnak answered for the Bs early in the second with a power play marker.

KHL vet/NHL newbie Igor Ozhiganov notched his first goal in the National when his wide shot caught a piece of Boston defenseman John Moore and redirected past Halak to restore the TO lead. Once again, Pasta tied things up, this time converting a gorgeous Torey Krug slap-pass next to the crease into his league-leading 19th goal (tied with Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine).

But 4:16 later, Josh Leivo’s put-back of a Tyler Ennis rebound at the ass-end of a power play restored the one-goal lead for the Leafs for the final time. A Zack Hyman ENG with 1:35 left pronounced the Bruins.

For most of the last stretch, the Bs have relied on two things to weather the heart-and-soulless storm, top notch goaltending and different guys stepping up. Halak and Tuukka Rask (since his return from a LOA) have been rock solid-to-excellent. And contributions from the likes of Joakim Nordstrom, John Moore, and Jake DeBrusk when needed have made this a team you want to root for because they’re doing whatever they have to do to win.

Halak certainly played well enough to win last night. And Pasta did his by now expected magic. Unfortunately, nobody else could come through in a frustrating third. Brad Marchand was snakebitten as he missed a few chances in close, including a wrap-around that saw the puck sail across the blue paint and out of danger. The Bs managed to beat Andersen a few times but not his posts. Still, they can’t hang their heads too low over this one. It was a good effort that just came up short. No shame in that.

Next up is the surprising New York Islanders on Thursday night at TD Garden at 7PM. The Bruins will finally be retiring Rick Middleton’s #16 before the game so be sure not to miss it.

A few more buds for your bowl…

*I have no idea why it took 30 friggin’ years to retire Nifty’s 16. A beloved member of the Lunch Pail A.C., Middleton was one of the most dynamic scorers of his generation, in addition to one of the most popular Bruins ever. How the hell have eight guys worn #16 since he retired in ’88? After being absolutely swindled out of Manhattan by Harry Sinden (the Bs GM landed the 23-year-old sniper for 32-year-old Ken Hodge, who played just two more seasons), Middleton put up 448-540–988 in 1005 games from 1976-77 to 1987-88 and added 45-55–100 in 114 playoff games, good for 0.98 points per game and 0.87 PPG in the playoffs. Congrats to Nifty, one of the greatest Bruins of the 20th century.

*Bruins vs. Maple Leafs is shaping up to be one of the better rivalries in the league. The teams are both talented, evenly-matched, and always seem to raise their level of play against each other. And with a pair of epic first round series in the last few years, this match-up should only deliver more fireworks with the current playoffs format.

*Former Quinnipiac captain Connor Clifton jetted up the depth chart when injuries crippled the Bruins defense corps. Drafted by Phoenix in 2013 but never signing with them, he signed with Providence as a free agent in 2017 and re-upped with the Bs organization for a two-year deal in May. Given the number of D ahead of him, it’s unlikely he saw himself logging the second most minutes in a big divisional tilt in November when he started the season in Providence. But that’s what happened last night as he logged 24:36 of ice, behind only Torey Krug. He’s been a pretty solid addition, plays with a bit of an edge, and isn’t afraid to jump into the play. In short, he doesn’t look like a kid playing his first several NHL games.

*Just what the Bs didn’t need—more injuries. Kevan Miller took a puck off the throat in the first and did not return to the game. In fact, he didn’t even return to Boston as the tough-as-nails rearguard spent the night at a Toronto hospital for precautionary reasons. And DeBrusk, who has been one of the hottest Bruins after a slow start, took a Danton Heinen shot off the back of his helmeted head. There should be some more news on both later today. The last thing the Bs want to see right now is another young budding star felled with a concussion.

*The Bruins went 1/2 on the power play and are converting at a 28.9% clip, good for third in the league. But they also gave up a power play goal on once chance and their 77.3% on the PK definitely has room for improvement, sitting in 21st place. It’s definitely missing Bergeron but it shouldn’t be that low.

*Anders Bjork (1-2–3) and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson (2-0–2) have both struggled to find traction and consistency in their games. It’s tougher to do when you don’t have a consistent spot in the lineup but some games, their contributions have been limited. It’s fine to not notice young players on defense because that typically means they’re not screwing up. But you definitely want your young guys on offense to stand out. We’ll see flashes of what they can do but nothing really sustained. Ideally, these guys will get on track more as the calendar peels away. Otherwise, they may find themselves on 95 south while the team opts to give others a shot.

*Congrats to Patrick Marleau on playing in his 1600th NHL game last night. He currently sits at #11 for games played and, provided he stays healthy all year, he could end up at #5 behind guys named Howe, Messier, Jagr, and Francis. Dude has been a machine. He hasn’t missed a game in nine years and missed just 30 in a career dating back to 1997.