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Ryan Donato Pays Perfect Homage To Nifty With Shootout Winner After #16 Finally Goes To The Rafters

There was much reminiscing about Bruins great Rick Middleton this week in Boston because of the pending, if not belated, retirement of his #16 last night at TD Garden. Former teammates and coaches came to town for the ceremony for the beloved RW and there was the warm buzz of nostalgia coursing through Bruins fans lucky (and old) enough to have watched Nifty play. Current players and others spoke reverentially about the slick scorer who stood out in a league not far removed from it’s SLAP SHOT era.

Among the tales we heard were that just-called-up Ryan Donato wore #16 as a kid because Middleton was his father Teddy’s favorite player growing up. So after things between the Bruins and Islanders remained tied after 65 minutes of team play and 3.5 shoot-out rounds last night, who better than Donato to send the fans home happy with a deke straight out of the Nifty Playbook?

The second-generation Bruin’s SO-winner gave the Bruins a 2-1 win as the team just keeps on keeping on despite a plethora of costly injuries. Donato’s tally was the only one in the shootout and Bruce Cassidy giving him a chance to win the game, and him succeeding, should be a nice bounce for his confidence after being summoned back to the big club from Providence. It was also a nice coda to an evening that brought back many warm feelings for Bruins fans because of the many beloved former players who were there to honor Nifty.

The game was mostly a goalie’s duel with Rask and Robin Lehner matching each other save for save and each guy only giving up just a goal. Anders Lee poked a rebound between Rask’s legs in the first to make it 1-0. Brad Marchand tied it up on a second period power play with his seventh of the year, thanks to a sweet feed from David Pastrnak.

There was just a penalty each for both teams in the smooth-flowing game that saw play go on for multiple minutes without a whistle a few times. Fortunately for the Bs, they earned the extra point as they’ll need every point they can get in the suddenly-cutthroat Atlantic Division. While the win further ensconced the Bs in a Wild Card spot, they’re still four points back of both Toronto and Buffalo and five of first place Tampa Bay while holding a game in hand. They’re back at it tomorrow night at home vs. Detroit at 7PM.

A few more buds for your weekend bowl…

*Nobody seems to know why it took 30 years for the team to finally retire Middleton’s number and I suppose we can just be happy that it happened while he’s still alive and well to enjoy it. And it was really great to see so many retired guys and guys with retired numbers there to salute Nifty. After he retired in 1988, eight different Bruins wore #16: Peter Douris, Cam Stewart (remember the Mini-Cam? Awful nickname), Jozef Stumpel, Randy Robitaille, Ken Belanger, Andy Hilbert, Marco Sturm, and Kaspars Daugavins (hit the net!).

*I referenced Middleton’s career numbers in Tuesday’s blog but his Bruins number are pretty impressive: 402-496–898 in 881 regular season games (shade under 1.02 points per game) and 45-55–100 in 111 playoff games (0.90 PPG). He also played in three Stanley Cup Finals with the Bs but ran into the Montreal and Edmonton buzzsaws (the dynastic Islanders also kept him from getting out of the Wales). Though many who watched him play feel like he belongs in the HHOF, it’s unlikely that he’ll get in as the years pass by. Regardless, he’ll always be beloved here for being a great Bruin and scoring highlight reel goals that made you jump out of your seat. Thanks, Nifty. Congratulations.

*Kevan Miller, one of the toughest guys on the team, was lost yet again to injury. After just getting back in the swing of things after missing time with a hand injury, the bruising defenseman was hurt Monday in Toronto in a bit of a freak play. A John Tavares shot rode right up Miller’s stick and caught him right in the throat. After he finished his shift (naturally), he left the game and ended up spending the night at a Toronto hospital for precautionary reasons. He’s going to be out for at least five weeks which means that opposing teams are probably at Eastern Mountain Sports as we speak buying new tents.

*Because without Miller, the Bs already soft goal-mouth D will be even more Charminy and opponents will likely continue to set up camp right in Tuukka’s grill. I know defenseman can’t play ’80s-style D out front anymore but, Christ, get a stick in his side, let ‘em know you’re there, fer Chrissakes.

*Anders Bjork was sent back to Providence to make room from Donato. As I wrote Tuesday, it’s not surprising given what we’d seen from him lately. But I’m sure we’ll see him back up with the big club at some point.

*Danton Heinen continues to struggle to get things going offensively. Though he’s played well in some games, he skated a team-low 8:04 while getting a shot on goal. After a strong rookie season last year (16-31–47), bigger things were expected for the forward this year but he’s hardly looked like the heady, confident kid of last year. He may be the next candidate for a trip to Rhode Island if things don’t change soon.

*For the Gaming-American community, the Bruins UNDER has cashed in six of their last seven contests. The combination of outstanding goaltending and the Bruins sputtering offense has made it an easy W lately. No reason to think it won’t continue tomorrow night vs. the Wings.

*Bunch of beauties…