Boston Bruins

By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com

A Thursday night return to the National Hockey League came with a walkoff for Bruins winger Ryan Donato, as he dropped the hammer with a deke-and-score on Islanders goaltender Robin Lehner in a 2-1 final at TD Garden.

For Donato, who had spent the last 30 days (and 10 games) riding with the Providence Bruins to fine-tune his game into a more complete package for Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy, it was the sweetest ending possible.

“You work really hard in your time down there,” Donato offered. “To get repaid for it, it’s been a long time since. You can work hard up in this league and not have a lot of success so finally working hard paid off and it was nice to have that feeling.”

Finishing his night with 10:41 of total time on ice in 15 shifts, Donato was lost in the shuffle of Cassidy shortening his bench in the third period. Cassidy outright admitted exactly that, too. He did notice an improvement in the ‘details’ of Donato’s pro game, but made it clear — he needs even more defensive effort out of the 22-year-old if he’s going to play for this team.

“He’s going to have to play defense if he’s going to play here,” Cassidy admitted. “Especially right now, we’re winning a lot of close games, so that’s fine. We’re not trying to coach the skill out of him, by any means, but we just want to make sure that it ’s okay if he airs on the side of caution right now and make sure that he’s working to be above pucks because I think his natural instincts will take over offensively. I’m not concerned about that. He’ll find his way in that part of it. Some of it will be through more minutes and with guys that move the puck better, and if he shows that he can play with anybody on the ice, hold his own, the 200 – foot game, then those minutes will grow. That’s pretty much what we’ve done with all guys.”

Before Donato got on the board, though, it was a second-period power-play goal from Brad Marchand that tied the Bruins and Isles at 1-1, and snapped a seven-game goalless drought for the 5-foot-9 winger.

But the strikes would have meant nothing without the stellar play of B’s netminder Tuukka Rask, who turned away 28-of-29 shots thrown his way and then stopped all four Islander shooters in the shootout victory for the dub.

Rask’s best work on this front came within a 34-second that saw Rask come up with back-to-back-to-back absurd saves. The first came on a Jordan Eberle breakaway, which Rask shut down from the seat of his pants. Then Mathew Barzal got a breakaway of his own, but was denied by Rask’s leg. Barzal wasn’t done yet, though, and teed up another chance — and with space galore — but was shut down as the 31-year-old squared up and easily denied New York’s final chance of overtime.

“I thought he got better as the game went along,” Cassidy said. “I thought none of us were sharp early, not that we were bad, we just weren’t executing to what I thought was up to our standard, the energy of our standard, and eventually we get behind.

“Tuukka was excellent. Overtime, obviously, is an issue for us in terms of what we give up. We’re not managing pucks well, we’re not reading rushes quick enough, and he made some huge saves.”

The Bruins will play host to the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night.

Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. He has also been a voting member of the Boston Chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association since 2013. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.