By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Thursday night's meeting between the Bruins and Blues came with an undeniable "here we go again" of sorts.
For the third straight game, the Bruins jumped out to a lead, this time by way of a Torey Krug strike 3:31 into the second period. But for the third straight game, the lead-protecting Bruins ran into trouble almost immediately, surrendering the game's next two goals, and putting them in a seemingly unnecessary 2-2 tie through 40 minutes of play.
Given what happened against the Canadiens on Monday and in Philadelphia on Wednesday, expecting the Blues to steal a victory by way of a cheap goal or maybe even a Ryan O'Reilly hat trick certainly seemed possible, if not probable.
But a breakaway from Chris Wagner was all that the Bruins needed to save their night from turning into a loss for the third game in a row, as the checker-turned-dangler Wagner provided the game-winning goal in a 5-2 final at TD Garden.
What a finish by Chris Wagner.
Bruins take the lead. pic.twitter.com/nkDNonsCCg
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) January 18, 2019
"That was huge for us," Wagner admitted after the victory. "We haven’t been able to do that the last couple of games. You know we played some good stretches of hockey but I don’t think we played full 60 like we keep saying. But it’s nice to get a win especially with a break coming up setting ourselves up for Saturday."
The goal puts the Walpole-born Wagner just one goal shy of matching his personal career-high of seven, reached last year in 79 games between the Anaheim Ducks and New York Islanders.
But in what was a relatively even game as each team traded chances throughout the night, the Bruins needed and found insurance as Brad Marchand connected for his 18th goal of the season, scored with 6:48 left in the third period, and Sean Kuraly came through with the empty-net dagger to make this a three-goal third-period (and win) for the Bruins.
The lone noticeable blemish on this night came on Boston's new-look third pairing of John Moore (a healthy scratch in the last three games) and Kevan Miller, which was on the ice (and swimming) for both St. Louis tallies.
The first goal came off a dropback pass to no one from Moore, and saw O'Reilly and Co. get multiple cracks from prime scoring areas without a lick of resistance from Boston's net-front group. The second, meanwhile saw the duo and the Bergeron Line have a tough time possessing the puck, let alone get enough with enough time to exit their zone cleanly.
"He had some rust," Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said of Moore's game. "I think the first goal there was a breakout situation. We kind of identified how we wanted to get in, get out against a heavy forechecking team. St. Louis is one of the better teams generating chances. Sure enough, they did, scored a goal. I think that one could’ve been better, but I thought he had his legs, was willing to get going up the ice, defended well in the neutral zone. With Moore it’s a bit of his reads on puck retrieval, getting back on it, outletting. Things happen fast, and I thought that one could’ve been better, but otherwise he was good."
Bruins winger David Backes also made his return to the Boston lineup, and even scored the B's second goal of the night with a power-play tip of a Zdeno Chara bomb. Good for his fifth goal of the year, the strike likely bought Backes at least another game in Boston's lineup, though he was relatively ineffective beyond the goal, with two shots in 11:25 of play.
"It’s tumultuous, but it tests your character and you see how you respond to it and I think I’ve taken the right route and those types of goals that I scored tonight are what I’m used to scoring a dozen a year," Backes said of the scratch and immediately impacting the game upon his return. "If I can get back to those places, we can get pucks to the net, and there’s a dozen of those going in and I can shoot a couple more in, that’s kind of the place I want to be."
"He’s a great guy, great teammate. I want to see him get rewarded playing against his old team," Cassidy said of No. 42's goal in his return to the lineup. "Kind of a perfect setting for him to do it and probably a typical David goal in years past: point shot where he gets his stick on it, deflection in front of traffic."
With the victory, the Bruins improved to 7-1-1 on the second leg of back-to-back contests this season.
“It’s sometimes a matter of just a mindset, other times you have to make sure you handle the puck in the right way and create situations where you have better chances to win them," B's captain Zdeno Chara said of their success on short rest. "But, I think that we were physically and mentally really prepared for that game tonight."
The Bruins will look to head into their bye week on a high with a Saturday night visit from the New York Rangers.