Nothing in set in stone, but after sweeping a home-ice back-to-back against the Islanders, the Bruins are now closer to second place in the East Division than the dreaded fifth place did-not-qualify position.
The Bruins also have games in hand over the three teams they’re chasing, and the two teams behind them.
In other words, it’s time for the Bruins to build and make their push.
And with smiles aplenty, this team looks ready for exactly that.
“Obviously around the trade deadline, as a professional athlete, you always have a little stress,” B’s winger David Pastrnak, who is certainly feeling a little less stressed after scoring on Friday, admitted. “Once that’s over, you got some new faces on a team and this is the group that is going until the end of the season. So you’re trying to build something special, and that was our kind of mindset after the trade deadline: This is it, these are is the guys we’re going to play with.”
Don Sweeney’s trade deadline maneuvering was always interesting in the sense that he immediately flushed an 8-1 loss to the division’s best out of their system. Part of that was just the calendar, of course, as that Sunday head-to-head with the Capitals was always going to be the B’s last game before Monday’s deadline. But the loss hardly had any time to sink in before the team acquired Mike Reilly, and then added Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar to the team about two hours later.
Before we could even finish our thinkpieces about this team maybe not being worth an addition or two, Sweeney injected his weary group with three shots of pure adrenaline, and to the tune of a perfect 3-0-0 record since they all made their day-long drives to Boston.
“Well, it means a lot,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said of the Bruins’ deadline adds. “Obviously, that’s Donnie. He’s working the phones. It starts earlier than the deadline. You saw that with a couple of deals. You got to get the wheels in motion. Who’s selling? What what are we willing to give up? Those are all conversations he has with Cam [Neely]. Obviously, the pro scouts get involved, right? Like, here’s a player that could be a good fit, maybe underutilized somewhere, whatever the case may be. And it’s up to Donnie to pull the trigger.”
Cassidy’s staff had input on the matter, too. In fact, they told the B’s brass that the defense needed another puck mover.
Acquired from the Senators for a third-round draft pick, only Charlie McAvoy (72:28) has played more than Reilly (68:25) since arriving in Boston. Reilly also leads the team in shots (11), and is tied for fourth in points (two). He’s also been a much-needed pressure release valve for first-year full-timers Jeremy Lauzon and Jakub Zboril (especially with Matt Grzelcyk out of action), and has helped elevate Connor Clifton’s game on Boston’s second pairing.
Reilly also made the sweet feed to Pastrnak to open up the scoring in Boston’s 3-0 victory on Friday night, and with just 2.4 seconds remaining in the first period. It was the kind of gut-punch goal the Islanders have scored at will against the Bruins in 2021, and it completely flipped the feel of this game towards the B’s favor for the second time in as many nights.
David Pastrnak breaks through. What a feed from Mike Reilly.— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) April 16, 2021
1-0 Boston. pic.twitter.com/uqkim3vS1y
Friday was really when the Bruins’ deadline additions brought their A-game to the table, too, as Hall scored the Black and Gold’s second tally of the evening before Lazar iced this game with an empty-net dagger.
And like it was for Reilly, Friday was not a start, but a continuation, for the team’s other new faces.
Since making his Boston debut on Tuesday night, no Bruin has had a stronger five-on-five shot differential than Hall (24-10) and the Bruins are outscoring the opposition 3-0 with Hall on the ice. It’s incredibly early, but he’s been everything (and more) that the Boston second line has needed for the last half decade. Just look at David Krejci’s jump.
This has naturally taken some of the pressure off Boston’s top line, and allowed some key third liners — namely Jake DeBrusk and Charlie Coyle — to continue to find their game without outright panicking when they don’t score.
On Boston’s fourth line, Lazar has been beyond energetic, and his on-ice scoring-chance percentage (77.27) is tops among all Boston skaters over the last three games, at 17-5 overall. Keep in mind that Lazar’s starting a team-low 7.69 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, too, so this has been a 200-foot game. Did I say game? I meant clinic.
Speaking on Friday, Cassidy acknowledged the importance of a strong fourth line, and what it’s meant to the Bruins in the past, specifically when contending for a Stanley Cup.
“I think Lazar was a bit under the radar,” Cassidy offered after Friday’s victory. “Pretty good hockey player that probably a lot of people didn’t know. Real good fit for us in the middle of the ice. Got a little more offensive acumen that maybe Sean [Kuraly] has, but good on draws, willing to block shots, frees Sean up on the left side to to get up and get busy on the forecheck and maybe use a little more of his speed.”
It just feels like all three players were not acquired just to make a splash on the bottom ticker, but to make an actual difference. And it’s one thing to do it against the league-worst Sabres. But doing it in back-to-back wins against a team that captured wins in five straight to begin the season series? That’s a sign that you made the right call.
“Three really good fits for for our hockey club,” Cassidy said. “And from knowing them for a week, three good people. They wanted to get here in a hurry. There was no hesitation to jump in a car, get here, play the next day. [They] want to be part of it. So it was a real nice, real nice deadline day for the Bruins.”
“All three of them were unbelievable these past three games,” Pastrnak echoed.
It’s had a definite impact on those with stalls in the Boston room before Monday, too, as there simply seems to be more confidence, smiles, and energy around this team. And with a shared goal in mind.
“We just want to build something special in here for the rest of the season,” said Pastrnak.
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. 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.