How the Bruins summoned a ‘killer instinct’ to bury the banged-up Avs
December 4th, 2022
You don’t get to 20-3 without firing a few kill shots.
The way Saturday night’s 5-1 win played out for the Boston Bruins, every goal felt like a dagger. Here came the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, without their captain and a few other regulars due to injury, on their third game in five days of a road trip. The Bruins smelled the blood. The Avs chummed that shit.
Then out of the water (ice?) came not a giant shark but an army of Pooh Bears, who mangled yet another top contender on their home ice. Turns out the Avs needed a bigger boat.
The Bruins are now 14-0 at TD Garden after dismantling the defending champions, who still had superstar defenseman Cale Makar and center Nathan MacKinnon in the lineup. They were non-factors.
The Bruins are deep, talented, and tough, and stout in goal. And head coach Jim Montgomery believes they continue to bury opponents by embracing a grim reaper type of role on the ice.
“I do think that we have a killer instinct in us that has grown throughout the year,” Montgomery said after the game. “You’ve seen us do it in a lot of different ways. We give up leads and then we win a game, we came from behind a couple of times. Carolina, we were down two for the first time at home [and came back to win].
“This team, you can tell a lot of guys have won a lot in this league. They know how to win.”
The Bruins controlled most of the game with what’s becoming their signature combination of swarming offense and sharp goaltending. After holding off an early charge from the Avs, they rode a relentless forecheck and impeccable puck control at the blue line to sustain offensive zone time on multiple shifts. They excelled at one of Montgomery’s core tenets of quality over quantity when it came to shooting, as evidenced by their 16-7 advantage in high-danger scoring chances at 5-on-5 (per Natural Stat Trick).
Boston asserted itself in other ways, such as a dominating 62.5 percent rate at the faceoff dot. They even won a fight, as Nick Foligno scored the takedown on Avs defenseman Andreas Englund.
But the most striking way they dictated the game was the way they snuffed out Makar and MacKinnon. That’s why even against a depleted Avs roster, this win was impressive, because they made two of the best hockey players in the world practically invisible.
With MacKinnon on the ice, the Bruins won 8-3 in high-danger scoring chances and outscored the Avs 2-0. MacKinnon generated the three high-danger chances individually, including two on the same sequence, but that’s when Ullmark delivered big saves, as he’s come to do with regularity. The 2-0 score against MacKinnon was also a direct result against Charlie McAvoy, who controlled the game at both ends.
As for McAvoy’s counterpart, Makar made five shot attempts and only one made it to the net, as the Bruins mugged him whenever he had the puck. Makar finished with two giveaways and no takeaways on the night. He has the skill to make any defender look silly, but it never materialized in this game.
“You didn’t see him beat any of our forwards 1-on-1, so I thought we did a really good job defensively on him in the [Colorado] offensive zone,” Montgomery said of Makar.
Dec 3, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins left wing Taylor Hall (71) shoots the puck while Colorado Avalanche defenseman Devon Toews (7) and defenseman Cale Makar (8) defend during the third period at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Bruins players tried their best to downplay the win after the game, citing the Avs’ deep list of injuries. But it was clear to everyone watching that they did not take this game even close to lightly due to the talent still there on the other side, as Brad Marchand admitted.
“It definitely makes you be more prepared,” Marchand said. “You have to be dialed if you’re going to play against that team and that [MacKinnon] line. Every single shift, I mean, they can break out and take over a game in one shift. I thought we did a good job. They’re really tough to play against. The talent on that line is just insane.
“I felt good about the way we played, but they have a few big injuries to their group and that affects the way their depth is. So, when those guys are back … we’ll get a better game out of that team.”
The Bruins play the Avalanche again on Wednesday night, this time in Colorado. We’ll see if Colorado can have a better showing on their home ice, and whether they get key players back in the lineup.
But we can at least say the Bruins put them on notice. Teams need to keep giving them their best shot, because if they’re dialed in and you’re not, you’re liable to get eaten alive.
Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @realmattdolloff. Check out all of Matt’s content here.