The Boston Bruins got a much needed 5-3 win against the Minnesota Wild on home ice Monday night but still left some questions to be answered. The Bruins looked dominant between the last half of the first and the entire second period. However, the first ten minutes of the game were more of the same.
There has been an added emphasis on Boston’s need to get off to a better start and they did not on Monday, falling behind after an early goal by Nino Niederreiter off a rebound. Niederreiter was all alone in front of Tuukka Rask as the chaos in the Bruins defensive zone exposed the team. Rookie Rob O’Gara and Kevan Miller were flat on the shift and Miller needed to have more awareness, as Niederreiter snuck right in front of the net unopposed, leading directly to a goal.
O’gara was all over the zone during the play, sliding to the right of Rask where Miller should have been, leading to the left side being completely unopposed for the Wild to put the puck in the net off of a perfect rebound. The biggest takeaway from this game was that the defense needs to shape up and play much better in their own zone — the early goal was just one example of this. Sloppy passing on the breakout as well as inabilities to get the puck out of the defensive zone led to opportune chances that the Wild probably should have capitalized on, but didn’t. The Wild have been struggling as of late, but an elite team would have capitalized on these mistakes.
A positive from the game was the offensive output. Head coach Bruce Cassidy has been preaching about getting more shots on net and the team certainly responded, even without star forward Brad Marchand. The Bruins tallied 34 shots on goal and it paid off with five different players scoring. Frank Vatrano’s shot from the blue line was a prime example of why Cassidy wanted to see more shots on the net. After gaining the zone and catching Devyn Dubnyk by surprise, Vatrano chucked a shot on net seemingly out of nowhere and the puck somehow slid right behind Dubnyk and into the net. Without a focus on getting the puck on net, something like that would never happen, even if there was a bit of luck involved.
Another example of the importance of shot quantity was Sean Kuraly’s goal. Kuraly crashed the net on a third chance rebound while he jumped into the play without opposition. Boston was peppering the Wild net with shots and it paid off in the form of a Kuraly rebound goal that put the team up by two in the second.
The third period, however, exposed a need for the Bruins to learn to finish the game. Boston was flat most of the period, perhaps assuming they had the game in the bag, and the third really started to look like a repeat of the collapse against the Buffalo Sabres a few weeks back. The Wild did not die easily, scoring back-to-back unanswered goals to bring the game within one score. The Bruins played on their heels until Schaller banked an empty net goal to finally put the Wild away, but the Wild were only one lucky bounce from sending the game to overtime.
The Bruins should not have trouble closing out a game like this — they carried a three goal lead into the third, only to squander two and put the game’s outcome in question. The team is most definitely short handed, but the focus going forward should be to make sure they can close out games like this.