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Bruins consistently finding themselves on right side of one-goal contests 12.06.16 at 1:46 pm ET
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The Bruins are 8-3-1 in one-goal games this season. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

The Bruins are 8-3-1 in one-goal games this season. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

The Bruins blew a lead three times Monday night at TD Garden. Still, though, they won, due in large part to an overtime dagger that could have only been pulled off by Bruins winger David Pastrnak.

This is not something you would have said last season.

Or the year before that, for that matter.

In fact, this newfound ability to win close games is something the B’s have not experienced since a 2011-12 season in which they rolled teams with regularity and banked a 19-12-4 record in games decided by a single goal (a .543 winning percentage). And while still early, this year’s Bruins team has figured out how to win tight contests, too, with an 8-3-1 record in one-goal contests. That .667 winning percentage — again, while early — would finish as the Bruins’ best mark in such a category since that 2011-12 season’s aforementioned .543. It would even be the club’s first plus-.500 winning percentage since 2012-13.

“A lot of 2-1’s, 3-2’s, so on where you have to play really tight first defensively and then offensively,” B’s captain Zdeno Chara said of the team’s success in one-goal contests, of which 12 of their 26 games in total have been decided by thus far. “I think almost every game – you’re going to have some blowouts – but a lot of teams are playing the same way; one-goal games and a lot of tight games. So, you have to be able to play that way and play the way that you protect the lead, or go after the tying goal, or winning the game.”

The Bruins have tasted a little bit of each over their last three games. It was last Thursday night that the Bruins tied the game with 31.5 seconds left in the third period before they stole two points with a shootout win over the Hurricanes. Saturday came with a white knuckle ride to the finish line that required a 32 saves from Tuukka Rask in the final 40 minutes of play in a 2-1 final over the Sabres. And then, of course, as mentioned above, the Bruins blew three different one-goal leads en route to an overtime win.

What you like about that? The Bruins have found ways to win in a variety of ways. What you don’t like? The Bruins have struggled to put teams away. Something one of the B’s leaders lamented in spite of the club’s third straight victory Monday.

“I thought after 2-1 if we could make that extra push, spend a little bit more time in their zone, we had a power play coming out in the second where if we were able to put that last nail in the coffin, maybe the game changes momentum a little bit,” Bruins forward David Backes admitted. “Instead we don’t score, they push and get in time in our zone again and they’re able to score, and it’s that back and forth type of game that was one goal and they were able to catch up three times which shows a little bit of their character and resiliency, but with the way Tuukka’s playing we should be able to take that lead and expand on it and not let them have any life, but we found a way to get points and we’ll learn from that and be better going forward.”

There’s not an exact science to such a stat, of course, but it’s worth noting that of the 16 teams that made the playoffs last year, 13 ranked in the top half of the league in one-goal game winning percentage. The Bruins, at .441 by way of their 15-10-9 record, ranked 22nd in the NHL. The year before that, of the 16 playoff teams, again, 13 finished in the top half of the league in one-goal game winning percentage. And the Bruins, again, ranked 22nd in the league, with a 19-9-14 record (.452 win percentage). The Bruins, at that previously mentioned .667 this season, rank fifth in the NHL right now, and 12 of the top 15 teams in this category would find themselves playing playoff hockey if the season ended today. Seemingly, there’s a trend here.

Win more close games than you lose and you’ll probably find yourself playing meaningful hockey come April. That almost goes without saying when you say it out loud, sure, but there is an element of luck seemingly involved in consistently finding yourself on the right side of things. Luck that finally appears to be on the B’s side after two years of close calls against them.

“You always need luck on your side. It’s part of the sport. If you don’t have it, you have to really work for it,” Chara said. “And usually when you do, it’s going to be on your side. But, sometimes, it goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Zdeno Chara gives Bruins a boost in return from injury 12.06.16 at 3:50 am ET
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Zdeno Chara played in his first game since Nov. 22 in a 4-3 win over the Panthers Monday night. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Zdeno Chara played in his first game since Nov. 22 in a 4-3 win over the Panthers Monday night. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, waiting in front of his locker, knew the first question coming his way after skating in his first game in two weeks, a 4-3 overtime win over the Panthers Monday at TD Garden.

“I felt pretty good for the first game. It was a good game to come back,” the 39-year-old captain said. “Obviously, Florida is a very good skating team and it is always kind of challenging to play them. But, I had no issues and it felt good to be back and, obviously, big win.”

Back from the lower-body injury that ended his Nov. 22 loss to the Blues just one shift into the second period and kept him on the shelf for the following six contests, Chara was back in his normal spot on the B’s top pairing with Brandon Carlo, and finished with one shot on goal, two blocked shots, and three hits in a team-high 23:31 of time on ice.

“He played okay,” B’s coach Claude Julien said of Chara’s first game back. “It was his first game back. You expect guys to work themselves back in and I think he did a good job.”

In six games without Chara, the Bruins went 2-3-1, allowed just 10 goals against, and averaged a hair over 28 shots against per contest. It was a telling time for the 11-year captain, too, as the team found ways to step up across the board in his absence.

“I was very proud,” Chara said of his six-game stretch watching from above. “It was exciting to see how they battled and it’s never easy. Every game is a challenge and every game is a big game. There’s never an easy game. But, guys were battling. They were playing some hard opponents and they won some really big games by gutsy efforts.”

And though he was on the ice for a goal against, Chara was at his best in a team-leading 4:16 of shorthanded time on ice for a Black and Gold penalty killed that remained excellent as ever in his return, with three kills on three times shorthanded.

With the win, the Bruins improved to 12-8-0 on the year with Chara in the lineup.

Bruins forward Matt Beleskey to miss next six weeks with right knee injury 12.05.16 at 11:06 pm ET
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Matt Beleskey

Matt Beleskey

A thin position just got even thinner for the Bruins.

Injured in the first period of last Saturday’s 2-1 victory over the Sabres on a collision with Sabres defenseman Taylor Fedun at the attacking late in the first period, and absent from Monday’s morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena for further evaluation from the B’s medical staff, the Bruins have confirmed that winger Matt Beleskey will miss the next six weeks with a right knee injury.

A fixture on the club’s third line with Riley Nash and Austin Czarnik, the extended absence for Beleskey comes in a year in which he’s scored just two goals and totaled five points on 44 shots in 24 contests.

Beleskey entered Monday’s contest leading the Bruins in hits, however, with 62.

In his place, the Bruins will have to lean heavily on a left side combination headlined by Brad Marchand, with Tim Schaller and Ryan Spooner skating in interchangeable roles on the second and third lines (Schaller began the night on the second line but it was Spooner that finished there), and Anton Blidh on the fourth line.

The 28-year-old Beleskey finished his first year in Boston with a career-high 37 points in 80 games played.

Beleskey has missed just three games — and just two to injury, an upper-body ailment in Oct. 2015 — since signing with the B’s.

 

5 Things We Learned from David Pastrnak’s overtime dazzler against the Panthers 12.05.16 at 9:43 pm ET
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The Bruins scored three times on Roberto Luongo in a 3-2 win over the Panthers Monday night at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

David Pastrnak and the Bruins scored four goals in a game for just the seventh time this season in a 4-3 overtime win over the Panthers. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

What you’re watching is a boy become a man in David Pastrnak.

In just his 21st game of the season, it was the 20-year-old Pastrnak that came through with two key goals, including the overtime game-winner, in a 4-3 final over the visiting Panthers, for his 14th and 15th goals of the year and the win to put the B’s at three in a row.

His clinic against the Cats was just par for the course in a game in which the Bruins simply devoured the Panthers’ D for 36 shots against.

In what was a gamelong execution, the weak point of the Panthers through the first two months of the season, the Bruins exposed their shoddy defensive play with some first period trickery. Or just some flatout mind numbing patience. It was center David Krejci that set up camp behind the Florida net with enough patience and borderline boredom from No. 46 that lulled the Panthers into a puck-watching daze while winger Tim Schaller broke through a four-man box of Panthers, including Aaron Ekblad, and scored on Roberto Luongo for his fourth goal of the season.

Scored with just 1:28 left in the first period, Schaller’s tally as the game’s lone goal through 20 minutes of play.

But as they did in Buffalo two days prior, the Bruins allowed the opposition to claw their way back into contention behind a sleepy middle period that featured 11 shots on Tuukka Rask, with Jaromir Jagr finally putting the Cats on the board at the 9:44 mark.

The Bruins once again exposed some wrinkles in their opponent’s defense, however, as the Bergeron line danced around the attacking zone to the dismay of the Panthers. It began with a Patrice Bergeron shot that went a little high of Luongo, was continued with a Brad Marchand retrieval of the puck, and finished with a bullet from David Pastrnak.

With the goal, scored with just 3:23 left in the second period, Pastrnak’s total on the year jumped to 14, while his post-injury return line jumped up to four goals and six points in seven games since Thanksgiving.

Florida answered yet again, though, 7:54 into the third period behind an Aleksander Barkov goal (with an assist to ex-Bruin Reilly Smith) that featured a rarely seen sight: a Bergeron turnover and Zdeno Chara present goal against.

Like a boxing match, these teams continued to trade punches, as the Bruins jumped back out front with a David Backes deflection just over the 13-minute mark of the third period for his seventh goal of the season. But like they did all game, the Panthers responded late, on 6-on-5 goal scored by Jason Demers with just 1:29 to go in the third.

It was the Bruins that once again had their say, though, behind Pastrnak’s second of the night, scored just 1:23 into the overtime on a true goal-scorer’s goal that straight-up fooled the 37-year-old Luongo onto his back and out of the play.

Here are four other things we learned in this one

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Bruins prospects Charlie McAvoy, Ryan Lindgren named to preliminary Team USA roster 12.05.16 at 7:37 pm ET
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Charlie McAvoy was among 27 selected for Team USA's preliminary roster for the 2017 World Junior Championships. (Timothy Ludwig/USA Today Sports)

Bruins prospect Charlie McAvoy was among 27 selected for Team USA’s preliminary roster for the 2017 World Junior Championships. (Timothy Ludwig/USA Today Sports)

If all goes to plan, the Bruins will have at least two of their defensemen from the 2016 NHL Draft well represented at the 2017 World Junior Championships in Montreal. And that’s just on the Team USA roster.

Per an announcement from USA Hockey earlier today, B’s prospects Charlie McAvoy and Ryan Lindgren were among the 27 named to Team USA’s preliminary roster, and will compete for a spot on the roster beginning with a five-day camp in Buffalo, N.Y., from Dec. 16 to 20.

McAvoy, drafted by the B’s with the 14th overall pick this past draft, is in the midst of his second season with Boston University, and has recorded one goal and 12 points in 14 games for the Terriers this year.

The 18-year-old McAvoy had zero points and a plus-5 rating in seven games for Team USA in last year’s tournament.

And Lindgren, the 49th overall pick from the 2016 class, has earned an invite back to Team USA camp after a one goal and three point start to his freshman season with the University of Minnesota through 14 games. Lindgren skated in the U-18 World Juniors a year ago, where he served as the team’s captain, and contributed two goals and five points in seven contests.

The Americans took home the Bronze in last year’s tourney, and have medaled in four of the last seven tournaments.

Anton Blidh finding comfort with Bruins ahead of second NHL game 12.05.16 at 5:09 pm ET
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Anton Blidh will suit up for his second career NHL game. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Anton Blidh will suit up for his second career NHL game. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Don’t let Anton Blidh’s quiet demeanor and nervous laugh off the ice fool you. The energetic forward knows how to seek and annoy.

“That’s my job,” Blidh, who is expected to begin his night on the fourth line with Dominic Moore and Jimmy Hayes, said after the morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena ahead of tonight’s head-to-head with the Panthers. “I know I’m here to bring energy.”

Called up from the P-Bruins for his NHL debut last Saturday in a 2-1 win over the Sabres, the 21-year-old put forth a solid effort, credited with four hits and three shots on goal in just 10:12 of time on ice.

Built a little different than the other seven rookies or prospects that have made their NHL debut for the Black and Gold this season. Blidh, a former sixth-round draft choice (180th overall) by the club in 2013, is not here to score or fill-in on the Bruins’ top six.

Blidh is here to cause havoc for the opposition in any and every situation.

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Bruins winger Matt Beleskey undergoing medical evaluation 12.05.16 at 1:03 pm ET
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Matt Beleskey

Matt Beleskey

A grind-it-out 2-1 road victory over the Sabres last Saturday did not come without a price for the Bruins.

Just how much of a price, however, remains to be fully seen just yet.

Injured at the end of the first period on a hit from the Sabres’ Taylor Fedun at the blue line, Bruins winger Matt Beleskey gingerly made his way to the B’s bench and down the tunnel — where he would not return in a night that ended just 5:27 into it — as he favored what looked like a hip injury.

Absent from the on-ice portion of the club’s morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena ahead of tonight’s Atlantic Division matchup with the Panthers, the Bruins had an update — of sorts, anyways — on No. 39.

“He’s seeing our doctors as we speak,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said when asked for a Beleskey update. “We’ll obviously have our answer there right around tonight.”

With Beleskey out, Ryan Spooner shuffles in as the expected third line left-wing on a line with Riley Nash and Austin Czarnik.

In 24 contests this year, the 28-year-old Beleskey has tallied two goals and five points, and contributed 62 hits, most among B’s.

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