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5 things we learned as Frank Vatrano’s hat trick leads Bruins past Penguins 12.18.15 at 9:44 pm ET
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Frank Vatrano

Frank Vatrano

Frank Vatrano had gone nine straight games without a goal. He now has three in his last 10 games.

Vatrano busted out of his scoring slump with the first hat trick of his career as the Bruins separated in the third period to enjoy a 6-2 victory at the Penguins at CONSOL Energy Center. The victory saw the Bruins sweep this week’€™s home-and-home series with the Penguins.

Patrice Bergeron also had a multi-goal game, as he netted a shorthanded tally in the second and added an even-strength goal early in the third to extend Boston’€™s lead. The goals brought his season total to 11, putting him behind only Brad Marchand (15) and Loui Eriksson (12) on the Bruins this season. He is also at over a point-per-game pace this season with 32 points in 31 games.

As for Tuukka Rask, the Bruins’€™ top netminder stood tall against a struggling Penguins offense for his eighth win in his last 10 appearances (8-0-2). With 29 saves on Friday, Rask has a .959 save percentage over his last 10 games.

The Bruins would have another goal in the third period, but a goal from Landon Ferraro was not allowed due to what the officials found to be goaltender interference committed by Max Talbot.

Here are four more things we learned Friday night:

UMASS NIGHT

Vatrano wasn’€™t the only UMass product with a couple of points Friday, as his former teammate in Conor Sheary had both a goal and an assist for the first two points of his career.

Sheary’€™s goal came on a bit of bad luck for the Bruins, as Bergeron fanned on a puck behind the net, leading Sidney Crosby to send it in front for Sheary. The Melrose native had the secondary helper on a second-period goal from Trevor Daley.

SHORTHANDED MAGIC

Bergeron took a holding penalty in the first period to put him at 20 penalty minutes on the season, which puts him on pace to set a new career-high for the third straight year. With the Bruins managing to kill off the ensuing Penguins power play without their best penalty-killing forward, Bergeron made up for it the following period.

With Kevan Miller in the box for tripping Sheary early in the second, Brad Marchand won a puck high in the Penguins zone and fed it to his penalty-killing partner. Bergeron rewarded Marchand for his work by flicking the puck past Jeff Zatkoff for the Bruins’€™ sixth shorthanded goal of the season.

While the Bruins’€™ penalty kill was technically a perfect 5-for-5 on the night, a point shot from Daley made its way through traffic and past Rask just seconds after rate expiration of Miller’€™s penalty.

POINTS KEEP COMING FOR SPOONER

After a two-point night for Ryan Spooner Wednesday (two assists; what appeared to be a second-period Spooner goal was credited to Jimmy Hayes, as it apparently hit the shaft of his stick), the young Bruins center doubled that production on Friday with a career-best four-assist night.

Spooner took the puck from the wall after some strong work along the wall from Ferraro, walked it over to the faceoff dot and fed it back to Vatrano, who snapped the puck past Zatkoff to tie the game at one goal apiece. Spooner assisted all three of Vatrano’s goals and Loui Eriksson’s power play goal.

With Spooner’€™s four assist on Friday, he now has 10 points (three goals, seven assists) over his last six games.

Another point wasn’€™t the only thing Spooner dropped on Friday. Following a big hit from Patric Hornqvist on Dennis Seidenberg in the second period, Spooner threw his gloves down and went after the Penguins forward. Hornqvist was not interesting in fighting, resulting in an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Spooner. The fight would have been the first of Spooner’€™s professional career and quite possibly of his life, as Spooner did not fight at the OHL level either.

THREE STRAIGHT FOR ERIKSSON

Eriksson was relentless in trying to jam a loose puck past Zatkoff during a second-period Bruins power play, eventually doing so for his 12th goal of the year. The tally also made it three straight games with a goal for Eriksson, who will easily surpass the 22 goals he scored last season as long as he stays healthy.

Eriksson could have had two power play goals on the night, but he couldn’€™t control a slap pass from Krug at the right circle despite having a wide open net.

Read More: Frank Vatrano, Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask,
5 things we learned as Bruins shut out Penguins 12.16.15 at 10:43 pm ET
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The Penguins are so bad right now that the B’€™s came out of a mediocre performance with a 3-0 win.

The struggling Penguins managed to outshoot the Bruins, 34-29, but Pittsburgh’s preference to dump pucks in rather than go to the net meant that they didn’€™t generate nearly as much as their offensive talent should. With the Bruins managing defensively and Tuukka Rask stopping everything he saw, Max Talbot’€™s first-period goal (his first as a Bruin) proved to be the game-winner.

Rask now has four shutouts on the season, surpassing last season’€™s total of three. Having entered Wednesday’€™s game with a .948 save percentage over his previous eight games, the 2013-14 Vezina winner is easily playing his best hockey of the season.

The Bruins and Penguins will wrap up their home-and-home series when they play Friday night at CONSOL Energy Center.

Here are four more things we learned Wednesday:

KOKO PLAYS, TALBOT SCORES FISRT AS A BRUIN

Alexander Khokhlachev was inserted into the lineup after the Bruins called him up Wednesday morning. Khokhlachev skated on Boston’€™s fourth line with Talbot and Landon Ferraro.

While Khokhlachev is the best offensive player of that trio, it was Talbot who provided the offensive firepower for the line, scoring off the rush in the first period on a rough one for Penguins goalie Jeff Zatkoff to allow. The goal was Talbot’€™s first goal as a Bruin in 29 games dating back to last season.

SPOONER STAYS HOT

The first two shifts for Ryan Spooner’€™s line with Frank Vatrano and Jimmy Hayes suggested it might be a long night for the trio. The first shift saw bad passing from Hayes in the neutral zone force Adam McQuaid to hook Kevin Porter. The second shift saw Eric Fehr’€™s line hem Spooner’€™s line in the Boston zone.

As it turned out, the Spooner line had plenty to give. Hayes forced a Brian Dumoulin turnover that eventually led to Talbot’€™s goal in the first period, while a pass in front from Spooner went off Ian Coles’€™s skate and in to make it 2-0. Spooner’€™s goal gave him his fifth point (three goals, two assists) over his last five games.

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5 things we learned as Bruins come back to beat Habs 12.09.15 at 10:19 pm ET
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The last time the Bruins played the Canadiens, they blew a third-period lead and took a frustrating loss. They found themselves on the other side of that equation Wednesday night in Montreal. Now, perhaps their 3-1 victory can give the B’s a little more confidence when the teams next meet in the Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium.

With the Bruins down a goal and shorthanded with just over 12 minutes to play, Zdeno Chara batted a P.K. Subban shot out of mid-air up to Loui Eriksson in the neutral zone. Eriksson outraced Jeff Petry and beat Mike Condon for a breakaway goal to tie the game. Less than a minute later, Ryan Spooner sent a brilliant pass behind his back to Landon Ferraro, who scored in the slot to make it 2-1.

The third period saw Claude Julien shuffle his lines with success. Moving Matt Beleskey up to Patrice Bergeron‘s line with Brad Marchand led to a Bergeron goal with 6:18 to play. That goal put the game out of reach and proved to be an important one given that the Habs wound up on the power play shortly after due to a Kevan Miller interference penalty.

Here are four more things we learned:

RASK CAN BEAT THE HABS

Tuukka Rask‘s head might have exploded if the 1-0 score through two periods held up for the rest of the game. It would have added to the idea that the 2013-14 Vezina Winner simply can’t beat the Habs.

While Rask and the Bruins trailed for much of the game, Rask was excellent. In fact, the only goal he allowed was the result of some terrible luck.

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Pierre McGuire on OM&F: Zac Rinaldo hit on Sean Couturier was dirty 10.22.15 at 1:53 pm ET
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Pierre McGuire

Pierre McGuire

NBC Sports NHL analyst Pierre McGuire made his weekly appearance on Ordway, Merloni and Fauria on Thursday to look back at the Bruins’ overtime loss to the Flyers Wednesday night. To hear the interview, go to the OM&F audio on demand page.

During the game Bruins forward Zac Rinaldo hit Flyers forward Sean Couturier from behind against the boards at the end of the first period. He was given a game misconduct for the hit. McGuire said it was a dirty play.

“It’s against a defenseless player,” McGuire said. “It’s against a guy who isn’t making a play on the puck. I didn’t like the play at all. I didn’t like it at all.”

“I like Zac Rinaldo as a guy, I really do,” he added. “I’ve gotten to know him over time watching him play junior hockey up in the Toronto area and he’s had to scratch and claw to make it to the professional level, especially at the NHL level. He always plays to the line and I didn’t like that last night. He went over the line last night. He really did.”

Although the Bruins blew a two-goal third period lead and lost 5-4 in overtime, McGuire said it wasn’t all bad for the home team.

“There were some very good things in that game last night for Boston, too. It wasn’t all doom and gloom,” McGuire said. “But, this is a much different team. This is a much different team that Bruins fans have become used to since about 2010.”

Tuukka Rask is 1-3-1 this season and McGuire noted how important it is to get the Bruins’ goaltender back on track.

“You need goaltending. There’s no question,” he said. “It is a very important part of the game and confidence is an issue. I know it was a great shot from Wayne Simmonds, that was Wayne Simmonds’ 101st goal in 290 games as a member of the Flyers last night. I can tell you this right now, if Tuukka is on the angle, that is high glove side from a right-hand shot coming down the left-hand side of the ice, that is a stoppable puck for a guy that is on the angle. He was off the angle. He was cheating short side and he got beat long side. He’s got to be more square and I think he would be the first person to tell you that.”

Read More: Pierre McGuire, Tuukka Rask, Zac Rinaldo,
Bruins leave Tuukka Rask no room for error at 1:44 am ET
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Tuukka Rask has allowed 22 goals this season. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Tuukka Rask has allowed 22 goals this season. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Tuukka Rask has not been a cure-all for the Bruins’€™ issues. That doesn’€™t mean he’€™s been a primary source of those issues.

In five games played this season, Rask has allowed a jarring 22 goals. While goals against is a team statistic, having a goalie of Rask’€™s caliber is typically a fail-safe against such results.

These are not typical circumstances, however, so judging Rask based on them isn’€™t entirely fair, even if he is making a whole lot of money.

The Bruins have lost four games this season. In three of them, the B’€™s were unequivocally worse in front of Rask than he was behind them. Last week’€™s loss to Tampa qualified as a stinker on Rask’€™s behalf, but the other performances have seen him allow goals not usually seen around these parts. Does Rask deserve criticism for not being at his best? Sure, but no five-game sample can possibly be seen as an indication that one of the best goalies in the league (remember: Rask is the leader among active goalies in career save percentage, ahead of Henrik Lundqvist, Carey Price and everyone else) is some flawed player who no one noticed because he was on a good team.

Granted, what’€™s alarming with Rask is that, for the first time in a long time, he doesn’€™t pass the eye test. The numbers are ugly enough, but so too are the goals. Commonly this season, such lowlights have been the result of a Rask miscue exacerbated by Boston’s defensive play.

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5 things we learned: Tuukka Rask struggles as Bruins miss opportunity to steal first win 10.12.15 at 3:38 pm ET
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Tuukka Rask allowed six goals on Monday.  (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Tuukka Rask allowed six goals on Monday. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Even with Zdeno Chara back, the Bruins are not strong on defense. They will need Tuukka Rask to be himself in order to be a good team. In Boston’€™s first real good chance to steal a win, he wasn’€™t himself.

With the Bruins capitalizing on a poor start from the Lightning Monday at TD Garden, Boston’€™s chances of upsetting last season’€™s Eastern Conference champions were hurt by a pair of goals the former Vezina winner routinely stopped in games and seasons prior. The end result was a 6-3 loss and an 0-3-0 start for the first time since the 1999-00 season.

The biggest damage was done in the opening minutes of the third with Tampa clinging to a one-goal lead. Patrice Bergeron got a stick on a shot from Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin off the rush. The result was a sputtering puck that Rask was in position to stop but saw lightly kick off the inside of his right skate and through his legs.

That led to a Bronx cheer from the Garden crowd on his next save, as Rask had also given up a softy on a slow-moving puck in front during a first-period Tampa power play.

Fortunately for the B’€™s, they aren’€™t yet as bad as that 1999-00 team, as that group didn’€™t pick up a win until its 10th game of the season.

Here are four more things we learned Monday:

TOP UNIT IS TOPS; PASTRNAK FALTERS ON SECOND UNIT

Say what you will about Claude Julien‘€™s personnel choices for the second power play unit (see below), but the top group of David Krejci and Torey Krug on the point with Ryan Spooner on the half wall, Patrice Bergeron in the slot and Loui Eriksson in front was terrific Monday.

Krejci gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead 18 seconds into Boston’€™s first power play, while Eriksson picked up his first of the season 23 seconds into a Vladislav Namestnikov holding penalty. Eriksson added his second of the day during a second-period power play, using the shaft of his stick to redirect a shot from Krejci.

With Brad Marchand out with a concussion, David Pastrnak figured to see time on Boston’€™s second power play unit. He didn’€™t do much with his chance Monday, as he made a bad pass that was easily intercepted by Brian Boyle at the end of a second-period power play for Boston. Boyle kicked the puck to himself, fended off the slender Pastrnak with ease and scored a breakaway goal to make it 3-2 in Tampa’€™s favor.

BERGERON PENALTIES COSTLY

After setting career highs in penalty minutes in each of the last two seasons, Patrice Bergeron is now up to six penalty minutes through three games this season. His pair of penalties cost the Bruins more than another player’s might have.

Given that Brad Marchand is out with a concussion, the B’s aren’t exactly in a position to lose another one of their aces on the penalty kill. Tampa got power play goals off of each of Bergeron’s penalties Monday, a goaltender interference infraction in the first period and a hooking call in the second.

JULIEN MAKES RIGHT CALL WITH KELLY

By putting Brett Connolly on Patrice Bergeron‘€™s line, Claude Julien broke up a third line that was borderline terrible defensively. To fix it, he moved Jimmy Hayes to the right of Ryan Spooner and promoted Chris Kelly to play left wing/babysitter has he did successfully in previous years for Carl Soderberg.

The move paid immediate dividends for the Bruins. Kelly stole a puck in the neutral zone in the line’€™s first shift of the game, leading to a lengthy offensive zone stay in which the snakebitten Spooner nearly scored. Kelly was then hooked by Matthew Carle to give Boston a power play on which Krejci scored the game’€™s opening goal. Spooner would draw another penalty midway through the period to set up Eriksson’€™s first goal of the day.

KREJCI GETS THE POINTS

New linemates haven’€™t gotten in the way of David Krejci getting off to a strong start. With a goal and two assists Monday, Krejci now has five points (two goals, three assists) in three games this season. It’€™s the first time since 2010-11 that Krejci has had points in the first three games of a campaign.

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Tuukka Rask: Bruins ‘had a chance to score way more goals’ in season-opening loss 10.09.15 at 12:48 am ET
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Maybe it’s appropriate that the best comments on the Bruins’ lack of offensive finish in a 6-2 season-opening loss Thursday night came from their goalie.

On a night when the Bruins outchanced the visiting Winnipeg Jets badly in the first period, Tuukka Rask had to make several saves close in to preserve a 1-0 lead heading into the first period. There were chances from Ryan Spooner, Brett Connolly and Brad Marchand, all in close and around Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec minutes after the Bruins were staked to a lead on a pretty goal from David Krejci.

“I mean I think most importantly, we want to take that offense,” Tuukka Rask said of what he saw from his vantage point 180 feet away. “We created a ton of chances, and had a chance to score way more goals than we did, so I think that’€™s the most important thing to take from this game.”

As the Bruins continued to misfire in close in the opening five minutes of the second period, there was the overwhelming sense that the visitors were dictating the pace, using Boston’s desperation against them. That was reinforced once the Jets tied the game and took the lead minutes later in the second.

“When we start cheating offensively a little bit, then one mistake leads to another very quickly, and we did that today a couple times,” Rask said. “It’€™s a process in the making, and we just have to correct some things out, but it’€™ll be good.”

Patrice Bergeron was another player who had his chances from close range but could not finish to beat Pavelec.

“It definitely would have been nice to come out of that [first] period with more than one goal,” Bergeron said. “That definitely wouldn’€™t have hurt us. Looking back in the second, we had a few breakdowns that they capitalized, which we didn’€™t. That was the story of the game right there. We definitely lost momentum, yeah – we got to find ways to score when we do have our chances and generate some more momentum with that.”

The Bruins outshot the Jets, 14-6, in the first 20 minutes and headed into the first intermission with a power play, thanks to a cheap shot elbow to the face of Bergeron by Jets defenseman Alexander Burmistrov.

“I think it would’€™ve been nice to come out of there with a better lead than we did after the first with the type of opportunities that we had,” Claude Julien said, echoing the words of Bergeron. “It should’€™ve been a two- or three-goal period. But we misfired or missed those opportunities and allowed them to stay in the game. And then the second period they came out and kind of took over and we started making some defensive mistakes. Whether, I thought, whether it was coverage, layers, or whether their was decisions with the puck or D-zone awareness, we made all of those mistakes tonight which resulted in goals against.”

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