SAN JOSE – The Boston Bruins entered the Shark Tank on a two-game losing streak, but more than halfway through the midway point of the NHL’s regular season, they have as good a chance as any Eastern Conference club to make a return trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
Goaltender Tuukka Rask, who struggled in his last two outings but is still among the Vezina Trophy favorites, showed why he’s among the NHL’s elite goaltenders in a 1-0 win over the Sharks on Saturday night, with 26 saves. His club benefited from a fortunate bounce in the third period, when Loui Eriksson’s attempt at the net hit Scott Hannan and ended up on Carl Soderberg’s tape with about eight minutes left in regulation for the only marker.
[Instant Replay: Sharks shut out by Rask, stingy Bruins]
Despite getting shut out for the second time this season, the Sharks had nothing to be ashamed of in what was just their second regulation loss at home (16-2-3). Still without star center Logan Couture and several other role players up front, the shorthanded Sharks matched up well with the physical, highly-skilled and stingy Bruins, who entered the game second in the league in goals-against average.
The game was a toss-up in every sense of the word.
“It was tight right from the beginning to the end,” Todd McLellan said. “Playoff checking-tight, top two lines on each team neutralized each other. Basically, what it came down to was a little bit of puck luck. A bounce went their way, went to their stick, and it didn’t go to ours. Nothing we have to hang our heads over.”
Joe Thornton said: “We held our own. They’re a good team, one of the best in the East. It didn’t feel like they overwhelmed us or anything. Just a good hockey game.”
San Jose had the edge in the first period, getting the better of the scoring chances. Boston regrouped to start the second, and had more offensive zone time in the middle frame. Still, neither team could solve the other’s goaltender.
It got even tighter in the third, as each team generated just one shot on goal in the first eight minutes of the final frame.
“It was a pretty evenly matched game, and there wasn’t a lot of space out there for either team,” Dan Boyle said.
There was some nastiness, too, especially late. Tommy Wingels, who had some good looks at the net, was unafraid to bump and grind with the towering Zdeno Chara. The Boston defenseman hit Wingels high in the previous game at TD Garden on Oct. 24, knocking him from the game in the first period.
As is often the case, the game was physical before it took a nasty turn.
“There were some battles, that’s for sure,” Wingels said. “Both teams wanted to win, wanted possession of the puck, in certain areas of the ice. When both teams want that, guys are going to be physical and do all that they can to get the puck.”
The Sharks ended up losing both of their games against Boston this season, including Oct. 24 when David Krejci scored with 0.8 seconds left in the third period.
Should they meet again – and, stranger things have certainly happened – it could be one whale of a series.
“You go back to October, we’re a second away from at least a point, and today we’re shut out by one,” McLellan said. “Good games. Hopefully we get a chance to play them again.”