When the dust settled on the jersey retirement of Rick Middleton, there was still hockey to be played. And with just four points separating New York and Boston in the Eastern Conference standings, it was predestined to be a battle.
In a game that lived up to that billing, the upward trending Bruins maintained recent moment as newly promoted forward Ryan Donato pushed in the game-winning goal in the shootout to give Boston a 2-1 come-from-behind victory at the TD Garden. Donato was skating in his first game since returning to the professional club from Providence.
With the win, Boston improves to 9-2 on home-ice. It also marked the first instance this season the team won when trailing to begin the second period.
Although this game was won on the nifty shootout goal by Donato, proper credit needs to be given to the play of Tuukka Rask.
Rask had gotten a lot of slack for his leave of absence back on November 9th. But since returning to the ice, he has been good enough to put some of those same critics back in his corner. In four starts since coming back, Rask has stopped 119 of 126 shots and owns a 2-0-2 record.
Thursday's showing was just the latest installment of the string of solid outings for the Bruins net minder. He was cool, calm and collected throughout regulation. In overtime and during the shootout he was downright unbeatable.
With 4:05 to go in the OT period, Rask showed how in the zone he was, rejecting a 105 mph slap shot from Ryan Pulock who had the wide-open shooting lane. That save marked the second of six overtime stops for Rask, with most, if not all coming in the one-on-one variety. It carried over to the shootout where he stopped all four chances by the Islanders.
With a long pregame ceremony, it is natural for the teams to come out sluggishly for to the start of the game. Accompanied by slow skating pace and lethargic movement through the zone, it took a minute and a half for the game to see its first official shot when Rask halted a wrister from Josh Bailey.
The Bruins controlled most of the early opportunities in the first period. That is until the Islanders flipped the script with 7:43 left until intermission. On their sixth of seven first period shots, New York took the lead when Anders Lee stood in front of the net unopposed before cleaning-up the goal for his eighth tally of the year. It was the only blemish on an otherwise flawless night for Tuukka.
In the second period, and for the second time in the last three games, the Bruins benefitted from the pain of David Backes. During Thursday's instance, Backes caught the blade of the high-stick from Nick Leddy. Leddy was charged the penalty to give the Bruins a man-advantage while still chasing one goal.
The Black & Gold urgently leveled the score just 25 seconds into the power play when Brad Marchand snapped his seven-game goalless drought. The game-tying play was set-up by David Pastrnak, who attracted attention when he transitioned to the front of the net. With a defender moving up to defend, Pastrnak flicked a pass over to Marchand who rifled off the one-timer for his seventh goal of the year.
The Bruins wrap up the brief two-game home-stand on Saturday when the Detroit Red Wings come to the TD Garden for a 7 p.m. tilt.
PHOTO: (@NHLBruins twitter)