Tomas Tatar’s ‘Tuna’ was recently voted best nickname as part of a wider National Hockey League Players’ Association poll. But if you switched the language to “Moniker That Best Captures the Ethos of an Individual,” there’s really no arguing with ‘Big Z.’
Zdeno Chara had himself a Saturday, first inking a one-year, incentive-laden contract extension with the Boston Bruins for his age-42 season, then whipping home his 200th career goal in a 7–3 victory for his team over the Florida Panthers.
If that NHLPA poll had a query for ‘Most Respected Player,’ my guess is the Bruins might place two in the top five with Patrice Bergeron and the monster Slovakian. And any conversation about teams that still don’t fully get their due would have to begin with the B’s.
Sandwiched in the Atlantic Division between a Tampa Bay Lighting squad chasing history and a Toronto Maple Leafs outfit with more haters and acolytes than any other team in hockey, Boston can sometimes get overlooked: At least, when Brad Marchand hasn’t done something — good or bad — that leads the nightly sports shows.
If you haven’t been paying attention, the win over the Cats represented the Bruins’ fourth consecutive victory and they’ve managed to outscore opponents 17-4 in the three most recent of those games. Since Feb. 3, Boston is 19-3-2, but have actually lost ground in the division because Tampa Bay is from outer space.
Most of those wins came with future Rocket Richard Trophy winner — no, seriously, it’s gonna happen — David Pastrnak on the sideline. Since Pastrnak returned from a thumb injury, he has two goals and four points in three contests. His centre, the aforementioned Bergeron, has five tallies during Boston’s current four-game happy ride and is having a wonderful March one year after a fractured foot torpedoed his legit shot at the Hart Trophy. Go back to the start of that Feb. 3 run and you’ll find — more or less — point-per-game paces for bounce-back old guy David Krejci and youngsters Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen, to say nothing of Marchand, who’s third in NHL scoring over that period with 35 points.
Boston is one of three teams — along with Dallas and the New York Islanders — that have two goalies with save percentages of .918 or higher (that’s Tuukka Rask’s number, backup Jaroslav Halak is at .924). Those puckstoppers play behind a blue-line corps that’s headlined by the unending Chara, but also features 21-year-old Charles McAvoy seeing the most average ice time per night (22:06) and has another up-and-comer — 22-year-old Brandon Carlo — skating over 20 minutes a game.
All of this helped Boston officially punch its playoff ticket with the win over Florida and, more importantly, move closer to locking down home-ice advantage in its inevitable first-round re-match with the Leafs.
Something tells me people will be paying attention to the Bruins then.
Other Weekend Takeaways
• It was a big weekend for the Colorado Avalanche, who took three of four points up for grabs in a Saturday-Sunday, home-and-home with Chicago and now hold a two-point advantage for the final Western Conference wild-card berth. Philipp Grubauer started each of those games and he’s become the man over the past five weeks, as this club has resurrected its playoff hopes on the heels of an eight-game losing streak. The Avs — who lost captain Gabriel Landeskog earlier this month and likely won’t get him back during the regular season — are 12-6-2 since Feb. 14. Grubauer is 6-2-1 in his past 10 appearances, with a .966 save percentage and three shutouts.
• Kyle Connor scored his 30th, 31st and 32nd goals of the year on Friday, netting his first NHL hat trick during the Jets’ 5–0 dismantling of the Nashville Predators, while also besting the 31 goals he put up last year as a freshman.
Connor, current linemate Patrik Laine and stud defenceman Jacob Trouba all need new contracts this summer. Call me a lunatic, but I wonder if the move for this cap-crunched Jets team is calling talent-starved rebuilding squads and talking about Laine. Say Detroit — a nice out-of-conference partner — winds up with the third-overall pick: Is that the starting point for a move that would help Winnipeg financially while keeping its pipeline pumping?
• Last year’s second-overall pick, Andrei Svechnikov, now has 20 goals after netting one apiece in Carolina’s weekend wins over Minnesota and Montreal.
In related news, the top four picks in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft have each now topped 30 points. As the broadcast crew of the latter game pointed out, this is the first time since the 1981–82 season since that’s happened.
• Speaking of that Sunday-night title between Carolina and Montreal, it sure was a pretty awesome edition of Rogers Hometown Hockey.
A Celebration. Nation to Nation. Hand in Hand.
A historic, beautiful, special weekend in the unbelievable community of @EnochCreeNation. You didn't just touch our hearts, you touched the hearts of the rest of our country.
— Rogers Hometown Hockey (@hometownhockey_) March 25, 2019
• Remember when John Tortorella tried to, uh, visit the Calgary Flames‘ dressing room in 2014 as coach of the Canucks? If you do, you know why this is really funny.
• Congrats to the Calgary Inferno on their 5–2 Clarkson Cup triumph over Les Canadiennes de Montreal on Sunday.
Red and White Power Rankings
1. Calgary Flames (47-21-7): With Saturday’s win over Vancouver, the Flames have their first 100-point season since 2005-06 and just their second since 1990-91.
2. Winnipeg Jets (45-26-4): The victory over Nashville marked the start of the year’s final home stand, a four-gamer that the Jets need to exploit to lock down that top seed in the Central.
3. Toronto Maple Leafs (44-25-6): You can bet the story of the week ahead will be how much Jake Gardiner and Travis Dermott take part in practice as the Buds hope a healthier blue-line is around the corner.
4. Montreal Canadiens (40-28-8): The Habs were 5:39 from a Carey Price-driven, regulation-time win over Carolina on Sunday night. Instead, they lost 2-1 in overtime and likely waved bye-bye to any chance of overtaking the Canes for the don’t-have-to-play-Tampa spot in the wild-card chase.
6. Vancouver Canucks (32-34-10): Shellacked 5-0 on home ice on Sunday night by Columbus, a loss that should end even the most delusional playoff talk.
7. Ottawa Senators (26-43-6): All the Eugene Melnyk stuff has gone from perversely entertaining to just sad at this point.
In your Ear
If you want more Bruins talk, co-host Rory Boylen and I did a deep dive on the Atlantic Division on the most recent edition of the Tape to Tape podcast. Erik Erlendsson of LightningInsider.com also dropped by for a good Bolts chat.
The Week Ahead
• As NCAA teams continue to see their seasons end, watch for players turning pro and signing with the NHL clubs that drafted them, as former Boston College and U.S. world junior goalie Joseph Woll did with Toronto on Sunday.
• Two Game 7-type scenarios in the chase for the final playoff berths in the East and West. First, it’s Montreal (in right now) visiting Columbus (two points back with a game in hand) on Thursday. Then, it’s Arizona (two out) at Colorado (two up on both the Coyotes and Wild) on Friday.