BOSTON - Tuukka Rask knows better than anyone the offensive strengths of his teammates. Day after day, Boston's ace netminder faces their shots at practice, allowing him to build a detailed book on their habits and the depth of their skills.
Given that wealth of knowledge, he was anything but surprised when Riley Nash struck for two goals on Wednesday night. The 28-year-old also added an assist to tie a career high with three points in helping pace the Black & Gold to a convincing 5-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators at TD Garden.
"He doesn't give himself too much credit," said Rask, who made 25 saves en route to his ninth win in 10 games. "He's a skilled guy. He's got a good release as you saw on that first goal. Good to see a guy like him get rewarded with a couple of goals. That's great. He's a skilled guy."
Video: Nash scores twice as Bruins beat Senators, 5-1
Nash's performance highlighted another stellar night from Boston's third line, which with David Krejci sidelined by injury has at times become the B's second most dependable offensive unit. In addition to Nash's three points, Danton Heinen (plus-4) and David Backes (five shots on goal) both added a goal and an assist.
The trio's offensive output was all the more important considering the absence of Krejci and a rare quiet night from Boston's top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak, which was held off the scoresheet and combined for just five shots on goal.
"I think [the Bergeron line has] been, obviously, the work horse for us all year," said Nash, who now has 15 points (4 goals, 11 assists) this season, just two off last season's total of 17. "Those guys are all pretty talented players in their own right, so anytime we can kind of give them some support and not put the pressure on them - I know coming in that they probably want to score a goal or two every game, but some nights it's not going to happen.
"And having Krech out, I think that also puts a little bit of onus on the second and third line, whatever you want to call it. Everybody as the bottom nine kind of banded together in helping out."
Video: Riley Nash speaks to media after Wednesday's game
Last season, Nash formed a formidable duo with Dominic Moore on the Bruins' fourth line and second penalty killing unit, but was rarely relied upon to deliver much offense. But his two-goal night against the Islanders down the stretch last March showed the 28-year-old is more than capable of delivering offensively, which he has done more frequently so far this season.
"He has it in him," said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. "Been a little streaky for us, so hopefully this pushes him in that direction. When he has scored, it has been very timely for us - it is not like he is going out and getting the sixth goal in a game that is out of reach or the other way.
"Remember last year in New York when he got going there - big goals for us, huge game for us in Brooklyn. Tonight, it was very timely as well, so good for him for stepping up at the right time."
While that offensive side has peaked through again since the return of Backes in late November - when Cassidy placed Backes alongside Nash and Heinen - the trio has also formed a dependable 200-foot unit that is routinely matched up against the opponents' top lines.
"We're going to try to get them against one of the scoring lines for the other team. Usually, Bergy will get one of those matchups. If Krech is in there, we don't mind using him," said Cassidy. "The more 200-foot guys with Backes and Heinen - that's why they were put together. They'll probably see some skill. If the other team is really looking for a matchup, we might just put them against their checking line to negate it because we think Bergy can outplay any line in the league.
"It depends from night to night, but generally, we want them against one of their skill lines."
Video: OTT@BOS: Nash snaps long shot over Anderson's glove
On Wednesday, they produced plenty of skill of their own. After Backes and Heinen teamed up with assists on Kevan Miller's opening tally and Heinen doubled Boston's lead midway through the first period, Nash went to work with a two-goal second that opened up a 4-1 Bruins lead.
Nash's first goal was the result of a terrific individual effort that started in the Bruins' end. After blocking an Erik Karlsson shot, Nash brushed by the blue liner to track down the loose puck skirting through the neutral zone. Nash then broke in all alone on Craig Anderson, ripping one over the netminder's glove just 1:25 into the middle frame.
"I think we know he's got that skill in his game and he plays - he prides himself on a good 200-foot game and we all know that he has that skill and tonight it came out. It was nice to see," said Heinen, who has 12 points (5 goals, 7 assists) over his last 11 games.
Later in the second, Nash cashed in with his second goal. Following a strong pursuit by Anders Bjork to cause a turnover in the neutral zone, the rookie found Nash breaking toward the Ottawa blue line. Nash buzzed around Nick Paul and dangled past Anderson in the crease to extend the Bruins' lead to three goals with 5:17 remaining in the second.
"I kind of saw someone coming back door, so I was waiting. If that D man slid across I was going to try and feather it back door…I think it might have been Heinen," said Nash, who notched his fourth career two-goal game. "But that D-man there kind of committed to me, so I started running out of room, and usually that goalie starts to loop off that post, and he waited a lot longer than I thought, and eventually there was just a little gap, so that's nice."
Video: OTT@BOS: Nash tucks in backhander for slick goal
So nice, Nash hopes, that it springboards him through the rest of the season.
"I think I've been a little bit snake bit this year. It seems to be every year it kind of comes in bunches, now I get two tonight," said Nash. "Hopefully I can keep that rolling and feel good and maybe shoot the puck a little bit more.
"I think my linemates played great. They're both tremendous. Very good shots. It's just give and take for our line for contributing, and I think that's more important than anything."