(Photo: Alan Sullivan)
For Boston, Thursday night’s game was the true beginning of the 2016-17 NHL season—the home opener for the Boston Bruins, who played host to the New Jersey Devils. As with any home opener, introductions of the entire 2016-17 team were made with each player skating out to the blue line as they were announced. While they didn’t skate, injured players Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller, and Frank Vatrano were also announced and present by the bench.
The energy was already palpable with the entire roster and all of the coaching and support staff having been announced, but it ramped up almost 100% as Bobby Orr and Milt Schmidt were revealed and Orr wheeled Schmidt right out to the center of the ice for the ceremonial puck drop. Even the Devils captain, Andy Greene was pretty excited about the opportunity to shake hands with these two hockey legends.
Newly minted Bruin David Backes, who seems to be happily embracing his position with the Black and Gold—notching seven hits during the night’s game—shared his thoughts on the two icons.
“It was cool to see them coming on the ice and it looked like Uncle Milt [Schmidt] was maybe even a little emotional at center ice enjoying the spotlight that he deserves,” Backes said after the game. “And with Bobby Orr and 50 years since his debut a couple days ago, great history and great to have those guys a part of opening night, in this building.”
There was a lot of north and south hockey played for forty minutes with nothing to show for it, other than outstanding performances from the netminders—Tuukka Rask for the Bruins and Massachusetts native Cory Schneider for the Devils. Some watching the game wanted lots of goal scoring, but when studying the geometry of the plays and seeing the confidence with which the Bruins were playing, it was a good game from puck drop.
“You know I think the way that Jersey plays, and they make you play, it’s maybe not the most exciting game to be watching but the people who are hockey purists I think, it was tight checking,” Backes described. “It was maybe 3-on-2s back and forth for a small period of time but the majority of it was good positional, sound hockey and you just figured that the first time somebody made a mistake it was going to end up in the back of the net.”
As has happened so far this season for Boston, they ended up playing from behind, when Kyle Palmieri scored from the circle on the power play 4:14 into the third period. Like their road games against Columbus and Winnipeg, the Bruins would respond, as Brad Marchand got a snap shot off, threading it between the legs of Greene and past Schneider to tie the game just five and a half minutes later. Though there was just over ten minutes remaining in regulation, it’s safe to say that many expected the game to go to overtime, however, Patrice Bergeron, who was playing in his first game of the season, decided to get the go ahead goal with just 1:15 left on the clock.
Bergeron had been slotted back in as center on his line with Marchand and David Pastrnak. While he’d been healing, and forced to watch the team’s road games from his home, Backes had tried to fill the skates of that center position—doing a pretty good job of it, given the points that line garnered throughout the road trip. They gelled so well, that Bergeron was asked about Backes stepping in.
“Yeah, I thought I was going to maybe be the anchor there tonight,” he joked. ”So they were amazing the first three games and yeah, I guess I was trying to come in and try to do the job as much as possible.”
Of course, it was Bergeron, so perhaps no one should have been surprised when he notched that go-ahead goal. He was also just as impressive in the face offs, winning 54% of his (13 out of 24).
However, there was still plenty of time for the Devils, who would not only pull their goalie, but would end up with a 6-on-4 opportunity when Backes was whistled for roughing while the clock showed 50 seconds remaining in regulation. It’s not until a hockey game is hinging on the clock counting down that one gets a true understanding of just how long 50 seconds can be.
Perhaps it was just meant to be. More likely the improved play of most of the Bruins from last season is a better explanation for them hanging on and getting the win. They still have some things to work on, having gone 1 for 14 on the power play (0 for 4 on the night). The man advantage has not been such yet with Boston in their first four games and is definitely something they will want to improve.
“[We] get the win and we’ll put it in the bank,” summed up Backes. “We’ll enjoy it the rest of the night and then we’ve got more business to get to Saturday.”
And Saturday’s game brings the Montreal Canadiens to town, with a healthy Carey Price likely to start in net, for the first of a classic, long-standing, traditional hockey rivalry.