(Photo: Alan Sullivan)
As the puck dropped on Thursday night at TD Garden, the Boston Bruins were out of playoff contention and had managed to stop a four-game losing skid with their victory over the Detroit Red Wings two days prior. Thursday they were hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins, by whom they had been absolutely pummeled on Sunday. Stringing together two wins before going into the All-Star break was not only important to the team’s psyche, but also crucial to their playoff possibilities.
It appeared, as the game began, that the Bruins had the jump and intensity of Tuesday’s game, but it would be the Penguins to get the first goal, as Justin Schultz’s shot went off Boston defenseman Brandon Carlo’s stick. It was one of those goals that no player wants any part of, but then, as if under his own personal rain cloud, Carlo took a cross-checking penalty just about two minutes later and while on the power play Penguin Phil Kessel put his team up by two. The Bruins would go into the first intermission having marginally outshot the Penguins 13-12, not counting aborted shots by the Bs, but in a two-goal hole—a position they knew all too well.
Coming out into the second period, it looked like the Bruins were determined, but they would be immediately stymied as Adam McQuaid was whistled for a trip 36 seconds into the middle period. However, if there is one thing that Boston has done well this season, it is the penalty kill, which going into that penalty stood at an impressive 86%. A minute and two seconds into the penalty kill, Brad Marchand—who had fortunately avoided a suspension, being fined instead for his “dangerous trip” on Red Wings’ Niklas Kronwall on Tuesday, perhaps because of his upcoming All Star appearance—notched his third shorthanded goal of the season, cutting the Penguins’ lead in half.
That shorthanded goal definitely gave the Bruins a boost of emotion, something that they need to be successful. Less than six minutes later Marchand would put in his second of the game, and the second assist on that all important tying goal would belong to the first period-beleaguered Carlo, showing why head coach Claude Julien continues to play him in every game.
“This is where, again we need to be patient with some young players and the mistake he made, it goes off his stick and it spins in the net and you know, probably not a good penalty to take, but what I like about Brandon Carlo – and I said that before – he comes out in the second period and we get in a bit of a scramble there at the beginning and he blocks a big shot that probably saves a goal,” shared Julien postgame. “Like, he redeems himself. He works hard to redeem himself and so as much as we’ve got to live sometimes with some young mistakes, we like the fact that he doesn’t hang his head and he comes back and plays hard and really tries to redeem himself and he does that most of the time.”
Unfortunately the twenty-year-old Carlo would somehow get hurt during the third period—though it wasn’t known how at the time—and would not return. In fact, as he struggled to get back up and off the ice, goaltender Tuukka Rask would help by giving him a push so he could make it to the bench while play was at the other end.
Going into the second intermission, the Bruins would be leading the game for the first time, 3-2, the result of a deflection of a Torey Krug shot by Riley Nash, just over the halfway mark of the game. It was a lead they would protect for the remaining 9:35 of that second, giving them a positive jolt to take into the locker room. They would take a bit of “old time hockey” with them as David Backes brought his physicality and “go to the dirty areas” mentality.
That mentality saw Backes finishing his hits, which helped to make some space on the ice, but also saw him sit for two after a little bit of a dust up with Trevor Daley at 8:26 of the second. He would sit for another four—the result of a double minor for unsportsmanlike conduct and cross-checking, as he and Kessel got into it about seven minutes later at Kessel’s invitation. It was clear that the Bruins’ hard-hitting approach to the game and three goals they had scored were frustrating the Penguins when Scott Wilson instigated a fight with Colin Miller, who accepted and got the take down, with 48 seconds remaining before the second intermission.
Coming out in the third, before the first minute had ticked off the clock, Patrice Bergeron, who was mucking around the crease, got the Bruins their fourth goal—though it went in and out of the net so fast that at first the refs didn’t even realize it had happened. After review though, the goal was awarded giving Boston a little breathing room with a 4-2 score. Given that Patric Hornqvist would get one back for the Penguins with 9:25 remaining in regulation, that opening goal in the third for the Bruins was important.
Despite some additional penalties by the Bruins in the third, Boston refused to back down, keeping the Penguins from getting a point by tying and taking it to overtime. And as the final horn sounded, it was a satisfying win for Boston, and a sense that they were embracing that identity that makes them successful.
Backes’ physicality certainly harkens to that hard, “allow no quarter,” intensity that the Bruins used to have regularly, with players always buzzing around the opponent’s net. Perhaps the team can retain not only the feeling of the win, but more importantly that edge, without toppling over it and giving up penalties.
“Yeah, I think, you realize, like, the guys who score, they’re around the net, and that’s how you score goals in this league,” said Backes. “You can maybe make a couple highlight goals by staying on the perimeter and hitting seams, but percentagewise, you gotta get to the front of the net. And I think we’d had enough of 40 shots, 45 shots, one and two goals in losses and now we’re starting to get to the inside and bury a few more and that results in wins.”
The team will get a bit of a rest, except for Marchand and Rask who headed west to Los Angeles to participate in the NHL All Star events to represent the Bruins. Upon their return, the team will need to pick up where they left off.
“It’s about realizing what the… how it feels to play like that, but also win that way and build from that,” Bergeron summed up. “I think last game was a great character win and now you follow it up with a great game against the Stanley Cup champs from last year, so definitely feels good. You have, I guess, to keep doing more of the same going forward.”