The Boston Bruins played host to the Vegas Golden Knights, the NHL’s newest expansion team, for their inaugural tilt against each other. The two teams will see each other just twice during the regular season.
There is the age-old question of what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. Thursday night’s game between Boston and Vegas came close to answering that question—as both teams play a similar “blue collar, grind down the opponent” style game. And what was learned is that it keeps both teams with limited chances on net and those chances that do get through, the offensive team needs to have someone in the crease for a greasy goal.
The Bruins were coming off their over-time loss to the LA Kings last Saturday and then a shootout loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday. The Knights came into Boston after losing to the New York Islanders on Monday followed by a loss on Tuesday to the New York Rangers. Both teams wanted a better outcome, but just as with the unstoppable force and the immovable object, something will give, because only one team can be the victor.
The Bruins came out strong in the first period, keeping the Knights from a shot on goal for close to the first ten minutes. Once Vegas got that first one though, the ice tilted a bit in their favor. When Patrice Bergeron was whistled for a tripping at 11:07, the Vegas power play went to work and hemmed in the Bruins for the bulk of their time on the power play. While Tuukka Rask would keep the Knights from scoring, it wasn’t the best of efforts by the Bruins on the penalty kill. Three and a half minutes later Matt Beleskey would get a tripping penalty and the Bruins would again be down a man. They did a much better job of limiting the chances and the amount of time that Vegas set up shop in their end. At the end of the first twenty minutes, neither team had scored and Vegas was up in shots on goal 8 to 5.
Every hockey game is a team effort though there are often key individuals who stand out for one reason or another. Thursday night’s game, it seemed that the Hockey Gods wanted to see what Sean Kuraly could do for Boston and what Nate Schmidt could do for Vegas. Kuraly would end up with the go-ahead goal for the Bruins that saw them garner the two points from the game. Schmidt would pick the puck off Jake DeBrusk and go on to assist on the Knights’ one goal, made by Cody Eakin, in a very tight game.
Certainly not to diminish from Riley Nash’s first goal on the season which he scored for the Bruins at 3:24 of the middle frame, assisted by Austin Czarnik and Torey Krug, but the test of the grinders would come a bit later when the Knights got that equalizer.
“He didn’t feel me on his backside and when a guy doesn’t feel you, they expose the puck,” Schmidt said of the sequence. “You have a chance to be able to pick his pocket. I’ve been on the other side of that a few times in my career, so it’s a little bit different to be on the right side of things.”
Just as the Knights had three more shots on goal in the first, the Bruins would be the team with the extra three at the end of the second twenty, and the players would go to the second intermission with the score tied at one and the shots on goal tied at 20 a piece.
Much of the first half of the final period of regulation saw a lot of north and south play, something to be expected given how similar both teams were in regard to style. That particular approach grinds down the players on the other team until someone makes a mistake. As the game went on, the grinding from both teams continued to minimize opportunities and it was clear that the team with the most grit would probably come out on top.
Such was the case on Kuraly’s goal. He made a point of putting himself in front of the net, first to the right of netminder Lagace and then sliding to the left looking for a rebound. Kuraly would end up kissing the goal post after scoring, as he was pushed into the net, but that wouldn’t slow down his celebration with his linemates. For DeBrusk it was a chance to redeem himself with an assist and for Krug, who was playing his first game without the jaw guard, it was a two-point night with assists on both of the Bruins goals.
“We asked our group to make sure we forced [Lagace] to control rebounds, work to find pucks, and we had pockets of that in the second period. I thought we did a good job, and then in the last goal we needed more of it and [Kuraly] was good,” said Head Coach Bruce Cassidy. “It was good to see Sean [Kuraly] get rewards. He’s certainly more than willing to go to those areas. Those are the type of goals he’s going to score.”
Kuraly certainly agrees with that assessment.
“That’s what I’ve got to do to help this team push it in the right direction, push the game in our favor and tonight I was lucky enough to find one on the doorstep.,” Kuraly shared. “But, if you keep going to those spots I think you’ll keep finding them, and I kind of felt it coming tonight, felt the puck coming around the net and kept coming to me. And I think you just keep working and doing the right things and treat the game with respect, it kind of respects you.”
Kuraly is the fifth rookie this season to score their first career NHL goal with Boston, and everyone on the bench has been thrilled for each of those players to reach that milestone.
The Bruins will take the win and Nash and Kuraly will enjoy the evening with the extra joy from their goals, but then it will be business as usual for them on Friday as they hit the ice for practice at Warrior Ice Arena. They will then host the Washington Capitals on Saturday night. The Capitals, who also played on Thursday, beating the New York Islanders, come into Saturday’s game with a 6-6-1 record so far in the season.