The Boston Bruins looked like they were serious about winning their game on Thursday night as Brad Marchand netted the first goal of the game a mere 15 seconds into the opening period. However, after that their inability to connect on passes, and an abundance of turnovers offered the Arizona Coyotes a chance to get back into the game. The Yotes were outshooting the Bruins and it was just a matter of time before they were able to capitalize. Christian Dvorak corralled a puck that Brandon Carlo failed to get out of the Bruins’ end and with 2:37 remaining in the first the game was tied.
“I thought we were loose with the puck. I though our legs were there early. We were trying to attack. Just we were going through the neutral zone, they had bodies back,” Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said after the game. “I think [we were] a little disrespectful to what was in front of us.”
And while a discussion was had during the first intermission about getting back to playing their game, it was the Coyotes who appeared to come out determined to take advantage of a team that was turning over too many pucks and missing connections on the long stretch passes. In fact the Coyotes would prevent the Bruins from making a single shot on net in the middle frame until the 10:50 mark.
“I just thought we executed poorly. And have to give credit, some of it for them. Some of it was on us. But we got through it,” Cassidy continued. “That’s where Tuukka [Rask] deserves some credit tonight in those games. It’s 6-1, you don’t ever look at the goalie, but it was 1-1, he needed to be there. He needed to be there for us because we don’t know we are going to get six. Good for him for stepping up in the second.”
While Arizona wasn’t exactly firing tons of shots at Rask, each one that he did stop kept his team from going down a goal. Three minutes after the Bruins got their first shot on net, they would get the go-ahead goal. Matt Grzelcyk, playing down along the half wall, put the puck on the stick of Riley Nash up at the blue line, who fired a rocket at the goal and David Backes was in front to tip it home.
Backes, who was in a hospital bed after having surgery to remove ten inches of his colon just 35 days ago, gave the Bruins what they needed most in his fourth game back. The 33-year-old, signed by the Bruins during the offseason before the 2016-17 season, showed not only that he can put points on the score sheet, but how important he is to the team both on and off the ice.
“Yeah, he’s a huge leader for our team. He steps up all over the place—in the room, on the ice, on the bench,” Marchand shared. “He’s a big void when he’s not on the … when he’s not playing. So we’re very lucky to have him back. He stepped up big tonight and you know, really turned that game around for us.”
Backes wasn’t done just getting the Bruins what would ultimately be the game-winning goal. With 54 seconds remaining in the second period—and showing some amazing hand-eye coordination—he managed to intercept the puck, the lone Bruin in the offensive zone, and get the Bruins their third goal of the game. His goals completely changed the momentum of the game, and by the final buzzer the Bruins would see a 6-1 win that belied how truly close the game was for the opening 30 minutes.
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“It was a good team win, put a crooked number up on the board. Playing the right way—forced to play the right way against a team that was clogging up the neutral zone and turning pucks down our throat,” Backes said. “Kind of a teeter-totter game there for the first half then I think we got to our ideals and what our identity has been for winning games.”
That identity, in many ways, is a checking line that can score goals. And that begins with Backes. Fortunately, his line mates are buying into what he is selling.
“I think David [Backes] is the leader in that—in terms of how he wants that style of line to play. I think we talked about that at the start of the year; build a line around him. That’s the type of line he wants and now we have the pieces in-house here that are now starting to fit,” Cassidy said of his third line. “I think the other guys are willing to do that as well. It’s one thing for him to tell—ask to play a certain way if the players aren’t receptive to it. I think Danton Heinen wants to stay in this league. He’ll stay any way he can. He’s certainly a good student, and [Riley] Nash, that’s his game. It complements [Backes] as well.”
If the Bruins can keep their players healthy they have a chance of having some powerful line combinations that will stymy other teams. It was evident from puck drop Thursday night with the Marchand goal. And having a checking line that is offensive brings the team to another level.
While many questioned the signing of Backes, especially when he had some issues in the first year of his contract, it is games such as the one he played Thursday night that show how important he is to the Black and Gold. He embraces the Bruins identity and he is vocal when necessary. The younger players, if willing, can learn much from him, just as Heinen appears to be doing.
The Bruins saw five players have a two-point night, and eleven players got on the score sheet–including Backes’ line mate Heinen. If not for Backes and Rask though it could easily have been an entirely different outcome.