Thursday night, January 3, 2019, the Boston Bruins returned to the TD Garden after having played in their third New Year’s Day Winter Classic. They beat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-2 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana in what was possibly one of the most perfect outdoor games in regard to weather, clouds and ice surface. They embraced the entire experience, having decided as a team to arrive at the stadium on game day in Peaky Blinders inspired suits.
— Marc DiBenedetto (@MarcDiBenz) January 3, 2019
Riding that high, from both the win and playing in front of more than 70,000 hockey fans, there were those who wondered if they could focus on Thursday night’s game against the Calgary Flames. The Flames’ visit was the second, and final regular season game, that these two teams would play against each other. Back on October 17, 2018, the Bruins played in Calgary, losing to them 5-2. Coming into Thursday’s game the Bruins had won their previous two games and were 3-2-0 in their last five. The Calgary Flames were 3-1-1 in their last five games, and likewise had won their previous two. Of course, the Flames have Johnny Gaudreau, who came in with 10 goals, and 10 assists for 20 points in 7 of his last 10 games.
What was good to see from Boston was their unwillingness to give up. Despite giving up their ninth shorthanded goal, a league leading number, the team responded 1:16 later, while still on the power play, to tie things up during the first period, with a solid shot by John Moore from the right circle. Jake DeBrusk would put the Bruins up 2-1 going into the first intermission on a deflection of a David Krejci shot.
The lead would be short lived as Elias Lindholm, assisted by Gaudreau and Noah Hanifin, would tie the game 1:05 into the second period. Once again, the Bruins would respond quickly, this time Brad Marchand, assisted by Torey Krug and Patrice Bergeron, would put the Bruins ahead just 36 seconds later. The remainder of the second period was played predominantly by special teams. For the Bruins it meant lots of time on ice for their penalty killers, as first Zdeno Chara was called for a cross check (7:09), DeBrusk for a high stick (10:13), a bench minor for too many men on the ice served by Danton Heinen (11:31), a cross check by Brad Marchand (18:39), and then the Flames’ Lindholm with interference (19:53). Lindholm’s interference call negated the final 46 seconds of the Flames fourth power play in the middle frame as well as giving the Bruins 1:14 of power play time into the third period.
While the second period had five penalties, the third period had five goals. David Pastrnak scored off a 160-foot pass by Krug that hit the end board and bounced right onto Pastrnak’s stick. He deked on Calgary’s goaltender Mike Smith, and once again the Bruins were leading. Jaroslav Halak, who made some strong saves for the Bruins on quality shots throughout the game, got his third assist of the season on that goal. And while some may have thought it was just a lucky bounce, it was actually by design.
“Yeah, we actually had that in our pre-scout. They stack the blue line pretty hard, and we were going to do it the first entry when we were all together in the first period. Those power plays kind of rolled together, so I don’t know how many entries we had, if any, with that group. It might’ve been a five-on-three entry if we did. We tried it earlier this year in Carolina. It worked from [Torey] Krug to [Brad] Marchand, got a shot on goal. It was late in the period but still, it was by design. We thought if anything it would back them off. We were just hoping it wouldn’t be icing or we’d get there at least first, or close to…tied so that maybe the next time up the ice they’re aware of it so they don’t hold the blue line as hard. It happened to work, Pasta [David Pastrnak] had to crowd the puck, made a great move, so, good timing for it and great execution,” Bruins Head Coach Bruce Cassidy said.
“I think we’ve done it three times this year where we’ve actually gotten a chance off of it, maybe two other times where we didn’t get a chance off of it. A great play by him [David Pastrnak] to collect it and bring it to his backhand. I think the first two times we connected on it he shot on it and on the other one Marchy [Brad Marchand] was the guy so. It’s a good courage-play to bring it to the backhand because you don’t know who is coming from the other side. Obviously, it turned out to be a big goal in the game,” Krug shared.
Gaudreau got the next goal at 9:27 of the third, in his typical below-the-goal-line style, making it a one-goal game with a score of 4-3, and lots of time left on the clock. Debrusk’s second goal of the game gave the Bruins their two-goal lead back. The way that goal played out showed how important it is to be patient, as DeBrusk was able to get the puck on his backhand, looked for a bit of an option and then sent it five-hole on Smith.
“The whole time I was thinking pass. Actually, I wanted to feed to Krech [David Krejci] and then their defenseman I think slid and I had to go to my backhand and once that happened, I just tried to get it, I guess, five-hole. I didn’t really look at the net and I think I caught him off guard to be honest with you, and it was lucky, but I’ll take it and obviously at that time of the game to give us two goals it was huge and then the boys held the fort,” DeBrusk described.
Meanwhile for Smith in net, things looked a little different.
“Yeah, he just held it for an extra second and kind of froze me a little bit and…backhand’s always one that’s a little bit more difficult to read where it was going. I just tried to be patient there, and he kind of froze me and obviously, you know, it goes five hole, but one that you don’t like to see go in,” he said.
With DeBrusk’s goal, the Bruins had a bit of breathing space, but Calgary continued to try to close that gap. Mikael Backlund got the Flames back within one, with 3:33 remaining in the final period. As the clock ticked down to the remaining 2:03 of the game, Smith vacated the Flames’ net, but 13 seconds later Marchand would get his second of the game, and Smith would be back between the pipes.
In the end it was a strange game of back and forth goals that resulted in the 6-4 final score, and perhaps a bit more activity than some coaches like. For the Bruins they continue their winning streak, which they hope to extend further when the Buffalo Sabres come back to Boston on Saturday night in an important divisional game.