The Boston Bruins came into Thursday night’s game having lost in overtime to the Montreal Canadiens in Boston on Monday and losing in regulation to the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night on the road. While they were sitting in third place in the Atlantic Division, their struggles to garner critical points going into the All-Star Break were raising questions about the team, especially as they gave up a league leading tenth shorthanded goal in the game against the Canadiens. Returning to the Garden to host the St. Louis Blues, it was looking like crunch time, with the Canadiens breathing down their necks in the standings.
The first period saw neither team score. There was a lot of north and south, and Jake Allen did make some important saves for the Blues to keep the Bruins off the scoresheet. However, neither team was thrilled with their performance in the opening 20.
“[The Bruins] just had more jump, we were complicated at the start. Trying to make too many plays early when they played last night, their heads are still in it. We need to find a way to simplify early when they’re playing on less than 24 hours. A little better in the second when we simplify our game,” shared defenseman Alex Pietrangelo after the game.
Pietrangelo’s teammate Patrick Maroon did his best to get his team motivated. With 2:30 remaining in that first period, Maroon finished a check on Charlie McAvoy, which sent McAvoy onto the ice. Bruins captain, and defensive partner Zdeno Chara took exception and the gloves were off.
Bear. Poked. pic.twitter.com/Sl2AfkCf57
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) January 18, 2019
“You know, he’s a physical guy, he’s a big guy, and he forechecks hard and you know, it was just one of those things that, he was doing his job and he was doing it well. He went on a heavy forecheck and finished the check pretty hard on [McAvoy], you know, he was kind of being heavy and I wanted to push back and start a fight,” explained Chara.
“I hit McAvoy in the forecheck and obviously he crosschecked me and whatever I think it just kind of happened. He’s a big man but whatever. I was just trying to get the team going, I’m sure he was doing the same thing,” responded Maroon.
Perhaps their tilt motivated both of their respective teams because the second period saw four goals scored—two for each side.
The Bruins got on the scoreboard first from a Torey Krug wrister in the slot. Assists went to David Krejci and Peter Cehlarik, who continues to prove it was a good choice by Bruins management to recall him from Providence. The Bruins’ lead was shortlived—as many of them have been in the last few games—as the Blues responded 52 seconds later when Ryan O’Reilly got his own rebound and put a wrister past Tuukka Rask.
With less than seven minutes remaining in the second period, St. Louis would go up 2-1, when Carl Gunnarsson got his first goal of the season, assisted by Jaden Schwartz and Braydon Schenn. Approximately 30 seconds later, Sean Kuraly drew a crosschecking penalty on Robert Bortuzzo—the Bruins first power play of the game. They had killed two penalties up to that point—one in the first when David Pastrnak was whistled for high-sticking and the second just a minute into the second when Cehlarik was sent to the box for tripping.
It looked like the Blues were going to make the kill, as the clock ticked down to the final seconds for the Bruins on the man advantage. That’s when Chara made his move from the point, and David Backes—a healthy scratch for the Flyers game—who was falling to the ice, managed to deflect the hurtling puck past Allen. Krejci got the secondary assist. The clock showed just four seconds remaining on the power play. And for the Blues that goal may have affected them more than anything else in the game.
“It just felt like it was kind of a, someone’s falling down and it hits his stick, I mean it was a hell of a tip. It’s a dagger, but in that situation our power play needs to capitalize on our opportunities also,” Maroon said.
Backes’ recollection of the goal seemed to be a bit more about self-preservation, after all it was a Chara slap shot headed his way as he was being pushed around in the lane.
“Just trying to – Zee’s [Chara] winding up – you’re trying to not take it in the face, first of all, and if you can get a piece of it change directions. I think coverage was pretty good on the play. I mean, he’s knocking me off my feet and I’m kind of pole vaulting on my stick just to try to not be on the ground too soon and try to keep something around that can maybe get a chunk of it and it worked out in that instance,” Backes stated.
For the Bruins, going into the second intermission tied, they came out in the third period with new resolve. They picked up the speed and increased their physicality. And their efforts were rewarded five and a half minutes into the final frame when Chris Wagner stuck with it despite the hard backcheck to give Boston the lead.
“Yeah, I kind of got lucky there. I got by Pietrangelo but I made a pretty good move out of nowhere, I guess and it worked out. I kind of like that better because you don’t have that much time to think. You just get around the defenseman there and maybe I’ve done that move before, I don’t know. Just kind of faked to the left and the goalie slides to the net so I just tucked it in,” Wagner described.
Of course, the question remained could they sustain it this time. As the game continued, the Bruins did not allow St. Louis to tie things up again which looked like it gave them even more confidence as they continued to play a fast and physical game. Brad Marchand put one in 13:12 of the third to give the Bruins a bit of breathing room as they went up 4-2. And with roughly three minutes remaining the Blues pulled Allen which allowed Kuraly to put the puck in the empty net and wrap up the win for the Bruins.
There was definitely a level of confidence and conviviality in the Bruins locker room after the game. However, they recognize they still have some things to work on, especially with the New York Rangers coming to town on Saturday.