What we learned from a dramatic Bruins’ 2-1 win over Devils
Long known for low scoring, shutdown defense, and solid goaltending, the New Jersey Devils came to town for Opening Night — the first of 41 games on Causeway Street.
It was all of that through two uneventful periods in the scoreless affair; shots on goal at 21 for the visitors and 19 for the host with Tuukka Rask, 2-0-0, 2.02 GAA vs. Marblehead native Cory Schneider at 1-1-1, 1.99 GAA. Rask was 4-3-2 with a 1.57 GAA in 10 career games against the Devils. Schneider was 1-3-2 with a 2.81 GAA in 6 career games against the Bruins.
Here’s what we learned as Boston’s home-opener record went to 47-23-20-1 over the past 91 years.
Two sleepers, then a come-from-behind torrid third
Into the third frame, the two teams dueled until Jersey’s newly acquired Taylor Hall missed an open net at 3:44. Patrice Bergeron took a penalty for hooking. It took only 30 seconds for New Jersey to break the ice when Kyle Palmieri whistled one past Rask at 4:14 on the power play.
Brad Marchand made another dent in his recent 49-million-dollar contract when he swooped down his off wing, launching a laser from the right faceoff circle, beating Schneider top shelf far side to knot the game at 1-1 at 9:47. John-Michael Liles and Colin Miller assisting. It was Marchand’s third of the season in four games.
“I liked our response [after their goal],” Julien said postgame.
With seven minutes left, Boston went on the man-advantage. To no avail.
But at 18:45 in dramatic fashion, Bergeron, in his first game of the season, took a pass in the slot from Marchand and promptly put it past a screened Schneider for the game-winner; David Pastrnak also assisting.
“He comes back after missing three games and has only one practice,” Julien said about Bergeron’s heroics. “That’s what he’s always been for us – a clutch player.
“We got the result we wanted. We told our guys it wasn’t going to be a high-scoring game.”
Rask task front and center — again
Last year the Black and Gold wore more black and blue in home games than most of their division and conference and Western Conference NHL counterparts. That 17-18-6 home record is one major factor for a second consecutive absence in post-season play.
A close — and directly related – second factor was the play of Tuukka Rask. After copping the 2014 Vezina Trophy, Rask never regained that form in 2015. And again in 2016. Last year, he led the league with the highest GAA in home games.
Over the summer, the NHL Network did a composite of the top-10 goaltenders in the NHL. Rask was not among that distinguished group, led by Braden Holtby and Carey Price. Each makes less than Rask’s $7 million per with his eight-year $56 million contract signed in the summer of 2013.
So, here we are approaching the halfway mark of that deal with the home opener after Rask and Boston went 2-1 on the road. Both wins with Rask in net, and both with Rask giving up but one goal in wins over Columbus and Winnipeg.
With a mixture of cheers and boos in the pre-game intros, Rask once again takes over the 24-square feet of real estate — the key to the success of this year’s Boston Bruins. Last year, Rask and colleagues laid an egg in the opening 4-1 loss to Winnipeg.
Thursday night, it was the rejuvenated Devils, one team that finished behind Boston in the final standings, looking to reverse that with one of those aforementioned top-10 goaltenders in Schneider.
Rask was up to this task.
“We played good today,” Rask said after the win. “It was a typical game against the Devils.”
No. 40 will need to stockpile typical wins.
“Tuukka was outstanding in Winnipeg; he was good again tonight,” Julien said.
Sounds good, coach.
“There’s no issue with Tuukka.”
Sounds even better.
“He’s giving us the hockey and the goaltending we’re looking for.”
Then there were three
Last week, the Bruins’ roster featured an unheard of four rookies to open the season in forwards Austin Czarnik, Danton Heinen, and defensemen Brandon Carlo and Rob O’Gara.
Czarnik was sent back to Providence Thursday.
“With the way he’s played, there’s a good chance you’re going to see him here again,” Julien said about Czarnik pregame at Warrior Ice Arena.
There’s a much better chance that Carlo, O’Gara and Heinen are here to stay. Carlo entered the fourth game of the season with two points and a whopping plus-7; O’Gara with a point and a plus-1; Heinen without a point thus far and even in the plus-minus department.
“I’m impressed how he came to camp to win a job,” Julien said about Carlo after his first home game in a Bruins’ sweater.
O’Gara was a healthy scratch at game time with Julien opting for Joe Morrow, likely more to gauge the short- and long-term decision about Morrow’s future.
“The sharpness and the compete level are important aspects of playing in the NHL.” Julien said about the decision, “and right now he needs both of those to get there.”
Thursday night, Carlo played 22:52 with 27 shifts, most with Zdeno Chara; Heinen 17:33 with 19 shifts. Both even in the plus-minus department.
Milt Schmidt and Bobby Orr
Opening festivities featured two cornerstones of the franchise and a rousing ovation as Bobby Orr wheeled 98-year-old Milt Schmidt to center ice.
A few memories percolated as those events rolled out at center ice while we scribes looked on from Level 9. Does time fly? Seems like yesterday I watched Schmidt behind the bench as head coach his last season in 1965-66. And firsthand saw Orr take his very first shift under Schmidt that February.
Two icons made to be seen from the second balcony of the old Gahden in the Original Six.
Game 5 of the season
Montreal Saturday night. Carey Price vs. Tuukka Rask.
“We were all disappointed with our record here last year,” Julien summarized after the 2-1 win. “It was important to get off to a good start. You want the fans to come and watch and give them a reason to come and play some exciting hockey. This is a fan base that loves players that compete hard. They get their nose to the grind and we did that tonight.”
The Bruins will need all noses to the grind 48 hours hence.