SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The venue was historic. The setting was immaculate. The jerseys were pristine throwbacks. The weather cooperated just enough to bring together two sectors from opposite corners of the sports universe.
On Tuesday, the capacity crowd of 76,162 passionate spectators at Notre Dame Stadium weren’t treated to the traditional ebbs and flows of a Fighting Irish game day. They were treated to something entirely different: an outdoor hockey game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins.
And what a game it was.
With Touchdown Jesus bearing witness, the two sides put on a spectacle worthy of such pomp and circumstance that most kids only dream of when skating on a local pond or backyard rink.
The Blackhawks took an early lead and trailed for less than half of a period, however, it wasn’t enough to tackle the hungry Bruins.
Sean Kuraly’s rebound put-back with 9:41 remaining in the final period capped off Boston’s comeback effort, as the Bruins erased not one, but two one-goal deficits en route to victory. Brad Marchand added an empty-netter in the last minute for the dagger.
“You get two points, but it’s more than just an average game. I mean you’re playing in front of what, 80,000 people on national tv with two historic franchises,” Bruce Cassidy said about his team winning the prestigious game. “Especially the way the game was. Everyone wants to see a good hockey game and we just want – as I’m sure they want to – be on top. It worked out for everybody and specifically for us. Let’s hope we do build off of it.”
Here’s what we learned from Boston’s 4-2 victory at the 2019 NHL Winter Classic.
Tuukka Rask redeems himself three years later
The 5-1 crippling defeat at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens in the 2016 Winter Classic is now far in the rearview mirror for Bruins’ goaltender Tuukka Rask.
Rask flourished under the brightest lights in one of college football’s iconic venues. The 31-year-old veteran netminder stood tall in net with 36 saves en route to his first career Winter Classic victory.
“He played well. Like I said before, we couldn’t go wrong if we went either way -not in terms of the game necessarily – but who we put in,” Cassidy noted about whether or not he was happy with his decision to start Rask over Jaroslav Halak. “Tuukka has now strung a couple together, some solid wins.”
Timing was everything. Rask made the clutch saves, including one on Patrick Kane, that kept Chicago’s momentum in check, including one on Patrick Kane.
With the scored deadlocked at 1-1 in the waning moments of the opening period, Rask stopped Chicago’s point leader on a breakaway attempt to keep things tied.
“I think we were good in front of him in spots but other times we weren’t The second period got away from us and he made some big saves, end of the first on Kane. So I was happy for him,” Cassidy added. “We want to get him in a rhythm where he’s playing well. That’s two in a row now so hopefully we can build off that.
Rask’s last two outings — a much needed 3-2 overtime victory in Buffalo and Tuesday’s Winter Classic triumph — gave Boston a shot in the arm. But the Bruins know they need similar outings going forward out of their all-time leader in goaltender appearances during the second half of the 2018-19 season.
The legend of Sean Kuraly grew on the big stage
The Bruins didn’t know the extent of Sean Kuraly’s broken nose after taking a few nasty uppercuts during their tilt with the Senators in Ottawa on Dec. 9.
Kuraly put all those doubts to rest when he sported a blake eye, a bruised ego, a few bandages wrapped around his nose and a full visor — or fish bowl — for the initiated.
It’s turning out to be one of the best things that has happened to him.
Much like Rask, Kuraly has been a catalyst for the Bruins over the last few games and has notched game-winning goals in consecutive games against the Sabres and Blackhawks.
With the score knotted at 2-2 in the middle stages of the third period Tuesday night, the sun started to set in the distance, the crowd grew anxious and one thing was for certain: it was Kuraly time.
Kuraly battled to the front of the net — his office as of late — and batted home a Chris Wagner rebound, much to Cassidy’s pleasure.
“And then Sean Kuraly scoring another goal for us. Two in a row big goals,” Cassidy commented about his favorite part of the evening. “Give credit to Kuraly for doing that, he’s come up big for us too.”
The legend of ‘shield Kuraly’ is real and he is slowly making believers out of the loyal hub supporters. Some of Kuraly’s teammates even went as far as to say that he should keep the full visor on for the rest of the season.
“We joke about it and say that ever since he’s put the shield on, he’s been playing great hockey,” Torey Krug said about his teammate’s recent heroics.
The electric and historic atmosphere at venerable Notre Dame
The outdoor setting not only brought back youthful memories for players in the week leading up to the New Year’s Day Classic. It also evoked the inner-child of both teams on the day of the event and when they stepped onto the ice.
Pregame wardrobes, throwback uniforms, colorful celebrations and home-run breakaway-creating passes were just a few of the tricks in the bag of theatrics that made the 2019 Winter Classic exactly what it was; a classic.
The sharply dressed Bruins arrived to Notre Dame in outfits similar to the ones shown out of the tv show Peaky Blinders.
As the anticipation grew, the Bruins channeled their Irish-gang roots and displayed a full arsenal of wool suits, scally caps and top hats on their walk to the locker room.
“I was trying to be Lebron James but it didn’t work out,” Pastrnak remarked post-game while chuckling a little bit.
“He was trying the Lebron James silence move but it looked a little more like Kuznetsov,” Torey Krug further explained his teammate’s theatrics. “That’s Pasta, that’s the only way you can describe it. Loves to score goals and does his thing when he does. We’ll let him off the hook.”
The Winter Classic’s allure is something the Bruins and fans alike won’t soon forget, as everything, including the walk into the stadium, was story-book material. Decked out in vintage 1930-homage uniforms, the Bruins walked down the very same tunnel Notre Dame runs through on college football Saturdays and headed towards the illustrious ice surface.
Matt is a recent graduate from the Pennsylvania State University with a degree in sports journalism and a minor in business. He currently reports on the Boston Bruins and writes featured stories and game recaps for both Bruins Daily and Boston.com
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