Even in victory, the Boston Bruins are still having a devil of a time with New Jersey’s professional hockey club in 2021.
On Tuesday, they fought through a 40-minute stretch full of turnovers and defensive miscues. They didn’t lack a competitive spirit, as seen with Brad Marchand’s bout with Jesper Bratt and subsequent power-play marker. Their execution, however, wasn’t all that crisp.
Because of this, the Bruins found themselves trailing by two goals on a pair of occasions. That’s hardly ideal against the seventh-place team in the East Division.
Alas, the Bruins persevered with former Boston University teammates Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk lighting the lamp in the third period to force overtime. The Bruins sustained a steady attacking zone presence but needed a timely penalty kill in the closing moments in the third period and late in the 3-on-3 overtime to keep them afloat into the shootout.
Charlie Coyle and David Pastrnak wasted little time beating Mackenzie Blackwood with their nifty dekes, and Jaroslav Halak stopped both shots he faced in the glorified skills competition to complete Boston’s 5-4 come-from-behind victory.
Here’s what we learned from Boston’s second win of the season against New Jersey on Hockey Fights Cancer night at TD Garden.
Marchand took matters into his own hands
The veteran winger returned to the lineup following multiple false-positive COVID testing results over the weekend. The struggling Bruins needed Marchand’s hard-nosed work ethic and offensive skillset.
With the mounting frustrations in a 3-1 deficit, the Bruins needed someone — anyone — to provide a game-changing goal, thunderous hit, or spirited fight. Marchand picked the right place at the right time with a WWE-like takedown on Jesper Bratt at 12:59 of the second period.
Even with the two combatants dropping the gloves, Marchand and Bratt only received matching minor penalties for roughing. With the benefit of only a two-minute trip to the sin bin, Marchand joined his fellow linemates on the top man-advantage unit shortly after P.K. Subban earned a minor for slashing. In desperate need of offense, Marchand delivered the elusive power-play tally to cut the Devils’ lead to one at 3-2.
Marchand’s leadership resonated throughout Boston’s bench. It didn’t pay immediate dividends as Kyle Palmieri struck against the Bruins again following another turnover by Jeremy Lauzon a mere 1:18 after Marchand’s 13th goal of the season. But the Bruins found their groove in one of their better 20 minutes of play during the final stanza.
“That’s the staple of our team,” Marchand said of the trickle-down effect following his second-period sequence. “You saw in the third period. When we compete and we’re hard on pucks — they’re direct — and we play together, we’re a tough team to play. We completely took over that game, and we can do that for a full 60. It’s just got to start somewhere, and it started tonight, so we just have to keep that rolling.”
Ideally, Cassidy would want to see one of his younger players enter Marchand’s scenario with Bratt. Given the Bruins standing, he didn’t mind Marchand taking matters into his own hands.
“When you’re a young player in the National Hockey League, you have an opportunity to play here,” Cassidy said. “When things go a little bit awry..like we cannot rely on Brad Marchand to bring us energy in terms of physicality, or at least we shouldn’t have to. And Brad is a leader, and good for him to try and get a spark. But that’s where the Lauzon’s can make up for…a [Connor] Clifton…a [Jakub] Zboril…a [Karson] Kuhlman…a [Zach] Senyshyn…a [Anton] Blidh. We need those guys to kind of turn the tide of the game with some physicality, some energy, something to get the bench excited and the crowd excited. And I’ll put that with the D as well.”
Boston’s D marches on during roller coaster night
Brandon Carlo’s return to the lineup provided Boston’s back end with its cleanest bill of health since the beginning of the season. For a while, this marked a rare positive development on the blue-line.
Tuesday marked one of the roughest defensive nights of the season, at least for the first 40 minutes. The constant turnovers, sloppy puck possession, and overall defensive structure put Halak in a tough spot more often than not. The Devils sustained a steady attack with an assertive and speedy puck pursuit, leading to quality scoring chances and odd-man rushes.
The Bruins cleaned up in the third period and overtime, allowing just 12 shots in the final 25 minutes of play after New Jersey landed 23 on net in the first two periods. Grzelcyk and McAvoy, Boston’s top two puck-moving blue-liners, possessed and transitioned the puck fluidly in desperation mode. Both found the back of the net — McAvoy via a Craig Smith rebound and Grzelcyk on a set faceoff play — 5:48 apart to even things up at 4-4 late in regulation.
“You hope some of their game grows, in terms of the execution and just with time and a little bit of confidence knowing that they’re staying in the lineup,” Cassidy said of his young D. “We got through it, but I’m not sure it’s going to work against Pittsburgh [on Thursday] so hopefully it’s a one and done.”
Tuesday proved the Bruins could still use a left-shot defensive upgrade. They worked with what they during a tough defensive night. They worked through the rough patches in the first 40 minutes, helping the team salvage two much-needed points in the end.
The second line is starting to find a groove
In the team’s ongoing quest to find another elusive top-six scoring option, David Krejci found himself with a plethora of wingers on the second line over the past few seasons.
Aside from a few shifts with David Pastrnak, Krejci lined up in his usual center spot with Nick Ritchie and Smith flanking him. With a few games together now, the trio is surely finding some chemistry with one another.
Smith and Krejci each tallied three assists on the evening. Ritchie lit the lamp with his 10th goal of the season 5:55 in, providing the Bruins with their first 5v5 goal against the Devils this season.
The trio combined for eight shot attempts in 8:26 of 5v5 time. They had a hand in all three of Boston’s 5v5 goals, with Krejci adding a power-play assist on Marchand’s second-period tally.
“I think we’re just trying to keep it simple,” Krejci said of his chemistry with Ritchie and Smith. “We’re all trying to get pucks on net, but at the same time [we] try to keep the puck in the ‘O’ zone and don’t just right away try to make something happen. Obviously, we try to get one guy at the net and try to get the other guy to the open spot and keep the feet moving. We’ve been working on it, not just as a line but as a team, and the puck [for Ritchie and Smith] has been going in the net, so that’s good. But we have to keep improving in these areas.”
Ritchie’s growth following a frustrating performance in the postseason playoff bubble provided a steady secondary scoring presence. Smith has slowly found his rhythm since arriving from Nashville in the off-season. Both may not provide a long-term solution on the second line, but their work ethic gives Cassidy some flexibility within the middle of his lineup.
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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