Things nearly unraveled for the Boston Bruins…again.
Fresh off an uninspiring shootout loss to the Vancouver Canucks 24 hours prior, the Bruins looked prime for another letdown after relinquishing a 2-0 lead against the highly-skilled Edmonton Oilers.
The Bruins nearly encountered a case of deja vu against the same Oilers bunch who struck thrice in their third-period come-from-behind win at TD Garden on Nov. 11. The good habits the Bruins established in the opening half of Thursday’s tilt hardly showed up through a 20-minute stretch. They spent a significant amount of time chasing the puck in the defensive end against the likes of Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid.
But the Bruins slowly returned to their roots following Draisaitl’s equalizer — and his second of the night — re-establishing a healthy attacking zone presence in the latter half of the final stanza. Boston’s perseverance paid off late in regulation thanks to Matt Grzelcyk. On his 45th shot on goal this season, the Charlestown native finally found the back of the net to put his team ahead for good.
“We knew we needed this one,” a hoarse-sounding Grzelcyk said to NESN’s Jack Edwards afterward. “We knew we had to stick up for each other and play harder. I thought the guys did a great job battling and Linus [Ullmark] was unbelievable.”
Grzelcyk’s game-winner, Ullmark’s stellar outing and Jake DeBrusk’s hometown bump sparked the Bruins to a 3-2 triumph. Here’s what we learned following Boston’s 13th win of the year.
Scoring depth delivers pivotal tallies
For better or worse, Boston’s secondary scoring output finds its way into the discussion points following each game. The two outings to start the Western Canada trip highlighted the inconsistent gaps with the production outside of the potent trio of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak.
The Bruins needed their top line to salvage a point in Vancouver with Bergeron’s third-period power-play marker. They provided a tone-setting tally a night later with Marchand’s nifty shorthanded tally at 16:15 of the opening stanza.
Unlike Wednesday, the Bruins received a little help from the secondary scoring department. It wasn’t the smoothest of efforts throughout the lineup, yet every line and defensive pair effectively produced in pivotal moments.
Boston’s secondary power-play unit struck early in the middle stanza when former Oiler Taylor Hall connected with DeBrusk for the 2-0 cushion.
Hall and his fellow linemates, Craig Smith and Charlie Coyle, had another rough go of it in their second game together following Marchand’s return from a three-game suspension. The Bruins regrouped following Draisaitl’s tying marker. Eventually, Boston’s second scoring trio, held again without a single shot on net through the first two periods, shined in a clutch moment.
Smith’s stout retrieval on John Moore’s shot from the point set Grzelcyk up for a prime scoring spot. With Coyle screening in front and Hall heading to the front of the net, the former Boston University defenseman found an opportune moment to fire his first goal of the season with 2:33 remaining in regulation.
“It’s just simple hockey,” Coyle told reporters. “And when we execute that and we bring our compete [level] and win battles, we’re going to see our opportunities.”
At certain junctures, the Bruins found themselves overthinking their decisions with the puck. On Thursday, they returned to their ‘simple hockey’ roots.
Ullmark put forth his best outing of the season
He’s shared pre-practice time with Tuukka Rask during the Finn’s rehab from off-season surgery. But on this night, Ullmark channeled Tim Thomas, Rask’s predecessor, in his best outing of the season.
Ullmark faced 43 shots, including 10 on Edmonton’s five power-play attempts. At times, he limited the secondary scoring chances. In other junctures, Boston’s defensive core kept the Oilers to low-danger attempts near the perimeter.
In the instances where the Bruins fell victim to Edmonton’s speed, Ullmark found himself in a prime position for the timely denials. From the routine saves to the highlight-reel pad stop in a 2-2 hockey game, Ullmark kept his team afloat before the Bruins found their groove again in the third.
“Linus played a strong game for us tonight and we needed that,” assistant coach Joe Sacco said of Ullmark. “We knew coming in that coming into the game, they were here and they were waiting for us. We played last night, so we knew he had to be sharp, and he was. Good for him, because we needed that [effort] from him at certain times. We got into some penalty trouble. They have a good power play and they capitalized on their chances. But overall, he played a fantastic game today.”
Jeremy Swayman’s track record over the last few games widened the performance gap. But Ullmark has slowly found his rhythm again in his last four starts, posting a 3-1-0 mark and a .938 save percentage in that stretch.
Both Swayman and Ullmark have limited opportunities left to impress the Bruins’ brass before their impending contract talks with Rask. They may have a tougher decision than anticipated if Ullmark keeps pace with Swayman.
Moore’s journey leads to an eventful return
The Bruins brought in Moore in the summer of 2018 hoping he’d provide some needed depth as a second or third-pairing defenseman. Injuries and inconsistencies hampered Moore’s development ever since he donned the Spoked B.
Moore rebounded from his latest injury with a solid preseason. But a crowded blue-line depth chart provided an uphill climb for Moore to regain his status as an NHL regular. Upon clearing waivers, the 31-year-old reported to Providence to start his 2021-22 campaign.
A recent flu outburst prompted the Bruins to recall Moore for their three-game road trip. With Brandon Carlo (lower-body injury) out of the lineup for the second half of the back-to-back, Sacco and Boston’s coaching staff slotted Moore next to Grzelcyk on Boston’s second defensive pair.
Moore didn’t look out of place in his second NHL game of the season. The Bruins held a 9-6 edge in 5v5 shot attempts with the Moore-Grzelcyk pairing. Though he didn’t land any notable statistics in 17:31 time on ice, Moore played a pivotal role in Grzelcyk’s game-winner, starting the sequence off with his point shot leading to Smith’s puck retrieval and cross-ice feed to the former Boston University standout.
“The point is good, but the play of Johnny was more important and how he played and responded after being away from the team for a while,” Sacco said of Moore. “He kept his game simple, and he was effective tonight.”
Moore’s role at the NHL level would come as a seventh or eighth defenseman at this point of his career. But given the recent string of blue-line developments, the Bruins shouldn’t shy away from giving Moore an extended look even on a temporary basis.
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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