They had the Colorado Avalanche right where they wanted them, with a 3-1 lead after 40 minutes of play. They had their skating legs going for the first 40 minutes despite allowing the first goal for the fifth straight game on Kurtis MacDermid’s first goal of the season 11:25 into Wednesday’s contest.
The Avalanche seemed rattled by Taylor Hall’s hit on Nathan MacKinnon a mere 2:22 in. A bloodied MacKinnon exited with an upper-body injury, with the officials downgrading Hall’s initial five-minute major penalty into a two-minute minor for interference.
As the Avs challenged Hall for his relatively routine hit on MacKinnon that looked worse at full-speed, the Bruins capitalized on their misfortune. Jake DeBrusk, Charlie Coyle and Brad Marchand lit the lamp 6:21 apart as part of a three-goal middle stanza to put the Bruins in the proverbial driver’s seat.
Instead of keeping their foot on the pedal, the Bruins found themselves on their heels against the skilled Avs blue-line. They hung Linus Ullmark out to dry as Colorado fired 21 shots in the final 23:01.
Ullmark fell victim to a hopping puck from Samuel Girard that changed directions twice on Curtis Lazar and Urho Vaakananinen’s sticks.
The Avs pounced again in their relentless surge, tying things up with 38.5 ticks in regulation after team captain Gabriel Landeskog delivered his 16th goal of the season on a brilliant feed from Nazem Kadri.
The Bruins never got a shot attempt off in the 3-on-3 overtime session. Mike Reilly put his team in a deeper hole after tripping Valeri Nichushkin 1:14 into the extra session. Former UMass-Amherst standout Cale Makar capped off the 4-3 comeback on the 4-on-3 power play, beating a screened Ullmark to give the Avs their 17th straight win at Ball Arena.
Here’s what we learned after the Bruins’ ‘Mile High collapse.’
The Bruins deviated from their strong closing trend
Under normal circumstances, the Bruins wouldn’t likely frown too much upon notching at least one point against a marquee NHL team. Instead, they leave Denver with a bitter taste in their mouth.
The Bruins entered Wednesday with a 16-1-0 mark when leading after two periods. Their lone blemish came in mid-November against the Edmonton Oilers.
Cassidy watched his team get outshot 11-2 and outscored 3-0 in the final 12:04 on Wednesday. They lost faceoffs, struggled with puck possession battles and hardly gained clean entries in the attacking end. A skilled Avs blue-line went to work with their counter-attack as the Bruins remained hesitant to keep things in check.
Instead of keeping their strong closing trend going, the B’s allowed the opportunistic Avs with numerous quality looks. What seemed like an obtainable two points at the beginning became a distant thought once Landeskog delivered a back-breaking equalizer.
“You got to keep playing. We’re usually pretty good at that,” Cassidy said. “But at the end of the day, we didn’t get it done. We typically do in those situations, and we paid the price.”
Indeed, the Bruins paid the price as their goaltender did all he could to secure a potential season-defining ‘W.’
Ullmark “deserved better”
The Bruins expected some pushback from the red-hot Avalanche in the final 20. But they failed to return to their good habits at such an inopportune time.
The widened skill gap between the Avs and Bruins defense core showed in the third. The likes of hometown boy Brandon Carlo and third pairing blue-liner Derek Forbort seemed overwhelmed against Colorado’s counter-attack. The Bruins left the middle of the ice open far too often, allowing the Avalanche time and space to execute.
The snowball effect began with a hopping puck off Girard’s stick at 11:46 of the third. Ullmark bounced back from his tough break, making several quality saves — 37 in all — during his first start in six days. He looked comfortable tracking the puck and moving between posts with every test he faced.
Ullmark’s teammates couldn’t get the timely clear or establish extended zone time to relieve him. The Avalanche pounced following the defensive breakdown on Landeskog’s backdoor equalizer and Makar’s clincher following Reilly’s ill-timed penalty.
“Linus played such a great game,” Coyle said, “and he deserved better from us in the third.”
The Avalanche rallied in more ways than one. As a result, the Bruins carry a two-game skid for the first time since their return from their COVID-19 break.
Hall became public enemy No. 1 in Denver
The Bruins and Avalanche had no shortage of chippy moments for two teams who only meet twice per season.
Hall found himself in the heat of several intense exchanges following his hit on MacKinnon. Yet, MacKinnon’s exit wasn’t so much a result of Hall’s contact, but rather his own accidental high stick to the face before he fell to the ice in a pool of blood.
Landeskog tried to goad Hall into a fight. The 2010 top overall pick declined to drop the mitts for the third time in his career. A plethora of Erik Johnson cross-checks to Hall in the middle stanza resulted in Coyle’s 5-on-3 tally and Marchand’s slick wrist shot a mere 1:15 apart.
The Avalanche distracted themselves with the Hall fiasco for chunks of the opening 40. Their exchanges with Hall weren’t so much for the intent of MacKinnon’s hit, but rather an instance of having the back of one of their leaders.
“It’s not fun seeing, you know, one of your best friends and obviously a top player on the ice bleeding like that. And honestly, it wasn’t about me trying to go after Hall because I thought it was a dirty hit. I actually looked at it after, and it’s kind of unfortunate what happens; Nate’s stick comes up,” Landeskog said to TNT afterward.
“But, in my opinion, it’s not about if was dirty or not. It’s just about sending a message about they’re going to step up on our best player they’re going to have to answer to somebody. Unfortunately, [Hall] didn’t want to do it, but at least we were able to send a message a little bit.
The Bruins and Avs meet again on Feb. 21 at TD Garden. We’ll see if they renew any hostilities with Hall then.
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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