ST. PAUL, Minn. — For two teams who only play twice a season, the Boston Bruins and Minnesota Wild find unique ways to create tension.
Perhaps the similarities in the team’s structure make the bad blood between one another unavoidable. Maybe the events from the last meeting with Trent Frederic’s high hit to Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota’s dynamic playmaker, provided a carry-over effect. Or perhaps the Bruins needed to make up for Patrice Bergeron’s loss — considered day to day after returning to Boston to avoid an infection on a lingering arm injury — with an emphasis on physicality.
Or maybe the Wild desperately wanted to bounce back after dropping to a wild card spot for the first time this season following their 6-2 loss to the Predators on Sunday.
“Good teams respond after a bad game, so I think we were catching them with a bit of a chip on their shoulder,” Bruins forward Brad Marchand said. “I’m sure they competed in practice and wanted to have a good game tonight.”
Regardless of the cause, the Bruins, fresh off their overtime win in Chicago on Tuesday night, already had their hands full without Bergeron. They faced a steeper climb after Kirill Kaprizov gave the Wild a 2-0 first-period lead on his 31st and 32nd goals of the season.
But the Bruins responded amid their second game of a back to back.
A mere 2:31 after Kaprizov’s second of the night, Craig Smith notched his eighth goal in seven games to pull the team within striking distance at 16:59.
The Bruins rode that late momentum into the second and evened things up after Marchand broke an eight-game goal drought with a slick wrist shot on the power play at 1:49.
Bruce Cassidy’s club matched Minnesota stride for stride and muscle for muscle. But the physical toll and the fatigue from their second game of a back-to-back caught up to them.
Former Boston University standout Jordan Greenway put his team ahead for good at 7:56 of the third after the Bruins failed to clear the puck during a hectic sequence in front of Jeremy Swayman.
Here’s what we learned following a playoff-like tilt at Xcel Energy Center.
There’s still no way to replicate Bergeron’s importance to the club
Bergeron’s status as one of the game’s greatest two-way players of all-time speaks for itself. So it comes as no surprise that the collective effort to replace Bergeron provides significant challenges every time the B’s captain isn’t in the lineup.
Fouth-line centerman Tomas Nosek moved up to the top trio with Marchand and Jake DeBrusk. His presence provided a unique blue-collar element next to Marchand and DeBrusk.
Though Nosek only fired one shot on net, he didn’t look out of place upon his promotion with his hard-nosed traits.
“He’s a good player. I like Nosey,” Marchand said of Nosek. “I like the way he plays. He plays hard, he’s in on the forecheck and he creates turnovers.”
Nosek won 75 percent of his faceoffs in Bergeron’s absence. But the effort to replace Bergeron didn’t start and end with the Swede.
In Bergeron’s absence, the other 11 forwards and six defensemen all needed to pick up some of the slack. They bought into the next-man-up philosophy without the longest-tenured Bruin, providing a solid response to Kaprizov’s tallies.
Yet, Greenway’s greasy go-ahead goal showcased where the Bruins missed Bergeron. The Marchand-Nosek-DeBrusk trio — along with the Derek Forbort-Connor Clifton pairing — found themselves scrambling to clear the puck under Minnesota’s immense pressure.
Bergeron will miss Boston’s next tilt in Winnipeg. The Bruins will have another option to work with up front in Bergeron’s absence as the recently recalled Jack Studnicka will join the team in Manitoba ahead of Friday’s matchup with the Jets.
The Bruins envision similar “playoff-like” battles during the home stretch
Every NHL team uses the regular season to position itself for playoff success. The upcoming trade deadline period provides one more chance for GMs to upgrade their team for a potential run toward the Stanley Cup.
The Bruins have holes to fill at the deadline, notably on the back end. Regardless of the potential newcomers entering the fold, they’ll expect similar tight contests in the home stretch.
They’ve faced similar playoff-like battles before against desperate teams looking to make a push. But few previous matchups presented similar intense moments like Wednesday’s inter-conference matchup in the Twin Cities.
“It’s that time of the year,” Marchand said. “We’re building for the playoffs and pushing that way. So games are much tighter. There are more emotions in these games this time of year and that’s just how the games go. It’s not like that all the time at the start, but typically at the end of the year, the games get harder.”
“There are always games during the year where you get comparisons to playoff hockey,” Cassidy added. “And this is the closest [to] that we’ve been in a while.”
The Bruins and Wild provided a handful of ‘crispy’ moments in their two-game series. The Wild earned the regular-season sweep amid their heavy matchups.
The tensions between the two teams would make for an entertaining — albeit unlikely — seven-game series. But the Bruins will indeed take the positives and negatives from their pair of playoff-like tilts as similar late-season contests await.
“It feels kind of like a playoff game out there,” Coyle said. “They play us well, and it’s always a battle. We know what’s coming and we need to make sure we bring it ourselves. They came out flying right away, and I guess we weren’t able to match them as best as we could.”
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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