Coming off of a 3-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers and uncharacteristically subpar performances from Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, the Boston Bruins wanted to come out of the gate quickly in their first game of a weekend back-to-back against the Detroit Red Wings.
The Bruins didn’t play their best hockey in the opening period. But they found their game along the way and overcame an early two-goal deficit en route to becoming the fastest team in National Hockey League history to notch 50 wins in a season.
Boston encountered a rough stretch of turnovers less than two minutes into the opening stanza, beginning with Andrew Copp intercepting David Krejci’s attacking-zone entry feed. Copp promptly finished off a 2-on-1 to give Detroit the early advantage on his shorthanded tally.
Some fluid passing from Detroit’s own man advantage then put the Red Wings up 2-0 nearly three minutes later as Alex Chiasson tapped in David Perron’s feed for a tic-tac-goal.
The Bruins came out with more urgency following the first intermission. During a relentless second-period attack, Boston finally broke through at 12:41 when Hampus Lindholm found twine with his wrist shot from the point.
Detroit thought they had quickly regained their two-goal cushion on a Dylan Larkin blast. But a slash on Krejci by the Red Wings captain scrubbed away the tally and put Boston back on the power play.
During that man advantage, Jake DeBrusk feigned a shot in the high slot and made a hard pass to Bergeron. The Boston captain redirected the puck past Detroit goaltender Magnus Hellberg to even the score at 2-2 with 5:49 left in the middle stanza.
With 6:06 remaining in regulation, Boston’s fourth line marched into the offensive zone, where A.J. Greer’s shot handcuffed Hellberg. A charging Garnet Hathaway knocked home the rebound for the go-ahead tally and his first goal as a Bruin.
Here’s what we learned in Boston’s come-from-behind 3-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings.
The Bruins rallied behind “hard offensive hockey”
On Thursday, the Bruins witnessed rare mistakes from Bergeron and Marchand that tilted the ice in Edmonton’s favor. Only once had Boston strung together consecutive losses all season, and that came during a 1-3-1 five-game stretch through late January and early February.
The opening 20 minutes against Detroit left a lot to be desired. Detroit controlled the puck efficiently with its crisp passing and earned their bounces throughout the opening period.
The Bruins eventually returned to their structured habits. And from the second period on, they were the better team.
“I thought we were more physical without the puck,” head coach Jim Montgomery said. “And I thought we were more committed to hard offensive hockey.”
Boston’s resilience once again shined against the Red Wings. Saturday marked the 19th victory when the Bruins had trailed at any point of a contest.
“They pushed hard at the beginning of the game, and I thought in the second period we had played our best hockey,” Hathaway said. “We got to make sure to overcome these hardships and these pushbacks these teams give us.”
“We just got back to being hard on the puck and holding on to it. Taking time and space away, when you’re able to do that, you’re able to sustain some pressure,” Bergeron added. “And that’s when you get some momentum.”
In addition to finding their scoring touch, Boston greatly increased their physical presence through the final 40 minutes, not shying away from timely hits or post-whistle scrums. The collisions were as hard as they were frequent, especially with Connor Clifton and Dmitry Orlov playing to their physical strengths as one of Boston’s defensive pairings.
Boston’s special teams shook off a rusty start.
As the Bruins sit atop the rest of the NHL with their 50-9-5 record and roster filled with talents likely to take home some regular season hardware at the year’s end, their blemishes — while few and far between — catch the eye. Their once-potent power play sits near the top of their list of improvements.
On Saturday, the Bruins’ special teams encountered mixed results. They encountered a tough blow in the first 4:32 of play after allowing a shorthanded and power-play goal.
In the second, Boston earned a needed power-play tally to even things up on Bergeron’s tip.
Boston’s power play may not be as dangerous as it was earlier this season, but it’s starting to regain its footing. Orlov is now the point man on the top unit, while Lindholm and Charlie McAvoy both anchor the second unit.
These changes, along with Tyler Bertuzzi moving to the secondary unit, should inspire confidence in the weeks ahead.
Fourth line shines in the clutch.
Fourth lines tend to generate some heavy praise from the Boston fanbase. From the Merlot Line of Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton, to the trio of Noel Acciari, Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner in 2019, there’s something about the blue-collar grinders that resonates throughout New England.
After recent performances from Greer, Hathaway and Tomas Nosek, the Bruins may have another formidable fourth trio to work with.
Amid Boston’s mixed performance on Saturday, the Greer-Nosek-Hathaway line was undeniably the most consistent, entertaining and impactful trio.
“I thought they were our best line all night long. Right from the first shift of the game where I thought they got us going,” Montgomery said. “They had a lot of good looks and spent a lot of time in the O zone despite the fact I started them in the D-zone a lot.”
The line combined for eight shots on goal, eight hits, and of course, produced the game-winner.
Hathaway earned first-star honors with his go-ahead tally, but Greer’s energy and hard-working traits also caught Montgomery’s eye.
“I was happy for A.J. and pleased with him tonight,” the first-year Boston coach said. “He was making plays, strong plays, using his speed, being physical and hanging on the puck. When A.J. Greer is hanging on the pucks, that’s when I know he’s on top of his game, especially in the offensive zone.”
“Greersy gets on every puck and forechecks really well,” Hathaway added of Greer.
While Montgomery has an affinity for shaking up lines, especially with a dense schedule and veteran players to rest in the coming weeks, it would seem as though he’s found another line worth keeping together.
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