By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Things have gone so well for the Bruins out of the gate in 2019-20 that you almost wouldn't have faulted them for failing to come through with a third-period comeback against the Penguins on Monday night at TD Garden.
I mean, this was as close to a kick in the face (Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said it was a kick somewhere else) that the Bruins have faced this year. They had everything on their side. They chased Matt Murray, who entered Monday's game on fire in his last three starts, with three goals on 11 shots. They were in their building. TD Garden even busted out some Biggie.
Call the crib, same number, same hood. It's all good.
But then the Penguins struck with four goals -- two of which came on breakaways, a third on a partial break with Sean Kuraly chasing after Bryan Rust -- in a span of just 14:22, and made the B's look straight-up helpless. The defense was swimming, the middle of the ice was wide open, and Jaroslav Halak smashed his stick to bits following the period's 21-6 barrage in shots.
If there was ever a time to rest on your laurels, and with a second leg of a back-to-back still on deck, it was then.
But Cassidy didn't call it quits and he didn't panic. In fact, he didn't want to even show signs of panicking (he opted not to call a timeout during Pittsburgh's demolition derby second period). He instead wanted to see how his team would handle perhaps their greatest challenge of a 14-game year. And his veteran group did not disappoint.
"We’re in pretty solid position right now," Cassidy, who did not call a timeout at any point during the second period, admitted. "Maybe we needed to be kicked in the ass a little and see how do our guys respond; do they sort it out themselves? Because we do have a veteran group. We rely on the leadership group, so clearly, they did between periods. They said some good things in there about how they want to play more our style of game, and we got ourselves back into it."
The leadership started with Brad Marchand, too, as Marchand was among the more vocal players in the second intermission, and backed up his talk to help get the Bruins back even with the Penguins.
Playing at four-on-four thanks to some matching minors, Marchand fought off Evgeni Malkin and Rust at the Pittsburgh blue line, and fed Torey Krug for a one-time blast that beat Tristan Jarry at the perfect angle to bring things to a 4-4 draw.
WHAT A SHOT BY TOREY KRUG ???? pic.twitter.com/nMVsgO2l3U
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) November 5, 2019
It's the kind of phone booth maneuvering that only the 5-foot-9 Marchand can do, and it's the kind of plays (and know-how) that's made the Bruins a never-say-die bunch out of the gate in 2019-20. (Because how on Earth do you gameplan for such plays coming back to save the day for a Bruins team you just spent 20 minutes beating the bag out on all levels?)
But the Bruins took that momentum and carried it behind the game-winning goal from Marchand with 1:57 left in the third period, and an aggressive challenge from Brandon Carlo opened up the ice for Patrice Bergeron's empty-net dagger for Boston.
And all it took was a little kick to the pants.
Here some other thoughts and notes from a 6-4 win over the Penguins...
Hughes makes NHL debut
With David Backes (upper-body), Joakim Nordstrom (infection), and Par Lindholm (upper-body) all on the shelf for the Bruins, 2015 sixth-round draft pick Cameron Hughes got the call for his NHL debut on Monday night at TD Garden.
Skating on a line with Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner, Hughes gave the B's exactly what Cassidy expected, finishing with one hit and two blocked shots in 9:53 of action on a fourth line that (like the rest of the B's groupings) struggled to find their footing.
"Worked hard, good stick, as advertised," Cassidy said of Hughes' debut. "It was a good, working game. He learned some lessons about how to be strong on the puck. In the neutral zone, there were a couple of loose plays that were just some of the stuff [Anders] Bjork had to learn. But I liked his game; I liked his effort, and he fit in with that [Kuraly] line."
Brad Marchand is a stone cold killer
After yet another five-point night from Brad Marchand (two goals and three assists in a team-high 24:21 of ice-time), teammate Jake DeBrusk couldn't help but be a little jealous of Marchand's start to 2019-20.
"What's this, his third five-point night of the season? Jeez, I wouldn't mind one of those," DeBrusk said after the win.
It's one thing to have a five-point night, but it's another thing to make everything look as easy as Marchand has this season. It's just ridiculous. He begins his night by baseball-swinging a puck through Murray, continues with some helpers, and caps it with the game-winning goal that only No. 63 could pot, going glove-side from an angle that's become The Marchand Special.
The performance allowed Marchand (along with David Pastrnak, who had a goal and helper in the win) to move into the NHL history books, as they're the first set of winger teammates to average at least two points through the first 14 games of a year.
In fact, Marchand is now the first player in Bruins history to record two five-point nights within an eight-day stretch. Prior to Marchand, Herb Cain did it the quickest, with a pair of five-point nights 13 days apart in Jan. 1944. Heeeeerbie Hancock.
Is the Boston third line about to get a shake-up?
It wouldn't surprise me to see the Bruins shake it up with their third line of Charlie Coyle between Anders Bjork and Brett Ritchie on either Tuesday night or later this week. After what seemed to be a strong start together, the trio was once again relatively quiet, were on the ice for two goals against, and actually logged the least five-on-five ice-time among the B's four lines on Monday. Ritchie, who missed Saturday's game due to an infection, actually logged the least time on ice among all Boston skaters, with 8:51 over 13 shifts. Bjork wasn't that far behind, with 10:02 to his name on 13 shifts. Bjork took an absolute pounding in this game, too, and seemed like a gun-shy as a result, erasing most of his positive strides from his first few games.
The Bruins view Coyle as too great of a weapon for nights like this to be the norm.
A tale of two Penguins...
Monday's first look at the 2019-20 Penguins came with a mixed bag (at least to this observer), as you saw one half of the Penguins' star-powered one-two punch down the middle shine while the other was strangely invisible.
Watching this one, you seemed to notice Evgeni Malkin on every single shift. He was a constant matchup nightmare for Boston, and routinely had the B's spinning, leading to countless chances for his line out there. It played out to an assist and shot on goal, along with wins in eight of his 11 battles at the dot, in 15:11 of ice-time. Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, meanwhile, finished his night with zero points, two giveaways, and was on the ice for four of Boston's six goals in a losing effort.
In fact, it was hard to remember a positive for No. 87 other than an early-game scoring chance he couldn't put by Halak.
Not often you say that about Sid The Kid.