By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Every special season has that regular-season moment you look back on and say was the true spark of an unforgettable year.
Six months before the Bruins raised the Cup in Vancouver and paraded through Boston back in 2011, Andrew Ference (and every other Bruin on the ice) came to the defense of Milan Lucic after a high hit from Thrashers defenseman Freddy Meyer. It was the start of the Bruins, who had struggled to find their identity up that point, becoming a true team.
Last year’s team had that moment in Buffalo in late December, when Sean Kuraly capped an improbable overtime win over the Sabres after a late game-tying goal from Jake DeBrusk. Kuraly’s big goal (it’s all he does) sparked the Bruins to a stretch that saw them win all but 15 of their final 43 games and later come within 60 minutes of a Stanley Cup.
You truthfully don’t recognize these games as season changers within the moment. It takes time, consistency, and most of all a successful (or nearly successful) postseason run that justifies those otherwise-meaningless regular-season callbacks. But if the Bruins can indeed complete their redemption tour with a championship this spring, we will look back on Friday’s 2-1 win in Winnipeg as the game that got this team refocused and recommitted to their ultimate goal.
Especially when we look at how this game was won.
Put in a one-goal hole six minutes into their first game in nine days, it was easy to see a sleepy shootout loss coming the B’s way. Conditioning was going to be an issue after a single practice before flying out of town, it was Tuukka Rask’s first game in nearly three weeks, and the Bruins entered with just three road wins against the Jets franchise since the team moved from Gucci Mane-or to Winnipeg back in 2011. Oh, and given the happenings of this week — Mookie Betts most likely getting traded for magic beans, Tom Brady being weird on social media just to give us all a panic attack, and Travis Kelce being like three hours away from being a Super Bowl champion — you kind of expected it.
But Charlie McAvoy said no to such a fate by putting Jets star Mark Scheifele on his behind late in the first period.
It was the match that set off a wild hour of hockey, and brought out the best of this Boston squad’s mindset.
McAvoy’s hit bothered the Jets so much that Neal Pionk decided to put himself in the box in an attempt to address it. The Bruins responded to Pionk’s self-inflicted trouble with a Patrice Bergeron power-play goal that took advantage of Winnipeg’s over-aggressive approach on a 3-on-5, and that over-aggressiveness (from both sides) continued on in the second period.
Rubbed out from behind by Nikolaj Ehlers, Brad Marchand decided to ragdoll (and flex) on Ehlers. Brandon Carlo decided to make Gabriel Bourque answer for his hit on Charlie Coyle. And then Luca Sbisa did the same to Karson Kuhlman after the 5-foot-11 Kuhlman finished (and injured) Jets forward Mathieu Perreault in the Boston zone.
There was nothing dirty about any of the hits on either side, but for the Bruins, it sparked what felt like an awakening.
Instead of shying away from trouble and facing more questions about their willingness to battle for each other, the Bruins set the tone with McAvoy’s hit, and then responded and upped it when the Jets tried to outdo No. 73. There wasn’t any whining about mismatches like Kuhlman having to answer to a player who has a good five inches and 30 pounds on him.
Kuhlman, and the Bruins as a team for that matter, just did what had to be done in a high-pressure environment.
They did without taking themselves out of the game, or letting their penalty misfortunes spiral into trouble.
It all reminded me of last spring’s postseason run, and a quote from Bruce Cassidy that talked about his team’s mindset, saying that the Bruins never worry about weathering a storm because they are the storm.
It’s the perfect ‘welcome back’ kind of contest for these B’s, too, as these games aren’t going away anytime soon.
With the all-star break behind everyone, and with less than a month to go before the trade deadline, the entire league finds themselves in desperation mode to prove their dominance as a legit springtime threat. And there’s no greater threat than a team that’s both willing to create chaos and handle a team’s repeated attempts to up the intensity of said chaos.
“That’s what separates good teams from bad teams: When you have a team that really cares about each other, and most good teams have that,” Marchand told reporters after the win. “It’s not something we’re gonna lose in here.”
Nor is it a memory you’re gonna lose if the B’s have their say come June.
Here are some other thoughts and notes from a gutsy win in Winnipeg…
Tuukka Rask shines in returns from concussion
It’s almost a good thing B’s netminder Tuukka Rask got his rest (and some extra ‘rest’ via a concussion) by skipping the 2020 All-Star Game, as the 32-year-old was downright under attack by the Jets in what finished as a 37-of-38 night in net. Rask was especially strong on the penalty kill (12 saves on 12 shots), and looked to get stronger as the game went on despite not having played since Jan. 14.
“He’s so good,” said Marchand. “If we’re gonna be a good team, we need him to play games like that and he did. It was great to have that.”
Excluding his early exit in Columbus, Rask is now 5-0-1 with a .943 save percentage over his last six starts.
The ceiling for David Krejci (and his line) remains most fascinating storyline
Bruins center David Krejci remains in what feels like a holding pattern, really.
By now, it’s clear that the Bruins are going to spend the majority of their deadline season looking at potentially help for their second-line pivot. The Bruins have already been linked to the Kings’ Tyler Toffoli (a right shot, right wing with 13 goals in 51 games for the Kings this year) and it’s not hard to imagine them being in on New York’s Chris Kreider (a career-high 28 goals last year) as well. But until a deal of some sort comes together for Don Sweeney’s club, the Bruins are going to exhaust every possible in-house option to formulate a functional Krejci line. And such a plan has currently put the 33-year-old Krejci in between what feels like a definite 2B line with Danton Heinen to his left and Karson Kuhlman on the right.
It’s a tremendous smart hockey line (Krejci acknowledged as much following their first twirl together back on Jan. 21), but the natural question that’ll follow this trio comes back to their finishing power. Heinen, who teases you with a beautiful snipe in between about 20 straight shots off the glass, has yet to emerge as a consistent goal scorer, and there’s simply not enough of a sample size to accurately project Kuhlman’s ability to be a true goal-scoring threat at the NHL level. Hell, you could make the case that Krejci (who should definitely shoot more), while a pass-first player, is that line’s most natural finisher.
Watching this line on Friday, it’s not hard to see why you’d like this combination with the puck on their stick. They’re efficient, they see the ice well, use space to their advantage, and they’re not afraid to defer to their defense when the chances are there. But those aforementioned finishing uncertainties may become a problem on nights where five-on-five production is laborious, and when the high-powered Perfection Line and Coyle’s line are shooting blanks.
Jeremy Lauzon looks ready for NHL duty
I have a mild salsa-hot take I think I’m ready to spill: Jeremy Lauzon, even with just three appearances to his name this season, has been the Black and Gold’s sixth-best defenseman this season.
In a year headlined by injuries, struggles to recover from injuries, and inconsistencies on the backend, Lauzon has taken his latest challenge (opportunity) to show the Big B’s something and grabbed it by the horns.
Now, it’s one thing to look good against the hapless Devils and in a home-ice showing against the Golden Knights. The first has played like the embodiment of a stinkiest smell the Jersey Turnpike has to offer, and the latter came with the last-change benefits that often prevent players such as Lauzon from getting put in bad situations.
But a road game in Winnipeg? That’s legit, and that’s exactly how Lauzon looked in Friday’s victory.
In what may have seemed like a quiet night featuring just one hit and one blocked shot, it was Lauzon’s work with the Bruins down a man that really showed some promise, as 4:21 of Lauzon’s 16:13 of time on ice by the night’s end came with Boston killing off a penalty. That’s a big boy night for a 22-year-old kid, and for a B’s penalty kill that finished a perfect 6-for-6. It’s worth mentioning that a heavy chunk of that came against the Jets’ high-powered first unit, too, meaning that this wasn’t Lauzon simply benefitting from the spare, disjointed final seconds of a sluggish second unit.
With Lauzon, there’s still a lot to be discovered.
But with each showing, and with noticeable improvements, you can’t help but feel if that need is turning into a want.