Nobody could fault you for expecting a lot from Hampus Lindholm in his Bruins debut.
From the five-piece price paid to Anaheim to the $52 million extension signed before even landing in Boston, the expectations were certainly there for the 28-year-old defender. And he smashed ’em to the moon in a do-it-all night for the Bruins.
From a successful clear at in the defensive zone to a size-and-strength move to win possession on a 50-50 puck at the attacking blue line, which Lindholm then built on with a great feed to Erik Haula for a high-danger look on the power play out of the gate, Lindholm’s start left no room for criticism. Through 20 minutes, you were wondering if the Bruins truly had something here. And by the night’s end, that wonder turned into an undeniable, “Oh my God, they absolutely have something here.”
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Deployed for 23:26 of action in a head-to-head with the rival Lightning, the 6-foot-4 Lindholm stuffed the box score with four shots, four hits, a block, and a plus-two rating. Oh, and an absolute beauty of a helper on David Pastrnak’s opening goal that started with a smooth defensive-zone retrieval, a successful win against a pressuring Brandon Hagel, and dish to Haula.
“That’s part of my game,” Lindholm, who got the call next to Charlie McAvoy in this game, offered. “I want to be big and strong, and slow it down a little bit and then try to get those passes up the middle and break it out clean. That’s playing to my game.”
David Pastrnak with a pretty forehand-backhand finish after getting a step on McDonagh off the alley-oop pass from Haula. Hampus Lindholm picks up his first point as a Bruin with the secondary assist. He's been strong tonight. pic.twitter.com/HlYLVicrCa— Patrick Donnelly (@PatDonn12) March 25, 2022
Lindholm wasn’t done there.
With the sides deadlocked at 2-2 late in the third, the Bruin found themselves all over the Lightning in the attacking zone. But when Pastrnak’s stick broke and required the Boston sniper to scurry back to the bench for a replacement twig, Lindholm showed his poise to keep the play alive and send it back down behind the Tampa net. From there, the Bruins continued to grind away at Tampa’s defense, which paved the way for a Haula on-the-line keep and feed to Pastrnak for the game-winning marker.
“He was nasty, was amazing,” Pastrnak said of Lindholm. “It’s not easy to come to a new team. Usually you would think it would take a couple games to learn the system and the way our D is playing and the structure.”
Lindholm also had one of the prettiest near-assists you’ll see in 2022 as the middle man on a tic-tac-toe play, but was denied when Trent Frederic’s bid beat the Bolts’ Andrei Vasilevskiy but clanged off the pipe.
Frederic-Smith-Lindholm almost complete a smoooooth tic-tac-toe play, but Frederic hits the post. This place would've gone nuts. pic.twitter.com/rS0qhQhBHW— Patrick Donnelly (@PatDonn12) March 25, 2022
“Well, I think [Lindholm] was actually maybe a better puck-mover in small area than I anticipated,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said. “I’m thinking more about the size, mobility, ability to close plays and get his shot through on the offensive-zone blue line, but he made a lot of small-area plays on the breakout that’s gonna benefit this hockey club.”
And while offensive contributions were a welcomed bonus, they didn’t come at the expense of Lindholm’s defensive presence, which was where it needed to be with the Bruins protecting a one-goal lead late in the third. This was especially true on Lindholm’s final shift of the game, dealing with some cramping and all after some extensive travel and quick turnaround to get into action for Thursday’s tilt at TD Garden, when Lindholm doled out a pair of hits along the wall to deny Tampa any traction.
“I think I like playing like this way a little bit more because I like to be in front of the net and be the one battling and boxing out,” Lindholm said of his adjustment from Boston to Anaheim. “I feel like that plays to my strengths.
“I think the way we play is better for me, in a way.”
This is going to be a massive key towards the Lindholm-McAvoy partnership, really, as McAvoy will be able to take full flight knowing that he has Lindholm there as support and vice versa. The duo had a dynamite debut, too, as the Bruins held a 24-12 advantage in shot attempts, 14-4 edge in shots on goal, and 2-0 edge in goals in 15:30 of five-on-five time together. All while spending the majority of their evening going up against the Bolts’ Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point.
“He’s one of those guys that anyone can play with,” Lindholm said of his first night with Boston’s Norris contender. “He’s such a good defenseman. Everyone knows it and everyone sees it. I hope we can develop something here and I can make him a better player, and he’s obviously going to make me a better player.”
And, in turn, make the Bruins a much, much better team.
Here are some other thoughts and notes from a 3-2 final over the Lightning…