A playoff-like atmosphere that included an impressive debut from Ryan Donato and a pair of lead changes ended with controversy and a game-winner from another former college hockey standout from Boston.
In the end, the Blue Jackets came away with the 5-4 overtime win and the Bruins only tallied one point on a night where they sustained pressure all night on Columbus goalie Joonas Korpisalo and outshot their opponents, 38-25. Here is what we learned as the Bruins outworked their Eastern Conference foes but still blew a 3-1 second-period lead and ultimately fell short.
Donato shines in his debut
From representing Team USA at the Olympics — with new teammate Brian Gionta — to becoming a Hobey Baker finalist, Ryan Donato’s 2017-18 campaign has been nothing short of impressive. Now, the highly-touted 2014 second round pick can add his NHL debut to the list.
Indeed, it was an impressive debut for the now former Harvard standout.
Just three days ago, Donato played his final game for the Crimson in their loss to Clarkson in the ECAC semifinals. A mere 48 hours later, he signed his first NHL contract and thrust himself into the B’s lineup on short notice.
Donato’s first day ended with a three-point night (a goal and two assists) to go along with six shots on goal during his 19:40 of ice time. Whether it was providing a net-front presence on the top power-play unit or finding time and space to shoot the puck and create plays, Donato had an opening act to remember in front of friends, family (including his father, coach and former Bruin Ted) and the remaining 17,565 in attendance at TD Garden.
“Yeah obviously you’re never really going to expect to play in your first NHL game and have chances,” Donato said about the number of scoring chances he compiled in his debut. “For me I was just going in with a positive attitude, and no matter what role they had me in I was going to try and do it to my best. I was fortunate to get a couple bounces, and it almost went in a couple times, and obviously one went in and that was great, too.”
“Very impressed by that to be able to come in here. Especially your hometown, could be some jitters there, might be easier to do it on the road, almost,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said about Donato. “I’m not sure – to each his own in that area, but there’s a lot of people to, sort of, impress, and it’s a tough game, so good for him to be able to do it right here in his own backyard.”
Donato’s opening act, however, was a blip to the end result.
Ryan Donato (goal, two assists) became the eighth Bruin to score his first career goal this season and first to register a multi-point game in his NHL debut since Jarno Kultanen in 2000. pic.twitter.com/sjjosftqhJ
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) March 20, 2018
Non-calls and Atkinson’s winner highlight overtime
They may have had four power plays to the Blue Jackets’ two, but a non-call during the three-on-three extra session left many Bruins fans scratching their heads — and rightfully so.
It also left Brad Marchand fuming at the officials after he was held by Pierre-Luc Dubois, who altered his breakaway attempt on Korpisalo early in overtime. Instead of another power play attempt, or a potential penalty shot for the team’s all-time leader in regular season OT goals, Marchand and the Bruins looked on as ex-Boston College star Cam Atkinson notched his 17th of the season to extend the Blue Jackets’ win streak to eight straight games.
Alternate view. Red is looking right at the hold. pic.twitter.com/JE4aMy5uGN
— Colin Beswick (@CBeswick) March 20, 2018
Marchand, who scored his 31st of the season on a nifty backhander to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead in the second period, did not address the media afterward. Instead of asking Marchand about whether or not his reputation might have resulted in the non-call, reporters instead directed the officiating question to Cassidy during his postgame press conference.
“Listen, they make their calls. I was more confused about, like I said, I thought there was clearly two icings that directly resulted in goals. That was disappointing to me, but life goes on,” Cassidy said in-depth about the officiating factoring into the OT loss. “We got our power-play opportunities; we were able to covert on one of them, so no. Hopefully, the next time we’re in overtime, a call goes our way. It’s just the way it is.”
A better bounce, an OT call, or holding onto a two-goal lead could’ve swung the game in the Bruins’ favor on a night where the injuries continued to mount.
Rick Nash day-to-day, Adam McQuaid exits
Even with Patrice Bergeron returning to practice and David Backes avoiding a serious injury in Tampa on Saturday, the Bruins still can’t escape the injury bug.
Despite taking part in the normal morning skate activities, Rick Nash was added to the injury list moments prior to facing his former teammates. Nash, who played through an upper-body injury Saturday night, is listed as day-to-day. Anton Blidh came from Providence on an emergency recall and appeared in his first game in Boston this season.
As if Nash’s injury wasn’t bad enough, the Bruins defensive core took another hit as Adam McQuaid left during the third period. Cassidy didn’t have any further update on McQuaid’s status postgame.
Somehow, the Bruins are staying within striking distance of the East-leading Lightning without their top center (Bergeron), top defensive pair (Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy), and their trio of versatile forwards (Nash, Backes and Jake DeBrusk). They’ve done well with their ‘next man up’ philosophy, but their health come playoff time is key for any realistic run toward the Stanley Cup.