How the Winter Classic became the Bruins’ bonding moment

The big-game experience helped the Bruins both on and off the ice.

Winter Classic
Bruins players celebrated after they defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 4-2 in the NHL Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019. –AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

A Winter Classic victory from any team often appears on their top moments of a given season. When the time comes, the Bruins’ New Year’s Day win over the Blackhawks will settle in on the season highlight reel.

That time hasn’t come yet for Bruce Cassidy’s squad, though. Not when they begin preparations for the challenges that face a Boston bunch that recently clinched its third Stanley Cup Final appearance this decade.

Yet, the 11-day layoff lends way to some reflection of Boston’s impressive postseason run. They aren’t overjoyed with settling in on their accomplishments — not when they’re four wins away from hoisting Lord Stanley again. But they’re certainly appreciative of bonding experiences throughout the calendar year, including the Jan. 1 victory at historic Notre Dame Stadium.

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It wasn’t just the on-ice triumph in South Bend that stood out to this Bruins bunch, either. The off-ice bonding experience also took center stage, highlighted with their fashionable wardrobe sense taken from the hit British television program Peaky Blinders.

“I think the Winter Classic was — if you want to look back — a turning point. The whole Peaky Blinders thing really brought the guys together. I think that was [Torey] Krug’s doing if I’m not mistaken,” Cassidy said following Sunday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena. “And then the game itself, we seemed to have taken off from there. So that’s one area where you know the group really came together.”

Yes, Krug spearheaded the Peaky Blinders idea. It wasn’t a spur of the moment decision, though. He sensed a vibe of the wardrobe’s popularity during a Halloween party with teammates.

“There was a group of us that wore it for a Halloween party. And just seeing a big group like that you say ‘oh’ and then something clicked. Then we talked about it with a couple of guys and they thought it would be a really good idea,” said Krug, who is expecting the birth of his first child a week after a potential Game 7 of the Cup Final. “I think when you see a group of seven or eight guys like that it’s pretty sharp, and then all of the sudden you have the whole team wearing it to the Winter Classic.”

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The legendary home of the Notre Dame football team provided a perfect scene for the two historic franchises. Touchdown Jesus and the famed tunnel featuring the iconic “Play Like a Champion Today” sign added to the game’s aura.

The Bruins had been through a roller-coaster season up to that point. The Blackhawks, fresh off axing three-time Cup champion Joel Quenneville after a stellar 10-year run, looked to use another Winter Classic appearance as a turning point for their 2018-19 slate.

Krug and company needed to come from behind twice to earn the hard-fought victory. The highlights of Patrice Bergeron’s Selke moment — preventing a David Kampf breakaway shot in the last second and notching the tying goal at the other end 32 seconds later — Tuukka Rask’s timely saves, David Pastrnak’s celebration, and Sean Kuraly’s leap following his go-ahead tally took center stage in the 4-2 victory.

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The Bruins didn’t look back. They overcame the Maple Leafs for second place in the Atlantic Division and put themselves in a prime position for their 2019 playoff run.

“I think it was probably a [big] part of it, right. There’s a lot of things that bring you together as a group. Doing that and the way we won that game was definitely a step in the right direction. But definitely one of the many [things] over the course of the year that brought us together as a group,” Krug added. “We were already a tight group to begin with, so it was obviously a lot of fun.”

Yes, they only had two points on the line. But this wasn’t any ordinary regular season game. It was a tilt between two historic Original Six Franchises in front of nearly 80,000 spectators.

The Winter Classic gave the Bruins some big game experience. Now they’ll look to become the first team to win both the Winter Classic and the Stanley Cup in the same season.

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“You get two points, but it’s more than just an average game,” Cassidy said following the New Year’s Day tilt. “I mean you’re playing in front of what, 80,000 people on National TV with two historical franchises. Everyone wants to see a good hockey game, but we just wanted — as I’m sure they did — [to come out] on top. It worked out well for everybody, but specifically for us.”

The Bruins, indeed, came out on top on Jan. 1 in South Bend. They now look to top off their 2018-19 season with another duck boat parade through Boston.