It was just another game.
Or so we thought.
The Boston Bruins didn’t waste any team laying down the hammer on the St. Louis Blues in their first meeting since Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Captain Zdeno Chara set the tone with a thunderous hit on Oskar Sundqvist leading to a mini-scrum with Brayden Scheen just 38 seconds in.
The Chara hit didn’t pay immediate dividends, but the Bruins stayed physical and strong on pucks during Saturday night’s rematch at TD Garden. It all culminated in a 3-0 victory over the defending champs.
“I thought Zee [Chara] had a big hit early on, clean hit on a breakout. You know, Cliffy [Connor Clifton] had a couple of counter hits, and off we go. Felt like we were back in the playoffs,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Good, solid, clean hits and I think as the game went on, it became your typical hockey game.”
It felt different than a Stanley Cup Final outing, but the Bruins stayed engaged in all three zones. David Pastrnak, Anders Bjork, and Brandon Carlo all made sure the effort went worthwhile with their respective tallies. Tuukka Rask (26 saves) sealed the deal with some timely stops — including several on a second-period penalty kill — to secure his second shutout of the year.
Here’s what we learned after the Bruins improved to 7-1-2 on the season.
Chara initiates the tone-setting night
Zdeno Chara has set examples both on and off the ice throughout his illustrious career. The Bruins needed that tone-setting play from their 6-foot-9 captain early, and they got it with his hit on Sundqvist just 38 seconds in.
The Bruins and Blues didn’t have much roster turnover this offseason. Some players had no love lost when the two teams engaged in physical blows, especially with Chara’s hit on Sundqvist. After all, the St. Louis forward earned a one-game suspension after injuring Matt Grzelcyk on a hit from behind in Game 2.
The pace didn’t intensify to a Stanley Cup Final level as things progressed. Neither team needed a reminder that they were only playing for two points. But the two teams didn’t shy away from contact and the occasional mini-scuffles.
The Blues wound up out-hitting the Bruins, 27-22. But they didn’t have the same impact as Chara’s hit on Sundqvist or Connor Clifton’s blow to Sammy Blais later in the opening stanza. Instead, they had to play catchup hockey for most of the night.
“We got the lead, started well, had some good looks early, kept them out of our end, didn’t give up much. And that’s important with St. Louis,” Cassidy said. “I think if you can force them to chase the game a little bit, you’re much better off. That’s a general statement, but most teams will play better with the lead, but some teams are really good with the lead, and I think we’re one of them. I think St. Louis is the type of team that’s just built to play better with the lead than to have to come from behind.”
A long time coming for Bjork
Bjork’s last goal came over a year ago — 377 days to be exact. His goal and assist helped the Bruins in their win over the Red Wings last Oct. 13 at TD Garden.
His inconsistent play sent the former Notre Dame standout back to Providence in Late November. Another injury down at the AHL level ended his season for the second time in his young career.
But Bjork showcased his perseverance with a strong showing at training camp. Yet he found his way back to Providence to start the new year in hopes of a confidence boost while playing top-six minutes down at the AHL level. But he returned to Boston after leading the P-Bruins in scoring through the first few weeks of their season.
Bjork, skating with Chris Wagner and Sean Kuraly in his first NHL game in 11 months on Tuesday night, put forth a quality effort against the Maple Leafs. Four nights later, this time skating with Par Lindholm and Danton Heinen, Bjork followed up with another solid performance against the Blues with a clutch one-timer tally — on Grzelcyk’s feed — to give the Bruins a 2-0 second period lead.
“It felt good,” Bjork said following his 8:51 of ice time on Saturday. “Kind of like the monkey off the back a little bit. It’s been a while so it felt really good. It was a great play by those guys on that and they opened that up by driving to the net. And Gryz [Grzelcyk] made a great pass and he made a great play before that too.”
The Bruins had high hopes from Bjork once he arrived to Boston for his rookie campaign in 2017-18. The frustrations and injuries mounted, but Bjork remained composed and worked his way back to this moment.
Bjork wants nothing more than to establish himself into an NHL regular. He still has some ways to go, but the 23-year-old, now with six career goals in 52 regular-season games, created some building blocks toward accomplishing that feat.
📹 The 🐵 is indeed off Anders Bjork’s back. pic.twitter.com/E55nmWE8i0— Bruins Daily (@BruinsDaily) October 27, 2019
“Listen, Anders is a great kid. Guys love him. He works hard; he’s quiet, no maintenance, he comes to work every day. So, I think they’re genuinely happy for him because he’s gone through a couple of tough injuries and he’s worked his way through it,” Cassidy said. “And it looks like he’s going to be a National Hockey League player. I don’t want to jump to conclusions after two games, but so far so good.”
There’s no stopping Pastrnak
Pastrnak kickstarted his career season with an 11-goal October. He’s already matched last year’s first month total with sights set on making franchise history.
The 23-year-old Czech sensation netted his 11th tally of the year with his patented power-play one-timer to give the Bruins the 1-0 lead.
Make that goals in five straight games for David Pastrnak.— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) October 26, 2019
His 11th goal of the year makes it 1-0 Bruins. pic.twitter.com/JBTp1t31f3
Phil Esposito set the team record for October goals with 14 during the 1974-75 season. Pastrnak could very well surpass that — and perhaps other Esposito records — with the pace he’s on.
Okay, he probably won’t match the 90 goals he’s currently on pace for. But, assuming he stays healthy, the 2014 first-rounder should still see his name atop the league’s scoring leaders by year’s end.