The Boston Bruins preached on establishing a strong opening 20 minutes heading into their Black Friday matchup with the New York Rangers at TD Garden. There’s a good reason for that.
Bruce Cassidy’s squad, despite carrying a five-game win streak into the Original Six matchup, had to scratch their way to a come-from-behind victory after coming out flat in three of their previous four tilts.
Yet, despite establishing a handful of quality shifts in the first few minutes, the Bruins found themselves in a familiar spot. In a nearly 12-minute span, Pavel Buchenevich beat a stickless Jaroslav Halak late in the first period and Filip Chytil capitalized on a Danton Heinen turnover to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead early in the middle stanza.
But the end result remained the same from those aforementioned contests against the Sabres, Wild and Senators.
The Bruins had some pick-me-up moments from Charlie McAvoy and the penalty kill. They took advantage of that with Sean Kuraly’s late second-period tally, David Pastrnak’s equalizer early in the third and David Krejci’s game-winner exactly 100 seconds into the 3-on-3 overtime for their sixth straight triumph.
“We tend to play a little better when we’re chasing the game, but we want to be able to sustain that pressure from the start of the puck drop and all the way through,” Brad Marchand said postgame. “We can’t afford to play 20 minutes every night and think we can win and be a good team. We’ve gotten away with it a couple of times, but, you know, we need to be a little better.”
They sit atop the National Hockey League standings, but the Bruins are still searching for that full 60-minute effort. In the meantime, here’s what we learned from another come from behind victory on Causeway Street.
Charlie McAvoy’s fight and the penalty kill give the Bruins some much-needed life
McAvoy grew up in Long Beach, New York idolizing the Broadway Blueshirts. We’re sure he never envisioned that he’d one day drop the gloves with one of his hometown players.
Well, that seemingly improbable scenario took place in the second period at a time where the Bruins desperately needed some sort of spark. With Boston trailing 2-0 midway through the second, McAvoy and Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith exchanged a few fists in front of Jaroslav Halak after the stoppage of play.
McAvoy rarely drops the gloves. Friday marked only his third career fight and first since March 2019. But the former Boston University standout needed to take matters into his own hands.
— Here's Your Replay ⬇️ (@HeresYourReplay) November 29, 2019
“We didn’t have the energy level we needed to tonight to start. It’s a bit of an ongoing concern,” Cassidy said about McAvoy’s fight with Smith. “At some point, your energy to get started is a little tougher to manufacture maybe than other teams. So that helped in that regard, but no, that’s not something we want to see every day. He’s got to defend himself — he’s certainly capable of defending himself — but hopefully picks his spots when it’s necessary to do that.”
The Bruins still needed another spark to get out of their rut. Their penalty kill did the trick.
A pair of minor penalties by Matt Grzelcyk and Sean Kuraly just 59 seconds apart put the Bruins in a tough spot. But they killed off the remaining 1:01 of Grzelcyk’s penalty and the ensuing minor to Kuraly to keep the deficit at 2-0.
“I think there’s a momentum shift, especially on that 5-on-3,” defenseman Brandon Carlo said. “Once we got that killed off, we wanted to get back to the game and continue the momentum with the crowd behind us obviously.”
The crowd and the team received a bolt as the shorthanded unit — which also killed a four-minute Rangers power play late in the third — gave the Bruins a chance. Kuraly pounced on a tip-in to put the Bruins within one with 1:32 left in the second.
Sean Kuraly (or Jack Studnicka?) gets the #NHLBruins on the board
2-1 Rangers after 2 pic.twitter.com/hAhbpHxC11
— Marina Molnar (@mkmolnar) November 29, 2019
These events set up an early-season Hart Trophy candidate to complete the comeback.
David Pastrnak was at the right place at the right time — again
At this point, we might as well copy and paste Pastrnak’s name on the nightly scoring summary.
The dynamic Czech winger continued his torrid scoring pace with his third-period equalizer and overtime helper. Pastrnak’s 24 goals in 26 games are the most in that timeframe since fellow countryman Jaromir Jagr accomplished that feat in the 1996-97 campaign.
Pastrnak found his scoring specialty from the left face-off dot early in his career. He parked himself there again at 4:27 of the third — on a feed from Krejci — to even things up.
But the impressive feat here isn’t his patented one-timer. Instead, following Jake DeBrusk’s aggressive forecheck to keep the play in the attacking end, Pastrnak had the wherewithal to stay engaged after missing on a breakaway attempt — stopped by a slash that went uncalled — just seconds before firing the tying marker.
“I was kind of upset that [the breakaway attempt] wasn’t called and I was kind of yelling at the ref about it,” Pastrnak said of his 24th goal of the year. “But I saw that [Debrusk] won the puck and Krech was there as well…it was a lucky bounce but a good goal for us.”
Pastrnak didn’t need a lucky bounce to set up Krejci during the 3-on-3 overtime. After gaining entry into the attacking end, Pastrnak deked out Buchenevich to create separation near the goal-line. His tape-to-tape pass to Krejci set the alternate captain up perfectly for the walk-off tally.
David Pastrnak dangles and sets up David Krejci for the OT winner.
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) November 29, 2019
He’ll have some company for the Hart Trophy race even if he continues his historic pace. But Pastrnak unquestionably deserves his spot among the NHL elite.
Is Jack Studnicka a keeper in Boston?
The highly-touted Studnicka showcased his potential upon arriving in Boston earlier this week. Studnicka filled in nicely on second-line duty — with Krejci moving to the top line in Patrice Bergeron’s absence — tallying an assist in his NHL debut Tuesday night in Montreal.
The former Ontario Hockey League standout saw his ice time decrease by nearly five minutes compared to Tuesday. Yet, he provided plenty of effort and energy in his 9:45 of ice time.
His hard work paid off on Boston’s first tally. Studnicka set things in motion after beating out two New York skaters to avoid an icing call. The Bruins then set up shop in the attacking end where Kuraly tipped home his second goal of the season; DeBrusk and Carlo assisting.
Studnicka, a natural center, moved over to wing after Charlie Coyle missed some time following a blocked shot in the first period. Cassidy’s call to move Studnicka paid off out of necessity.
“I just didn’t think we had it as a group. We had some passengers, not a trait of our team, but tonight, we did. So, we mixed it. I thought Jack could give us some energy,” Cassidy said. “He wants to prove he can play at this level, so you’re going to get the effort no matter what…the effort was there on that goal.”
It’s only a small sample size, but Studnicka isn’t looking out of place in his first two games. He’ll be a long-term fixture in the Bruins’ organization. The question is when and not if.