That was 10 days worth the wait.
The Boston Bruins returned from their bye week as a rested bunch against a desperate Winnipeg Jets bunch. It didn’t take long for them to shake off the rust.
Bruce Cassidy’s squad found themselves trailing 1-0 after Patrik Laine notched his 18th of the season 6:06 into the opening stanza. Then Charlie McAvoy delivered a game-changing hit on Mark Scheifele.
What followed in the spirited contest resembled the Big Bad Bruins of yesteryear. The Bruins backed one another up in their four — yes four — fights with the Jets during a physical 60-minute tilt. Tuukka Rask (concussion) returned in grand fashion in his first start since Jan. 15. The power play and penalty kill stymied Winnipeg to the tune of a perfect 6-for-6 night in shorthanded situations and Patrice Bergeron and Jake DeBrusk scored a pair of timely goals on the man advantage.
The Bruins backed one another up in a team-building 2-1 win over the Jets. Here’s what we learned from Friday’s fight night in Winnipeg.
McAvoy’s hit kickstarts an ‘Old Time Hockey’ tilt
“Coming off the break you lose a little bit of your competitive edge, but the quicker you get it, the better off you’re going to be,” Cassidy told NESN’s Jack Edwards and Andy Brickley postgame. “[The McAvoy hit] was a big part [of the win]. It kind of got us to pull together in the same way and then off we went.”
The Bruins weren’t playing poorly by any means prior to McAvoy’s hit on Scheifele late in the first period. They found their skating legs as the period progressed and generated some quality looks on Laurent Brossoit, but a defensive miscue on Laine’s tally put them in an early hole.
McAvoy’s thunderous hit on Scheifele turned the game’s intensity from 1 to 100. Winnipeg’s Neal Pionk instigated McAvoy into a mini-bout in Boston’s defensive zone seconds later.
Another look at McAvoy's hit on Scheifele.
Pionk starts a fight after a clean, heavy hit — and McAvoy heads down the tunnel. pic.twitter.com/lzumYYmg4R
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) February 1, 2020
The responses and counter-responses continued in the middle stanza. Brad Marchand, Brandon Carlo and Karson Kuhlman each dropped the gloves in respective bouts against Nikolaj Ehlers, Gabriel Bourque and Luca Sbisa. Marchand, Carlo (also assessed a 10-minute misconduct following his fight with Bourque) and Sbisa each served additional two-minute minors for roughing and instigating.
For all the questions surrounding their response to questionable hits at times — especially in the aftermath of Emil Bemstrom’s shot to Rask in Columbus — the Bruins didn’t back down on this night. That’s an encouraging sign for a team that historically prides itself on being big and bad.
“That’s ‘old time hockey’ right there,” Marchand told reporters. “Any time there was a big hit there was a fight. That’s how [the game] used to be. It was fun to play a game like that. It’s not going to happen every night, but when they do, they’re fun to be a part of.”
Through all the chaos and questionable officiating, the two teams combined for 60 penalty minutes in the second frame. The Bruins had to kill a whopping five penalties in that 20-minute span. They were up to the task on a rather ‘special’ night in the Canadian Prairies.
A ‘special’ night for the power play and penalty kill
They say staying out of the box is a key to success. Yet, the Bruins and Jets made frequent trips to the sin bin and nearly filled it to capacity at times.
The Bruins found themselves shorthanded more often than not in that physical middle stanza. They dug deep killing off all five of Winnipeg’s power-play attempts — including two 5-on-3 chances — during that 20-minute stretch.
Be it through timely saves from Rask, disrupting shooting lanes to block shots or displaying their forechecking prowess, the Bruins didn’t waver on the penalty kill going a perfect 6-for-6.
“Special teams on both sides of the puck were very good. That’s something that we take a lot of pride in,” Carlo said to the media. “And myself as a penalty killer it’s a big thing to be able to kill it off whether it’s a 5-on-3 or a 5-on-4. We take a lot of pride in it like I said and it’s the same thing for the power play.”
The Bruins’ shorthanded unit sits third in penalty kill percentage, but their power play took a dip in production leading up to the 10-day break. A usually potent man-advantage hadn’t lit the lamp in their last 15 attempts heading into Friday’s slate.
The power play wasted little time finding the back of the net as Bergeron netted a 5-on-3 goal late in the first to even things up.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) February 1, 2020
Following another timely kill to start the third, the Bruins found themselves on the power play yet again when Sami Niku slashed Marchand at 2:35. In a 5-on-4 situation, DeBrusk, parked in front of Brossoit, found himself at the right place at the right time 32 seconds later for the game-winner.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) February 1, 2020
A special night indeed for the power play and penalty kill.
Tuukka Rask made a triumphant return
He was set to serve a league-mandated one-game suspension for skipping the All-Star Game in St. Louis last weekend. But Rask’s concussion diagnosis following the Bemstrom hit put a dent into the original plans as the NHL dropped his suspension.
Upon clearance from the league, Rask returned to the crease for the first time in 16 days on Friday.
The winningest goaltender in franchise history always performs well following a lengthy period between starts. That trend continued in Winnipeg.
Rask was dialed-in from the start even after making a helmet save on one of the first shots he faced. He didn’t have many dents in his performance and backstopped the Bruins through a busy shorthanded slate in the second before securing the win after making 15 of his 37 saves in the final 20.
The Bruins didn’t need to rush Rask back in net. Rask stayed fresh in his busy return even as he shook off some rust after nearly two and a half weeks between starts.
“I felt the puck after the first period,” Rask said to the press. “It was a long break, though, so physically it wasn’t that great. I’ll need another break now.”
Rask will get that break in Minnesota on Saturday as Jaroslav Halak will get the start against the Wild barring any last-minute development. He won’t have to wait too much longer after that for his next start, though.