The Boston Bruins faced their former 6-foot-9 teammate in Zdeno Chara for the first time on Saturday. They needed a “big” comeback to come away with one point.
Bruce Cassidy’s squad found themselves behind 3-0 behind a first period tally by Nicklas Backstrom and second-period markers from Trevor van Riemsdyk and Richard Panik. Yet, they controlled the pace of play throughout, firing 87 shot attempts with 43 landing on net.
Their resiliency paid off in the final 24 minutes of regulation, beginning with Nick Ritchie’s tip-in past Caps netminder Vitek Vanecek on a second-period power play. They saved their best theatrics for the final 20 with Charlie McAvoy leading the way with a stellar assist on Brad Marchand’s one-timer and his equalizer with 57.3 ticks remaining in regulation.
The Bruins entered the 3V3 overtime with momentum on their side. But they never touched the puck in the extra session.
In his first game back from COVID-19 protocol, Alex Ovechkin fired a long-distance shot past Tuukka Rask from the top of the faceoff circle to cap off Washington’s 4-3 win.
“I think our group responded well to the adversity that we had,” McAvoy said postgame. “From that standpoint, it was a fun challenge…to come back and get a point out of that one.”
Here’s what we learned from Boston’s stellar, yet frustrating, come from behind effort.
Charlie McAvoy delivered in the clutch.
With the moving parts on the back end following departures by Chara and Torey Krug, the Bruins entered the 2020-21 campaign, knowing they’d rely heavily on McAvoy for stability.
The former Boston University standout has provided much more than stability on the blue line. Take Saturday, for instance, where an assertive McAvoy provided timely offensive moments.
With his smooth skating and slick mitts, McAvoy pulled the Bruins within one after gliding to the corner and finding Marchand in the slot for a one-timer.
— Marina Maher (@marinakmaher) January 31, 2021
Then came the chaotic sequence leading to the tying goal. With Rask pulled for the extra attacker, David Krejci broke his stick on a shot attempt seconds prior. But the Bruins kept battling for the puck as it made its way toward the front of the net. McAvoy pinched in, parking himself on Vanecek’s doorstep to deliver his first goal of the year.
Charlie McAvoy ties it up.
On to overtime. pic.twitter.com/fO8XNtxvNT
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) January 31, 2021
“It’s important for us to get second and third chances when our goalie is out and not play for one shot,” Cassidy said on the tying sequence. “I want [McAvoy] to play when he’s out there. He’s smart when reading the play, and he’s a reactionary guy. He can’t play out of control because you need someone up top, especially since he’s the only defenseman. But if he’s in on the play, then he’s in on the play…it worked out for him.
“I thought he made a great play down the wall — a set play on the faceoff — on a deep drive to Marshy [Marchand] to get us within one,” Cassidy added of McAvoy. “So good instincts by him tonight. That’s when he’s at his best when he’s kind of free-flowing, and it worked out for us tonight.”
McAvoy established himself as a three-zone commodity after skating with Chara in his first three seasons. With his former partner in D.C., McAvoy hasn’t looked back. He’s growing into the cornerstone of Boston’s defensive unit.
Rask had a rough night.
Let’s clear the air now: Rask remains an upper-echelon goaltender. But even a top-tier netminder has his share of rocky performances.
The Finn saved the Bruins at times this season with some clutch saves in the third period and overtime. He made a couple of timely stops moments after McAvoy’s tally to secure one point.
But the Bruins needed more from Rask, who allowed four goals on 23 Washington shots. Yes, he never saw the puck on the regulation tallies having to fight through screens just to track those shots from Backstrom, van Riemsdyk, and Panik.
An opportunistic Capitals bunch took advantage of their chances as the Bruins slowly, but surely, found their way back. Then Ovechkin capped off Washington’s OT victory with Rask down in the butterfly on a long-distance shot.
— Boston Bruins on CLNS (@BruinsCLNS) January 31, 2021
“We made a few mistakes and they’re a team that can capitalize in a hurry,” Cassidy said. “They have guys who can score, but you need some saves too in some of those instances.”
Rask was due for a stinker. He has struggled against the Caps throughout his career, coming into Saturday’s matchup with a 3-11-5 mark with a .892 SV% and 3.10 GAA. It just so happened that Ovechkin and company got the better of Rask again.
Chara rarely engaged with former teammates.
Under normal circumstances, Chara would’ve met his ex-teammates off the ice before the first matchup. With COVID restrictions, the Bruins didn’t get a chance to exchange pleasantries with Chara for any activities away from the rink. They had to settle for trading words with one another on the ice for warmups and stoppages between play.
You have to go all the way back to April 11, 2006, when Chara, then a member of the Ottawa Senators, last faced the Bruins. The end result nearly 15 years later was eerily similar — a 4-3 overtime victory for Chara’s squad.
In both instances, the scouting report on Chara was along the lines of ‘don’t poke the bear.’ Marchand echoed that sentiment during his postgame press conference following Boston’s 4-1 win over Pittsburgh on Thursday.
For the most part, they did. The 5-foot-9 Marchand still found himself on the wrong end of a Chara collision during the first period, but the Bruins didn’t attempt to get under the skin of their former captain.
Imagine showing someone this photo a few months back.
(📸: Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) pic.twitter.com/5Bu2adxn1l
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) January 31, 2021
“The last thing you want to do is rile him up,” the oft-chirpy Marchand said. “You know, we’re friends. I have a lot of respect for him, and it was definitely odd to see him on the other side.”
Chara finished his first game against his former squad with a shot on net and six blocked shots in 20:54 of ice time. He’ll welcome the Bruins again on Monday for the second of eight meetings this season.
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