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Through two games, the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals have more than maxed out the crispy meter.
Both games ended a mere one-goal apart. Both tilts ended in overtime.
Yet, Game 2 nearly got away from the Bruins.
Bruce Cassidy’s squad relinquished a pair of first-period leads as T.J. Oshie (at 6:31) and Garnett Hathaway (at 16:42) countered Boston’s pair of tallies from Jake DeBrusk (at 5:05) and Patrice Bergeron (at 9:21).
A scoreless second saw the Bruins establish significant zone time and scoring opportunities. But they also passed up some golden chances, including a potential chance in the slot for Charlie McAvoy during one of several 4-on-4 stretches in the middle 20.
Then, the Bruins found themselves facing their first deficit of the night after Hathaway buried a 2-on-1 scoring chance to give the Caps a 3-2 lead at 7:04. But they persevered and found their legs again when it mattered the most.
Taylor Hall evened things up with 2:49 left, burying home a loose puck amidst a sea of chaos in front of Craig Anderson.
The Bruins had some chances to end things in regulation, including one from DeBrusk on an odd-man rush.
With momentum on their side, the Bruins quickly secured the extra session victory. Brad Marchand’s blast from the right face-off circle 39 seconds into overtime to secure the 4-3 victory.
“We had to play better. We did,” Cassidy said postgame. “Obviously getting the win is very important, but for our own selves, we had to play a better hockey game. I thought we were the better team tonight.”
Here’s what we learned from Boston’s thrilling Game 2 OT triumph.
I’ve lost count with how many times the Bruins and Capitals engaged in extra-circular contact. And it likely isn’t going to end anytime soon.
Naturally, Marchand found himself amongst the crowded post-whistle scrums. More often than not, he managed to minimize his beef with the guys across from him after the stoppage of play over the past few seasons.
He didn’t fully escape a pair of altercations this time around. Marchand earned a pair of post-whistle minors in the first and second periods following a shot to the legs of Brendan Dillion and a high-stick to Anthony Mantha.
Marchand’s first penalty negated Boston’s power-play opportunity in the first period. But he didn’t put the Bruins in a tougher spot on the second instance, drawing a slash on Mantha to continue another lengthy stretch of 4-on-4 play in the middle frame.
The Bruins found themselves in a tough spot. But Cassidy hardly minded Marchand dragging the Bruins through another heavy contest.
“I don’t worry about Marsh,” Cassidy said of Marchand. “He’s going to periodically push back — he’s in the middle of everything, so he’s got to defend himself. He’s doing it a lot better now in terms of taking penalties.
“I’ve got a lot of faith and trust in Brad,” Cassidy added. “There’s way more good than bad, and I think he wanted to drag us into the fight. And we needed it tonight, because we didn’t start on time.”
Indeed, Marchand provided more good than bad over the last three years. He’s walked the proverbial fine line, becoming more of an asset and less of a liability.
Marchand’s mettle and leadership paid off 39 seconds into the extra session to send the Bruins home with a two-game split.
“The way we battled back tonight, we just seemed to have it a little bit more than we did last game,” Marchand said. “It was good to get the win. Obviously, they’re hard games. They’re playing tough, they’re playing physical and they’re not giving up a ton. So, it’s a big one to win, but it doesn’t matter how good it feels. The game is over and we have to get ready for the next one.”
Marchand jumped into Hall’s arms on Boston’s bench. Without Hall’s dramatics, the Bruins could’ve returned home with facing a 2-0 series deficit.
With a chip on his shoulder following a disappointing tenure in Buffalo, Hall arrived on the scene searching for even the smallest of confidence boosts.
The 2010 top overall pick quickly found his groove with David Krejci and Craig Smith on the second line. With a potent top-six attack, the Bruins transitioned from a one-line team on the playoff fringe to a potential Stanley Cup contender.
Hall picked up where he left off from his 16-game run to end the regular season. He’s clearly bought into Boston’s culture. When he’s not lighting the lamp, Hall provides an assertive checking game in all three zones. His keen eye away from the puck resonates through the three penalties he drew in the first two games against Washington.
“A lot of it is about adjustments,” Hall said afterward. “I think a lot of things in life are about adjustments.”
Hall knows a thing or two about said adjustments. After all, he entered his fourth home in two seasons following a call from Don Sweeney at the trade deadline.
The move has worked out for both parties. The Bruins received a top-six asset who’s bought into the culture in a pandemic-shortened season. For his part, Hall rewarded his new team with timely offense and a stellar work ethic.
With a relentless effort amidst a slew of secondary scoring chances, Hall displayed both of those aforementioned assets by banking home the third-period equalizer.
“In the playoffs, you have to play hard, you have to play physical — but you also have to make plays with calm and composure,” Hall said. “I think you saw that tonight. Our leaders did that. When it was time to make a play, we made a play, and when it was time to block a shot we did that.”
For as well as he’s played, Hall believes he still has another gear to find. That thought process is quite scary for any opponent Hall and the Bruins come across.
“It wasn’t a perfect game for me,” Hall added. “I still think I have another level to get to personally. But as a team, we came together and that’s all you can ask for.”
The Bruins needed more urgency from their top guys following their Game 1 overtime loss. They certainly received that message, notching three of Boston’s four goals.
This didn’t prevent Cassidy from making a subtle change with his bottom-six entering Game 2. In a last-minute decision, the fifth-year Bruins bench boss reunited DeBrusk with Nick Ritchie at the opposite wing and Charlie Coyle moving back to the middle on the third line. Sean Kuraly moved into DeBrusk’s left spot on the fourth line in Game 1, skating alongside Curtis Lazar and Chris Wagner.
DeBrusk spent a good chunk of his season at his off-wing to mixed results. But the Edmonton-born forward made the most out of his promotion rather quickly, burying home his second of the postseason off a stellar wrap-around feed from Coyle to give the Bruins a 1-0 first period lead.
He isn’t a stranger to playoff success. DeBrusk delivered timely moments over his four years, notably his pair of tallies in Game 7 of Boston’s first round series with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2018.
The Capitals provided fits for the top-six over the past two games. The top two lines eventually found their groove in a resilient Game 2 win.
DeBrusk’s assertive puck pursuit along the boards and 1-on-1 battles resulted in quality scoring chances for himself and his fellow linemates over the last two games. DeBrusk found difficulties establishing consistency as he battled an early-season injury, a mid-year stint in COVID protocol and a pair of healthy scratches.
But DeBrusk he has something to build on following his two-goal outburst to begin the series. With their deepest top-six core yet, Boston’s playoff chances will only benefit with DeBrusk returning to playoff form.
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