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Braden Holtby has the Bruins’ number. Like his days in Washington, he did everything he could to prevent his longtime archnemesis from obtaining a victory.
The Bruins peppered Holtby with 40 shots on goal. They took a 1-0 first-period lead on Brad Marchand’s fifth career penalty shot tally only to see the lead go wayside in the second period after a costly turnover led to Luke Glendening’s first goal of the young year.
This time, they didn’t cave against Holtby. Instead, their perseverance paid off.
And it was pretty appropriate for Jake DeBrusk to come through when it mattered most. Coming off the worst year of his career, the 2015 first-round selection began his season with a bang, tallying the game-winner on a hard net drive at 4:43 of the final stanza. Jeremy Swayman’s 27-save effort and Marchand’s empty-netter late in regulation capped off the 3-1 win in front of a rabid TD Garden crowd.
Here’s what we learned from Game 1 of 82.
At his best, DeBrusk’s speed and footwork in front of the net, along the boards, and in the neutral zone provides quality scoring chances for himself and his linemates. When he’s off his game, DeBrusk’s motor tends to run on empty.
The latter scenario happened more often than not during the 2021 COVID shortened season. The league’s strict protocols limited DeBrusk’s bonding time with his teammates away from the rink. He rarely looked like his usual self in interactions with his peers and his Zoom calls with the media.
But the easing of the protocols for fully-vaccinated personnel and a new pair of linemates in veterans Erik Haula and Nick Foligno provided a fresh start for DeBrusk. The third line improved their chemistry with every training camp rep. And the trio picked up right where they left off in Saturday’s season opener.
Their cohesiveness was on display on the go-ahead tally. Foligno and Haula went to work after DeBrusk created a turnover. A patient Foligno found DeBrusk driving to the net from the goal-line. The Edmonton native promptly netted his first of the season and delivered one of his trademark celebrations.
“It’s always nice to help the team win,” DeBrusk said on the even of his 25th birthday. “I thought preseason (went) fairly well, but it’s just the preseason. Obviously, you want to get on the board as fast as possible. It seems like the mindset is working. It seems like that whatever is going on with our line. Leaning on Nick and Erik has been very helpful for me, and it’s nice to score in front of the full TD Garden.”
DeBrusk doesn’t feel the burden. His teammates notice the weight off his shoulders. He’s not immune to off nights, and he’ll encounter his share of those during an 82-game slate.
But the Bruins need his secondary scoring output to achieve another deep playoff run. On night one, DeBrusk provided that timely spark.
“I’ve been really happy with the way he’s played,” Marchand said of DeBrusk. “Jake is a guy that feeds off confidence and he has that right now. But the way he’s carried himself off the ice, he has a much better energy about him and a lot more excitement this year. And he’s a guy that we need to rely on this year if we’re going to go far. You can see he’s such a difference-maker with his speed and his ability to put pucks on the net. You could see that tonight. I was more impressed with the details in his game tonight where he pounced on his goal and turned it over and created a loose puck for Foligno and Haula to kind of do their thing, and he goes to the net and gets rewarded.”
Sometimes, the little things deserve the same recognition as a highlight-reel tally — case in point, the moments leading up to Marchand’s penalty shot.
A slight hesitation by Marchand entering the zone set up his sequence. He gained entry after David Pastrnak cleared the blue-line to keep the play onside. Marchand created separation from Ryan Suter, thus providing a clear path toward Braden Holtby. A Suter takedown prevented Marchand from converting, but didn’t prevent the ref from assessing a penalty shot.
Marchand quickly made the most of the effort on his penalty shot attempt, going glove side on Holtby to give the Bruins the 1-0 lead late in the opening stanza.
“I thought that I actually let up for a second after I picked (the puck) up because I didn’t see — I think it was Pasta offside right away,” Marchand said of his sequence with Suter. “I kind of waited for a split second to see if it was going to be off(side), and then when I didn’t hear the whistle, I just kind of kept going and tried to get inside of Suter. So, luckily they called that one.”
Boston’s primary alternate captain delivered the opening salvo. He later provided the proverbial dagger in crunch time, beating Miro Heiskanen for a loose puck en route to his empty-net tally.
The circumstances surrounding his first professional season could’ve overwhelmed any netminder. But Swayman isn’t a typical out-of-the-ordinary netminder who beats to his own drum a la Tim Thomas, Dominik Hasek, or Eddie Belfour. His intriguing upbeat personality while living in the moment provides a unique perspective.
His philosophy helped Swayman navigate through those hurdles last season, be it under tighter protocols in Providence or in Boston, where he filled in admirably for an injured Tuukka Rask and a COVID-ridden Jaroslav Halak in April and early May. The Alaskan-born goaltender picked up where he left off from his stellar 10-game stint with the big club, earning the opening night start over free-agent pickup Linus Ullmark following a strong preseason.
Swayman didn’t see much traffic for a good chunk of Saturday’s tilt. The Bruins held the Stars to a mere five shots on net in the opening stanza. Aside from a turnover on the heels of a long shift from the second line in the middle 40 and Dallas’ late surge in regulation, Boston’s D provided the necessary layers in front of Swayman. Whenever the Stars found their groove, Swayman was there to make the timely saves to give his team a chance to win.
“I’d like to stay in the moment,” Swayman said. “A big thing for me is communicating with my defense. Obviously, they had a great game. It was fun to watch them make simple play in breakouts and do their job in front of the net. But when you don’t have that many shots it’s something you have to work on mentally, and I think playing in between the whistle — just whistle to whistle — helps me a lot.”
The opening night start came with a caveat: Swayman finally got to start in front of a packed house on Causeway Street. And the confident Swayman gave them something to cheer about.
“That’s special. I think it’s one in a million. There’s not many places like that in the league,” Swayman said. “Obviously, we’re fortunate. Our whole team is appreciative of the community here. So, what you hear about is true. I’m so excited to be a part of it.”
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