It may have been a month later than they anticipated, but on Thursday, the Bruins finally got a glimpse of the talent they dealt for when they acquired Brett Connolly at the trade deadline.
After breaking his finger two days into his Bruins tenure, Connolly was expected to miss six weeks, but sat out just four before he was in uniform for his first game action with the Bruins.
Connolly started the game alongside center Gregory Campbell and left wing Chris Kelly, and spent most of his 5-on-5 shifts with those two, but also saw time with Ryan Spooner and Milan Lucic as the contest entered the waning minutes – and it was as a part of this trio that Connolly helped out on the game-winner score.
Connolly’s fingerprints were all over Zach Trotman’s first NHL goal with just 2:08 to play in the third period. Collected the puck behind the net, Connolly moved it up to Spooner, who then found Trotman back at the blue line. Trotman had his first shot blocked, but controlled the rebound and beat Petr Mrazek on the short side.
The assist Connolly earned on the score was his second of the game, after getting a helper on Carl Soderberg’s power play goal earlier in the third that got the Bruins on the board. Connolly played 2:52 on the man advantage, while he totaled 12:44 for the game. Despite the hand injury, Connolly wasn’t afraid to throw his body around, with his three hits leading all Bruins forwards, showing good physicality and wasn’t hesitant while still getting his skating legs back under him.
“Really impressed; for a guy who missed four or five weeks, whatever it was, with that injury, to come back in that first game and have that kind of an impact,” coach Claude Julien told NESN’s Jack Edwards and Andy Brickley after the game. “It was really physical, he was making plays, he’s got good hands, got a quick release, too. You could see him getting better as the game went on, but at the end you could also see him getting a little tired. It was his first game and you could feel it.”
A former No. 6 overall pick by the Tampa Bay Lightning, Connolly is just 22 and has potential as a goal scorer, having tallied 12 in 50 games with Tampa Bay while skating limited minutes with the Bolts. If the right wing can show more of the game he gave against the Red Wings on Thursday, Connolly could be a valuable asset down the stretch – and beyond – as the Bruins make their push for the postseason.