Where to begin?
The modern NHL is different from the league I grew up with. In some ways it is better and others not so much. But tonight, when the Boston Bruins took on the Ottawa Senators in the second of a home-and-home series (Sens prevailed 3-1 on home ice Sunday), the home team set the tone for Friday’s Winter Classic against an even bigger rival.
The old NHL I grew up with- the one with the Prince of Wales and Campbell Conferences and the Adams, “Black and Blue” Norris Divisions and all the others- gave the league a character and toughness that simply doesn’t exist any more to a large extent. There were no Ottawa Senators in the old days of the Adams Division, but tonight’s Boston opponent might as well have been wearing the blue and white of the old Quebec Nordiques…or the green, white and (later) blue of the Hartford Whalers…because as the game wound down, the fireworks began in a manner reminiscent of some memorable fracas at the Boston Garden.
If you take nothing else with you tonight, remember this- these two teams don’t like each other. That’s how it should be. And that’s how it all went down in Boston’s decisive, grind-your-face-into-the-ice victory in a 7-3 final score punctuated by local kid Jimmy Hayes’ hat trick with just .02 ticks left on the clock.
The three-goal game for Hayes, done in front of the hometown fans, was undoubtedly a dream come true moment for the Dorchester native, who grew up skating in nearby rinks pretending to score goals for the Bruins. It’s been an at-times frustrating season undoubtedly for the former BC star, who came home in a late June trade. All at once, it had to be a thrill, but also brought enormous pressure to perform, too. It is therefore no small irony tonight that when skating on Boston’s bottom line, he brought the hats raining down at the TD Garden to put an exclamation point on a win the Bruins had to have.
Hayes got the first goal of the contest at 8:01 of the opening frame when a Kevan Miller drive into the end boards took a fortuitous bounce out in front of the net and the right winger punched it in. Longtime Boston nemesis (but oh how B’s fans would’ve loved this guy if he wore the Black and Gold) Chris Neil scored the equalizer at 12:31, converting a second rebound after the Bruins got caught running around in their own end. Patrice Bergeron restored the lead with the first of four Boston power play goals on the night when he took a Torey Krug pass and made a nifty little deke to put the puck past Craig Anderson, hero of the Sunday game for a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes.
The final score does not accurately reflect how close this one was, as the B’s clung to a 3-2 lead that looked anything but safe going into the final stanza. Fans no doubt recalled the collapse Saturday night against the Bruins and when Matt Beleskey tallied a power play goal to put Boston up 3-1 only to see Mika Zibanejad score a late second period goal (his second in as many games after getting the game-winner Sunday night against the B’s) to cut the lead to one, you’d forgive the good folks for not being as optimistic going into the third.
The rollercoaster game continued into the last 20 minutes, as Bergeron got his second power play goal of the night (Boston’s third of the game) at 2:38 when Krug faked a big windup for a shot then sent a slap past to Bergeron, who was occupying his customary “bumper” position between the two circles. He deftly redirected the puck into the net before Anderson could track and reset. Seth Griffith, recalled as David Krejci was officially put on IR today, registered the second assist on the play, his first NHL point of the season in his first big league game this year.
However, less than two minutes later, Mike Hoffman reduced the deficit to just one goal again when he threw the puck towards the middle of the ice from the left side. It hit Dennis Seidenberg’s skate and caromed into the net to make it 4-3 with about 15:30 remaining in the game.
That set the stage for a wild finish, as Boston scored three goals in the final 4:11, with two Hayes tallies sandwiched with one Beleskey strike to put the Sens away for good.
After the B’s made it 6-3 on Beleskey’s second of the night, a chippy night got even more spirited. In the final minutes, Ottawa coach Dave Cameron sent Neil, Max McCormick and Mark Borowiecki (who tangled earlier in the game with Zdeno Chara and was promptly rag-dolled for his efforts) on the ice perhaps to send a message to Boston for their next contest in a few weeks. McCormick and Landon Ferraro dropped the gloves in a spirited but nasty bout that began with McCormick firing some vicious punches into Ferraro before the Boston center scored a punch and take down.
Things blew up at 19:33 when action around theBoston net that began with a David Dziurzynski hit on Miller on the end boards flared into a near line brawl. Zac Rinaldo squared off and pounded Dziurzynski, while a hesitant Adam McQuaid battled Neil (and appeared to get an eye gouge in the process). The referees- Frederick L’Ecuyer and Kyle Rehman, wanting no more shenanigans, then issued 10-minute misconduct penalties to Miller, Beleskey, and Zack Smith. But with Boston on the power play after Neil took an extra penalty in his donnybrook with McQuaid, Hayes finished off the hat trick with a bullet into the net on a feed from Max Talbot (who played his finest game since being acquired from Colorado at last year’s trade deadline.)
As we have seen in the past, games like this one brings teams together. The fans in Boston certainly loved it, and more important- it allowed the Bruins to enter the three-day buildup to the 2016 Winter Classic on a high note, without the negativity of a four-game losing streak. Better yet, Montreal lost to the upstart Atlantic Division-leading Florida Panthers tonight, spoiling the debut of goaltender Ben Scrivens.
For Boston to go from a nasty game and key moral victory to now facing their bitterest rival of all- this is the stuff that used to make the NHL what it was.
I’m not saying the new NHL is bad, but for one night at least, we were all reminded of the toughness, emotion…the pure electricity that a game like this one generates. Those nights- which once came with far more regularity- are a product of a by-gone era, but I’ll be damned if it didn’t give us something to get excited about.
Patrice Bergeron- He scored two very important power play goals at critical times in this game and got the game-winnerr, once again providing the leadership by example he has been known for throughout his entire Boston career. At this point, his excellence has just come to be expected, but the humility and character with which he carries himself only adds to his body of work. With 14 goals in 36 games, he might just establish a career best in that category at age 30, and he’s certainly cruising for a fourth Selke Trophy and could garner Hart Trophy consideration as league MVP as well. Regardless of what happens, Bergeron is the heart and soul of this team and continues to raise the bar as he climbs the ladder of franchise historical feats.
Jimmy Hayes- It hasn’t been the easiest of years, but he hung in there and had the best night of his NHL career in front of a fired up crowd. The former prep star at Nobles isn’t ever going to be a bruising, in-your-face power winger the way B’s fans wish a 6-5, 215 pounder should be, but as long as he’s working hard and finding ways to contribute, he’ll be value added to a team that is counting on him to provide secondary scoring, especially with Krejci now out for an undetermined length of time. Hayes wants to be here, and this game will do wonders for his confidence. Perhaps he’ll quit gripping the stick tight and take the chances as they come…he’s probably finding out that playing for your hometown team comes with a whole different set of expectations and pressures, but on this night, he was the man of the hour.
Matt Beleskey- His first two-goal game as a Bruin came in what is a typical contest that plays to the former Belleville Bull’s strengths. He was a force on the forecheck all night and both of his goals showed off his excellent shot. Pucks hadn’t been going in for him over the first half of the year, but he was working hard and generating chances. Playing the law of averages, you knew things were bound to change at some point.
Ryan Spooner- This was a big boy game for the center who moved up to the second line with Beleskey and Loui Eriksson with Krejci out. He set the tone early with solid defensive play in his own end and an underrated blind pass to Beleskey that sprang a breakout and key scoring chance. He assisted on Bergeron’s goal, then later set up Beleskey’s second tally with some superb work along the wall to shake a defender and get the puck to his linemate. Spooner does not get enough credit for his genuine desire to improve and be a part of his team’s success. Tonight, he sent a key message to Claude Julien and the Boston coaching staff- he wants to be a top-two line center in this league and against his hometown team, he looked like one in his season-best 17:02 (in regulation games) of ice time.
Max Talbot- I have long enjoyed covering him when he was on other teams, and he was an easy whipping boy for fans as his best years are behind him. Tonight, Talbot played like he did when he was in his prime with the Penguins and a major piece to their 2009 Stanley Cup championship squad. He’s limited, but no one will ever question his heart or effort. Tonight, he was the yin to Hayes’ yang and made that fourth line one effective unit. Credit where it is due, folks.
Tuukka Rask- He was victimized on the Hoffman goal, but Rask came up big numerous times to keep his team ahead before they gave him the offensive support to make it a laugher.He’s in the zone- Rask deserved a better fate Sunday, but he got his 14th win of the season by maintaining his focus, tracking the puck well, and making some controlled saves at crunch time. With Rask playing like this, the B’s are in every game.
Torey Krug- You could see how much the B’s missed Krug in the final period of the Buffalo loss and the entire Sunday Ottawa game just by the way he was motoring up and down the ice and pushing the pace. You could also tell how fired up he was to be back in the lineup. This was vintage Krug- making things happen with a pair of assists to reach the 100-point milestone in his young NHL career, while also playing a strong all-around game to help stabilize the defense. The team desperately needs him to keep up the two-way contributions going forward.
Zdeno Chara- Even at 38, he’s still an effective defenseman and tonight he showed it, playing with some snarl and a heaviness to his game that made it tough for Ottawa to get much going in the Boston end. He’s still making some dangerous passes, especially when on the power play, but he played a smart, focused game tonight. He imposed his will physically on Borowiecki, who wanted no part of Chara once the captain started slinging him around like a sack of potatoes. Chara could have punched him in the face when he had him down but didn’t. That not only showed respect for an opponent who probably didn’t deserve a whole lot given how Borowiecki took advantage of Hayes the other night after steamrolling Frank Vatrano, but also demonstrated restraint by not taking an extra penalty in a close game.
Brad Marchand- There aren’t many downs to this game, but his low-bridge on Borowiecki could draw supplemental discipline. If the NHL suspends him for the Winter Classic (and they could given his past transgressions), that will put the Bruins behind the eight-ball for sure. On a night he was wearing the ‘A’ for the first time in his big league career, he also took an undisciplined slashing (it was more like spearing) penalty on Kyle Turris in front of the Boston net when the game was still 4-3. He’s been such a good player this season, but Marchand has to know where the edge is and not skate over it.
It’s onto Foxboro and the Winter Classic against the Montreal Canadiens. You can bet these Bruins will be ready to go.