BOSTON – The biggest moment for the Bruins Thursday night came with about three minutes left in the second period.
Torey Krug and Penguins right wing Patric Hornqvist were finishing up matching roughing minors in the penalty box. They came out and went at it again. This time, for real. The two took part in a rare knock-down, drag out fight, rare because fighting is on the decline in today’s NHL.
But this fight, ending with Krug taking Hornqvist to the ice in a TKO, prompted a raucous ovation from the sellout crowd that was treated to a Sidney Crosby goal just 24 seconds into the game.
The Bruins had to show some fight Thursday night. And they did.
Both figuratively and literally, from the moment the puck dropped, the Bruins showed finally showed off their muscle in a 4-1 win over the Penguins at TD Garden.
“Tonight, obviously got scored on early, that can deflate a team,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Stuck with it. Power plays early — usually if you don’t score, it gives the other team some momentum as well. We played through some of the stuff that we didn’t do well early, and I liked our effort.
“I thought we checked really well against a good offensive team, managed the puck well, got over people. In that part of the game I thought we were hard to play against in terms of solid defending. I thought we stuck together physically, tried to play the body when we were supposed to and stuck up for one another if anything happened. Dropped the mitts once, because sometimes that’s going to happen. So, good response.”
It was a black and blue week for the image of the Black and Gold. Ever since the team’s squandering of a 5-2 lead in Philadelphia Monday and its lukewarm reaction to Emil Bemstrom taking out Tuukka Rask with an elbow in the opening two minutes Tuesday, the team has been in a trance.
That Bemstrom hit was why Rask was in a suit with his wife and two kids in front of the Bruins bench before Thursday’s game, accepting a replica Metallica drum set and a video tribute celebrating his 500th career game, and not in uniform starting.
“So I think we’ve tried to balance it, but if it’s out there, people have the right to say it,” Cassidy said at the Thursday morning skate. “I believe in this room, if anything happens the guys will be together. I think the incident the other night (in Columbus), to be perfectly honest with you, nobody knew what the hell happened at first.
“Maybe Brandon (Carlo) because he was near the player. And then we addressed it between periods. And like I said a couple guys tried to engage it. Now if we want to go back and talk about other teams and how they’re built. I think there are teams that are less physical than us. I think there’s a few that are more, so we’re trying to be the best of both worlds with our roster and we’ll see where it leads us.”
On Thursday, it started with a Metallica drum set for Tuukka Rask and led right to Torey Krug.
Following the Crosby goal that beat Jaro Halak to the glove side 24 seconds in, the Bruins showed they were willing to not just fight for one another but support each other on the ice. The hard (and clean) neutral zone play on the Penguins led to Pittsburgh take a pair of early penalties that led to power play momentum. That momentum eventually led to goals from Sean Kuraly to tie it and Par Lindholm to give Boston a 2-1 lead after the first. There was no scoring but plenty of action in the second period, highlighted by the Krug-Hornqvist encounter that led to matching roughing minors and then their fight with three minutes left in the second.
“It started with what he felt was a crosscheck to Grizz [Matt Grzelcyk] right in front of our bench,” Cassidy said of Krug’s willingness to engage with Hornqvist. “it’s one of the reasons [David] Krejci is out of the lineup is some of those things get carried over, so he responded. I thought Wagner and those guys did a good job early on drawing some penalties and being physical, trying to establish their type of game.”
But that wasn’t all. Halak, who suffered through some inconsistent play in Philadelphia and Columbus, stood tall late in the second as the Bruins were on the power play. Pittsburgh had a 2-on-none break and Halak made three point blank saves before another close in save in the closing 30 seconds. Everyone in black and gold was doing the dirty work Thursday, including their goalie filling in for the injured Rask.
That set the stage for Patrice Bergeron netting his 20th goal for a seventh straight season in the third, giving Boston a 3-1 lead.
— Boston Bruins on CLNS (@BruinsCLNS) January 17, 2020
“I think there’s different things that creep in after a successful run,” Cassidy said. “One of them is expectations; one of them is, well ok, I’ve kind of made it now a little farther, pass some of the grunt work on to the next guy, so you know, we have to remind ourselves what we are to be grateful to be around this group, to be privileged to wear the sweater, some of these things that you get away from a little bit and all of sudden realize, hey let’s get back to it. We’ve got a good group in here; we’ve got a chance again.
“We’re a good team. Let’s play like it. Let’s get back at it. So, there’s a little bit of that reminding – to go to that question earlier about pulling it out of them – there’s different ways you can do it. So, whether that happens on the road or today, it could be the start of something for us, but it’s up to us now to remind them, and it’s up to them to accept what happened tonight in that positive manner.”
Krug was not alone Thursday. Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo were throwing around their bodies in the first period. So too was Charlie Coyle, Chris Wagner and Sean Kuraly.
“All of a sudden, they’re coming in to defend their teammate, now we’re on the power play, so there’s a little bit more of that going on, a little bit – whatever that saying was; arrive and arrive in an ornery mood,” Cassidy said. “Was that Fred Shero; was that his line years ago? I think it was, right? Something to that effect, and I thought they did a good job of doing that tonight. Torey answered the bell. They could’ve settled it in the box, but clearly, they wanted to finish it. That, to me, is good old-fashioned hockey, and Torey being the smaller man, held his own and I thought he won the bout personally. But I think it’s good for the group, real good for the group to show that we’re going to push back.”
The key is to not stop now.