BOSTON – This was the night a slow start was going to finally catch up with the Bruins.
In their amazing 20-3-5 start to the season, they had never trailed by three goals at any point in any game.
That is, until Alex Debrincat scored 17 seconds into the third period to make it 3-0. It appeared for all the world that the Bruins would lose their first game in regulation at home this season in 17 outings.
The Bruins had not lost a game in regulation on home ice since Game 7 against St. Louis on June 12. They opened their home slate with at least a point in 16 straight games. That was the club’s best mark to open a season at home since the 1973-74 Bruins of Orr and Espo opened 19-0-2.
The Bruins valiantly fought back from a 3-0 third period hole they dug for themselves but lost, 4-3, in overtime on a Jonathan Toews breakaway goal 54 seconds in, as David Pastrnak was knocked to the ice and no penalty was called. But the takeaway was early deficit again and the ability of this Bruins team to constantly fight back on the ice and the scoreboard.
“We’ve been addressing that for a month now, to be honest with you. When we do video, we’re talking about cleaning up our game,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “I’ve said it, and I’ll say it again tonight: We’re not at 60 minutes. Our guys know that. We talk to them. Complacency? I would say no. Lack of urgency some nights? I would say yes. We’re not pushing as hard as we need to to get to our level.
“Is that because of where we are, is that because of last year, is that because we feel like we’re a good enough team that we can flip a switch? Probably bits and pieces of all those things, I’m not going to deny it. Our job is to make sure we don’t get complacent. I don’t think we have been, to be honest with you. I think it would show in our record if we were. But, lack of urgency from period to period, absolutely. We’re going to continue to address it, but to get to your level 82 times a night for 60 games, if you feel you’re better than – you’re going to be in that second season, it is a challenge for a coach, and it’s a challenge for the players, but we’ll need it.”
At some point, the desperation tank reaches empty – even when you’re as talented as these Bruins.
But that point was not Thursday. The Bruins would get one back two minutes later when Joakim Nordstrom put back a David Backes shot. And there was a pulse.
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) December 6, 2019
While they were generating chances, they couldn’t beat Hawks goalie Robin Lehner over the next 14 minutes. When Charlie Coyle took a roughing minor at 13:40, the prospects grew dimmer for a continuing the home point streak.
As penalty time was running down, Chris Wagner scored a short-handed goal. Two minutes and 26 seconds later Torey Krug broke in and scored the equalizer and the Garden erupted. The Bruins had done it again, thanks to a little inspiration from a player who was remarkably making his season debut.
John Moore, who spent the first 27 games sidelined due to offseason shoulder surgery, hung in there for 21 shifts and 16 minutes of ice time. But his biggest contribution wasn’t on the stat sheet. He watched as Zack Smith ran at David Pastrnak with the Blackhawks leading 3-1.
Moore challenged Smith but the bout didn’t last long. Smith landed a right cross that sent him down the tunnel for a brief while to get his head and surgically repaired shoulder examined. He came back to the bench minutes later and would return to the game.
“I didn’t like the hit. I saw it and thought it had to be addressed,” Moore said. “Maybe in my first game after shoulder surgery it’s not the best time but that’s just the way I am. I just felt it needed to be addressed there.”
The wins are great for these Bruins right now but an overtime loss like Thursday night can not only serve as a reminder about intensity and playing with a purpose but unify a dressing room. There’s a distinct feeling that’s what Moore’s hit did midway through the third.
“You can’t say enough about him, right? Here he is, coming off of shoulder surgery and obviously it’s a reaction thing,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy told me. “He’s not thinking about anything other than protecting his teammates. So that just tells you all you need to know about his character. Probably not the perfect guy in that situation coming off that injury, but good for him. He’ll earn a lot of respect in that locker room that he already had, but now even more.”
It’s fairly obvious now that teams like Chicago Thursday and Carolina Tuesday are taking runs at David Pastrnak. That’s why the Bruins took such exception with Smith’s high.
“Well, we try to be physical. I don’t think that’s ever been a trait that’s not in our room. Some games, it doesn’t work out that way,” Cassidy said. “It seemed like there wasn’t a lot there tonight. You end up on the power play, so some of the guys who do establish that, they’re not on the ice.
“They don’t get into a rhythm. Chicago is the type of team, they’re a little more of a transition-rush-oriented game, so they kind of dragged us into their style of play more than we wanted to drag them into our style, and I think that’s why they got the lead. So, shame on us for that. We feel we can still win those types of games, but we’re a much better team against Chicago if they play our way where it’s below the top of the circle cycle. They got their way more than us, so in that sense, credit to them. Other than that, I’d like to think we’ll be physical when we need to be, and tonight wasn’t there as much as we’d like.”
The game took an unfortunate twist of fate at the end when Pastrnak was taken down just 45 seconds into overtime. Instead of going to the box, Jonathan Toews was off to the races and beat Tuukka Rask for the game winning goal just 54 seconds into the extra period. Targeted or not, bad call or not, the Bruins for a rare occasion this season could not account for the numerous factors working against them Thursday.
“We’ve left some plays on the table out there that we’ve kind of game-planned before and maybe forced plays. But these are high-end players that make things happen, so you want to let them play their way out of it, so I think that feeds into part of it. They’re used to getting their looks. We’re spending a lot of our time going back on windsprints, going back into our end and going back down the ice again.
“I think teams are just recognizing that, listen, these are the leading scorers in the league. You’ve got to pay a little more attention to them. It’s going to happen in Edmonton with their two guys, happened last night in Ottawa. I mean it’s going to happen, and we’ll have to find ways to fight through it and I’ll have to find ways to get them away from certain matchups if I feel that’s what it is. But I just think it’s a general thing with them right now in terms of limiting their opportunities. But other guys picked it up for us tonight, and that’s kind of what we needed. It makes us a good team.”
The unity was there Thursday night, but just not the two points.