The Bruins had hit rock bottom.
Roughly seven minutes into the third period, Charlie McAvoy skated the puck down the wall and drove hard to the net. He threw it towards James Reimer as he flew past him in the air, leaving the puck loose in the crease. After a couple of digs at it, Brad Marchand got an open shot just inches from the goal line.
Reimer’s leg lay stretched out, stopping Marchand’s attempt at the Bruins first goal of the night and first non-empty net, 5v5 goal since Game 1. Yet another high-danger chance not capitalized on.
But just moments later, Jake DeBrusk poked the puck past Haydn Fleury, zipped past him, deked around Reimer who’d left his net and took flight, depositing the puck in the empty net.
It was a huge goal for DeBrusk who came to embody every scoring trouble the Bruins had with the Hurricanes up until that point — lots of chances, no goals and a few missed open nets.
Agitation turned jubilation in a single sequence.
“After that first one we start to roll and we got a ton of life,” Marchand said of DeBrusk’s goal. “Any time you have life, it’s a dangerous thing, you can feed off it. Again, especially with our group, the way that we play and the emotion and character that we have, it’s when we’re at our best.”
The Bruins certainly fed off it.
A few plays later, Jordan Staal began skating the puck out of his own zone when Charlie McAvoy — channeling his inner Niklas Kronwall — led with his backside and drilled the Carolina veteran, sending him to the ice and eventually down the tunnel.
McAvoy laid out Carolina’s best shutdown center. Because of the hit, Staal never returned, opening up Boston’s offense in the Hurricanes’ zone.
“You have to be able to create your own energy on the bench and going into that third period and obviously you’re down two and the game hadn’t really been in our favor,” McAvoy said of his hit. “We had some chances and stuff but we were looking to create some energy and that was kind of the message – that we weren’t out of it. It was opportunity to step up and make a hit, try and separate a man from the puck.”
McAvoy didn’t just separate Staal from the puck — he separated the Hurricanes from any chance at holding onto their lead.
DeBrusk didn’t even see the hit and still felt the energy from it.
“I didn’t actually see the hit live, but like you said, the reaction of the bench,” DeBrusk said of McAvoy’s thump. “Anytime – it’s so weird without fans, to be honest with you. Anytime there’s a big play or a good scoring chance, the only way you know is by the bench reaction. Obviously, it was a big hit and it was a good moment for us. That’s when we’re coming hard.”
To say the Bruins came hard at the Hurricanes would be like saying David Ortiz kind of liked hitting big home runs — it’s a massive understatement. When the third period was all said and done at 5v5, the Bruins outshot the Hurricanes 15-0 and out-chanced them 26-4.
What came in between the DeBrusk hit and the final buzzer was nothing short of an onslaught.
Roughly three minutes later, Boston’s fourth line was in the midst of yet another productive shift in the offensive zone. As they cycled the puck behind Reimer’s net, Connor Clifton snuck in from the blue line just as Joakim Nordstrom rounded the net. The two connected on the same play Dougie Hamilton scored the game-winner on in Game 2.
The play also included the same result.
“The other thing we challenged the D with after the first period was to be more involved offensively in terms of helping create offense and get your shot through and work in the offensive blue line well,” Bruce Cassidy said. “So Cliffy, he wanted to let the coaching staff, and myself personally, that he can do it and they can get the job done, so I was very happy for him.”
The work of the fourth line and the missile that was Clifton’s goal showcased how much the Bruins had been buzzing ever since DeBrusk’s goal and McAvoy’s game-changing hit.
Momentum didn’t stop there. Next came the impressive passing plays.
First there was Torey Krug’s perfect dish along the neutral zone boards to Brad Marchand for a breakaway goal. Then there was the second line doing the old tic-tac-toe routine that finished with DeBrusk, well, finishing.
Two goals in one night for the kid who couldn’t have bought a goal if they were free in the previous 11 periods.
“He kind of thrives when he gets a goal, gets a bounce,” Marchand said of DeBrusk. “He feeds off of that and gets a ton of confidence. That’s when he’s at his best.”
Ultimately, DeBrusk scoring Boston’s first goal of the night, as well as McAvoy’s crushing blow to the ‘Canes’ lineup, helped lead the Bruins back from what looked like a sure loss.
It also may have turned the entire series in the Bruins’ favor.
Through the first two periods of Game 4, it looked as if all the momentum generated from Boston’s gutsy Game 3 win had floated over to the opposing bench. Jaroslav Halak had let in two soft goals and didn’t seem to be doing the Bruins any favors between the pipes. At the other end, the Bruins couldn’t dream of finishing a 5v5 chance.
The scoring looked to be dried up without David Pastrnak. The goaltending looked to have gone sour without Tuukka Rask.
But then DeBrusk flew and McAvoy crunched and all seemed to be right in Boston’s world once again.
They won the game 4-3, and now lead the series 3-1.
And after that third period, it’s hard to imagine the Hurricanes making a comeback of their own.