The critical focus for Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney after missing out on John Tavares last July was to address the depth issues that plagued his roster in their second-round loss to Tampa Bay last spring. Sweeney signed backup goalie Jaroslav Halak, depth defender John Moore and secondary scorer Chris Wagner to contracts in free agency, then acquired forwards Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson during the NHL deadline season to bolster his bottom-six forward group.
On Thursday night, that group of players combined to deliver the Bruins a 5-2 victory in Game 1 of the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals. Both Johansson and Wagner scored in the third period, which was dominated by the home side. Johansson’s goal, a powerplay marker, tied the game for Boston and gave the Garden the life it needed. After that, it was all Bruins en route to clinching the ice breaking victory.
“Well, the goal, he got to the net for a second chance. We didn’t feel it earlier in our powerplay” said Bruce Cassidy when asked of Johansson’s play post-game. “He’s our net-front guy. We like him on the goal line to making plays, but sometimes you have to be taking away the goalie’s eyes or getting ready for a rebound” continued Boston’s bench boss, “He did a good job there, paid the price.”
It had to feel good for Johansson. He was acquired from New Jersey at the trade deadline after he dealt with concussion issues last year. Many in Boston were quick to call the forward “marshmallow soft,” questioning his desire and ability to play a physical game. Last night, Johansson was noticeable in all the tough areas and was rewarded with a massive goal that swung momentum in Boston’s favor.
He’s not the only depth piece that stepped up for the Bruins last night. Chris Wager scored a beautiful goal to put Boston up 5-2 in the final minutes, sealing the deal for the B’s. Wagner’s goal was a nice touch, but the Walpole native has provided the Bruins with consistently strong two-way play all season long when healthy. He was strong for Boston last night, and I believe he is starting to pick up steam after entering the playoffs injured.
Cassidy seems to agree with that thought process, admitting that Wagner is finding his way. “Well, Chris found his rhythm, offensively, second half of the year” began Cassidy, adding “But tonight, I think he had five or six or seven shots. He’s played, now, consecutive games, so part of that’s on the staff, me to make sure that we build his confidence.” Wagner certainly looked confident last night and is starting to play a big role on an increasingly important Bruins’ fourth line.
Carolina’s biggest asset is their depth, but if the Bruins can match that with guys like Johansson and Wagner stepping up then this could be a quick series. They did just that last night, and as a result, the Bruins found their way to a Game 1 victory.