The Bruins fell behind just 24 seconds into the game on Thursday night. On the heels of a 5-2 blown lead on Monday and a 3-0 shutout in Columbus on Tuesday, many thought the club would fold and call it a night. Instead, the Bruins showed some serious moxy as they topped the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-1 at TD Garden.
Many were upset that the Bruins did not respond when Tuukka Rask left the game just 1:12 in on Tuesday. There was no retribution on Emil Bemstrom, and the club folded in their 3-0 loss. Thursday night was completely different, as the Bruins were physical and at times dominated this game against a very good Penguins team.
Halak Steps Up
Crosby’s goal just 24 seconds into the game is one that you want your goaltender to make. Halak knew it, you knew it, I knew it. Sometimes that happens. The important thing? Not giving up that next goal and slamming the door shut. That is exactly what Halak did, making 29 saves on his way to win number eleven on the season.
Halak’s finest moment came at the end of the second period. With the Bruins up 2-1 and on the powerplay, a sloppy turnover led to a two-on-one for the Penguins. Halak made the initial save, then three more in a wild final few seconds. That allowed the Bruins to get to the room up a goal. They calmed down and shut the Penguins down in the final period.
Jaroslav Halak made the first save. The second.
And the third.
And the fourth. pic.twitter.com/1M0nqY0pcs
— Evan Marinofsky (@emarinofsky) January 17, 2020
The Bruins don’t collect two points without that sequence by Halak. With Tuukka Rask on the injured reserve with a concussion, the club will need Halak to play good hockey for the next few weeks. On Thursday night, Halak played his best game in awhile. The veteran stepped up when he needed to, and the Bruins are back in the win column as a result.
Physical Answer Finally Given
The Bruins came under a lot of fire for not standing up for Rask on Tuesday night. Bemstrom never had to answer for his dirty elbow, and quite frankly the Bruins seemed to sag rather than get angry and get even. Tonight? The Bruins looked like a team that was trying to right a wrong.
Unfortunately for Patric Hornqvist, he was on the receiving end of that frustration. Hornqvist got under the Bruins skin early and often with some big hits, including a number of crosschecks on Bruins forwards. Finally, Torey Krug had enough.
Krug dropped the gloves with Hornqvist and sent a message that the Bruins are not to be messed with. Hornqvist received it loud and clear too. The power forward got fed a steady diet of right fists from Krug in their second confrontation of the evening.
Krug, known as a more skill and finesse player, proved a major point on Thursday night. You cannot come into TD Garden and push these Bruins around. Yes, the win is important, but that message might be even more important.
Torey Krug is a tough guy pic.twitter.com/qrNWbTvToO
— Evan Marinofsky (@emarinofsky) January 17, 2020
Karson Kuhlman played his first NHL game since October 19th tonight. You wouldn’t know it. Kuhlman picked up two assists, saw some time on the penalty kill and provided the Bruins with some extra speed and skill in the lineup. Kuhlman looked a lot like the player who provided some key depth minutes in last year’s playoffs.
After a four game rehab stint in Providence, Kuhlman certainly looks like he is ready to return to regular NHL action. Considering the club acknowledged that the Brett Ritchie experiment was a failure, Kuhlman taking an NHL roster spot is a nice development.
He looked strong tonight, and likely earned another game on Sunday in Pittsburgh.
In the end, Kuhlman played 7:01 at five-on-five and finished with two assists and a 55.56% Corsi For percentage. All stats via Natural Stat Trick.
Calm, Cool and Collected
When Crosby scored 24 seconds into the game, many people thought that the Bruins were in for a long night at TD Garden. It was just the opposite. The Bruins scored twice in 2:13 to tie the game and take the lead, taking over the game for stretches at a time.
Sean Kuraly evened the game before Par Lindholm made it 2-1 Bruins at 12:16 of the first period. Combine that with Krug’s physical message and Halak’s solid play and you get a pretty good effort against a solid Penguins team.
It would have been easy for this Bruins team to back down. They instead dug in, got to work and earned two points. That hasn’t always been the case in the last month. It was on Thursday night at the Garden. What we saw Thursday was the Bruins identity. It was a hard effort and gritty performance against a team that, quite frankly, is quicker and has more skill. It didn’t matter.
This is the Bruins identity. It was important to see that on display against an elite team that will likely stand in the Bruins way this spring. It was a good sign after a string of lackluster efforts.
McAvoy Dominates Possession
One player who stood out tonight was Charlie McAvoy. The young superstar defenseman logged 13:40 of five-on-five ice time on Thursday night, playing 20:51 overall. McAvoy’s possession number matches the eye, he was dominant on this night.
McAvoy held a 66.67% Corsi For at five-on-five, while the Bruins and Penguins were even in shots on goal with six each. McAvoy provided a bit of a physical presence as well. He was an all-around problem for the Penguins.
If McAvoy can dominate possession at five-on-five and control play, that makes the Bruins an extremely tough out in the spring. The Penguins do not have a defenseman that can match McAvoy’s potential. If he plays like he did on Thursday, the Bruins are in business. He was, to my eye, the best defenseman on either side on this night.
It hasn’t always been pretty this season for McAvoy. It certainly was on Thursday.