Credit Bruce Cassidy for winning round one in his first visit with the Boston Bruins after an emotional tribute video, an ovation from the home fans and ultimately a shootout victory in Boston where both hockey teams played well.
But give equal plaudits, attaboys and stick taps to the Boston Bruins players that ostensibly had something to prove in Sunday night’s 3-1 win for the Bruins over the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena, a victory that handed Boston a winning road trip and did exactly that while washing away the bitter aftertaste of a disappointing loss in Arizona a couple of days prior.
“[Coach Jim Montgomery] said [at Saturday’s practice] that we want to win every series against every team this year, and for us to do that, we had to get a regulation win tonight,” said Taylor Hall, following Sunday night’s win in Vegas. “It’s a really good road win and a good way to end our road trip.”
It’s a win that also keeps them ahead of everybody else atop the NHL standings even as they were intent on settling all family business on the Sunset Strip on Sunday night. Because it seemed like all of those in Black and Gold with grievances showed up with something extra for their former head coach, fair or unfair.
Probably the most obvious and notable was Jake DeBrusk, who famously requested a trade last season that was rescinded once Cassidy was fired in Boston. DeBrusk admitted last week prior to the first meeting with Cassidy in Boston that players were “happy with the different feel and vibe” to this year’s team while off to a rollicking 22-4-1 start.
Then on Sunday night he played with physicality, energy and inexhaustible speed that finally turned into the game-winning goal in the third period as the Bruins and Golden Knights battled in another close hockey game. It was a beautiful play where all three forwards touched the puck in the offensive zone and Pavel Zacha, playing some excellent center with David Krejci out of the lineup, lofted a perfect sauce pass of a diving Vegas defender to DeBrusk ready to tap it in at the post.
Jake DeBrusk gives Boston the lead.
Great set-up from Pavel Zacha. pic.twitter.com/d6u45STEe9
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) December 12, 2022
DeBrusk didn’t deny the emotion he was feeling afterward.
"It was pure emotion and yeah felt really good"
— NESN (@NESN) December 12, 2022
“We’re very fortunate. We’ve got a lot of guys that can play different positions. We’ve got some guys that can play all three,” said Montgomery, of putting those three forwards together in the third period when the Boston Bruins needed a goal. “That allows you to see who’s going and put those guys together and hopefully things happen. That did tonight.
“Sometimes, you just get that feel that it’s gonna be a tight game. If you think you have the best players, you should put them together and let them win it for you…when Krejci’s not there, it’s a little easier to make that switch at times. I did it in New York. That line – that was in the back of my mind – of Zacha, Hall, and DeBrusk scored a great goal in New York.”
Once again, a decision by the Boston Bruins coaching staff made on gut instinct and feeling based on how things have played out this season worked out perfectly in the execution. That kind of in-game adjustment has been a new wrinkle that’s worked well with this season’s Boston Bruins group.
It was the end of a strong night where DeBrusk had five shot attempts, a season-high six registered hits and a plus-1 from the game-winner when it was all said and done. The show of emotion from DeBrusk after the puck was in the net kind of gave away just how meaningful it was for the winger against a head coach that he didn’t always see eye-to-eye with over the last five years.
But it was more than DeBrusk.
It was about Connor Clifton throwing his body around for seven hits of his own, part of a physical effort where the Boston Bruins outhit the Golden Knights by a 45-26 margin.
— Adam Kampy (@Kamppyy) December 12, 2022
Or the insurance goal in the third period where Boston Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery had perhaps instinctively put together three forwards that had varying levels of beef with Cassidy, Charlie Coyle, Nick Foligno and Trent Frederic, and watched as all three power forwards pounded the Golden Knights into submission with puck possession prior to Coyle finally burying the shot.
It’s been amazing to watch all three forwards enjoy big time seasons this year under a different system and a different coaching staff, and it all came together in those final minutes in Vegas where they iced the game.
Coyle is on pace for 24 goals this season while playing his typically strong two-way game at center, Foligno is on pace for a solid 15 goals and 43 points and the 24-year-old Trent Frederic is playing with confidence in his entire game like he’s never had before. Frederic is on pace for 18 goals and 33 points, which is amazingly the offensive production he’s put up in his entire NHL career with well over 100 games to his resume at this point.
But on Sunday night it looked like all three forwards were working toward a common goal of getting two points against the Golden Knights and doing it while perhaps making a point to a coach that certainly challenged them, both publicly and behind closed doors, over the last few seasons.
Charlie Coyle cashes in. Great puck-possession shift from Coyle, Frederic and Foligno.
3-1 Bruins. pic.twitter.com/j3F7p96j5t
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) December 12, 2022
The play on the ice spoke volumes once it was all decided in Vegas.
“We played with a lot of different guys. [Jim Montgomery] switches the lines a lot, so you’ve got to be ready for anything,” said Hall. “It’s good for us. No matter what line you’re playing on you’ve got to play well and it’s the same system for everybody.
“I feel like I have freedom to play and make mistakes. I wasn’t perfect tonight by any means. That freedom to make mistakes allows me to play a little loose and have some creativity, and ultimately it frees me up mentally to go after them with my skating and with my playmaking. It’s a good feeling to contribute, but it’s a nice feeling to have my speed, and my puck-carrying to be carrying the puck a lot.”
Of course, the goaltending has been a big part of the storyline for the Boston Bruins this season and it was on Sunday night with Linus Ullmark stopping 30-of-31 shots while completely shutting down the Golden Knights at every turn. Ullmark still has a stranglehold on the NHL goalie triple crown with 16 wins, a 1.78 goals against average and a .941 save percentage that should be garnering tons of Vezina Trophy hype at this point.
“[Ullmark is] such a stud. I just told him that,” said Hall. “It’s awesome playing in front of him. He makes us feel comfortable. He makes saves look easy. It’s a fun goalie to play in front of.”
There will be plenty of time this season to break down why so many Boston Bruins players are having their finest NHL seasons this year. Some of it is about the different voice giving out the marching orders this season and many of those improved Boston Bruins players illustrated that quite clearly in Sunday night’s emotional win in Vegas.