Connect with us

Boston Bruins

Colageo: Boqvist Slowly Speeds up Boston Bruins



Boston Bruins

I met Jesper Boqvist for the first time before the season at the Boston Bruins’ annual golf outing at the Pine Hills in Plymouth, Mass. He was tagging along with a much larger man named Hampus Lindholm. Had Hampus told me Boqvist was his teenage brother, I would have believed him.

This kid is going to play for the Bruins (I thought)? Six months later, Boqvist is playing his heart out to the point that Coach Jim Montgomery has designated him the center who will bring out the best in Jake DeBrusk.

It’ll be speed with speed on the third line.

Did you have Boqvist in your playoff top nine? Did you even have him wearing the “B” and not the “P” on his game sweater?

Both are fair questions, especially given how the 2023-24 season of centennial celebrations began, who made the NHL team, what the lines looked like, and the fact that the Boston Bruins roared to U.S. Thanksgiving at 14-1-3.

Their third and fourth lines for the Black Friday loss to Detroit: Matt Poitras between DeBrusk and Morgan Geekie, and Johnny Beecher between Jakub Lauko and Patrick Brown.

Not counting Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark, who evenly split the goaltending down the middle at 9 games each, any core players who did not appear in all 18 games were injured. Debrusk played 17 games, Charlie McAvoy and Derek Forbort 14 and Matt Grzelcyk 8.

Here’s where it gets interesting: Poitras and James van Riemsdyk are the only other Bruins to play in all 18 games before Thanksgiving. Kevin Shattenkirk played 15 of the first 18. Geekie played in 12, Lauko in 11, Danton Heinen and Oskar Steen in 10 each, Mason Lohrei in 9, Ian Mitchell in 8, Brown in 7, and Parker Wotherspoon in 6.

Boqvist played one of those games, skating 6:01 on Oct. 26.

Now he’s a top-niner, but he remembers quite well how it started so he’s not taking a selfie in the mirror to celebrate how it’s going.

“I’m just trying to stay in the moment and take it day by day,” said Boqvist minutes after beating Sergei Bobrovsky to give Boston a 3-2, overtime victory against Florida on Saturday at TD Garden. “It’s been a good week or so, I’ve just got to keep building it. … You’ve got to bring it every day just to keep up with these guys.”

The larger point here is Boston Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney’s preseason emphasis on the importance of depth.

I freely admit that I did not find Sweeney’s preseason collection of journeyman NHLers as compelling as I had the potential of, say, Georgii Merkulov.

Consistent with past practice, Sweeney set up several NHL-experienced players as hurdles for his homegrown prospects, perhaps wishing for an outcome that sometimes materializes. It certainly did for Justin Brazeau, who was not on my 2023-24 radar, but it still hasn’t for Merkulov or 2021 first-rounder Fabian Lysell.

A second-round pick of the New Jersey Devils in 2017, Boqvist was yet another outsider with some NHL games, but as one of many fast kids on a fast team, Boqvist was not given a qualifying offer and thusly became available to the Bruins.

Here we are at the end of the regular season, and the Boston Bruins look very different from the team that started 2023-24 better than they had 2022-23. Now that so much has happened and so many prospects have found their way into the NHL lineup, roster depth has taken on greater meaning.

This team is not unlike the one Sweeney broke into midway through the 1988-89 season as a rookie-pro defenseman out of Harvard University; 36 non-goalies played for the Bruins that season, only Randy Burridge in uniform for the entire 80-game schedule, and 15 of those skaters would not suit up for the playoffs.

Incidentally, GM Harry Sinden had established the goalie tandem of Reggie Lemelin and Andy Moog with the latter’s acquisition at ’88 trade deadline, and the 1988-89 season constituted an even split in workload and regular-season efficiency.

The Bruins went two rounds in the ’89 playoffs, giving up the first nine goals of their opening-round series to Buffalo before winning that best-of-seven in five games, then bowing out in five to the only Canadiens team ever to let an opponent carry the Stanley Cup out of the Montreal Forum.

While Lemelin had played 17 games of the 1988 playoff run to the newly acquired Moog’s seven, under coach Terry O’Reilly in ’89 Moog got six playoff starts to Lemelin’s four. Despite taking the tandem into the 1989-90 regular season, rookie coach Mike Milbury made Moog his goaltender of choice in the ’90 playoff run, giving him 20 starts to Lemelin’s three.

The Bruins’ only other expansion-era (1967-) tandems by design involved Hall of Famer Gerry Cheevers, who split the nets with Eddie Johnston from 1967-72 and with Gilles Gilbert after the former’s return from the World Hockey Association in 1976 (through the end of the decade).

If Linus Ullmark-Jeremy Swayman sounds a little like Cheevers-Johnston, Cheevers-Gilbert or Lemelin-Moog, it’s because it should.

Montgomery is often asked about his goaltending plan for the playoffs, and heretofore he’s sticking to his stock answer of being comfortable taking the tandem arrangement into the playoffs. But a closer listen has included the caveat that he’d also be fine letting a hot goalie run with the net.

Midseason 1988-89, Sweeney earned a spot on a roster that would see 36 skaters by the end of the season. With four games remaining in 2023-24, the Boston Bruins have dressed 30 skaters. Had Fabian Lysell not been injured, the belief here is that number would have been 31 by now.

Boqvist’s overtime goal that beat Florida and set off one of the louder roars this season at TD Garden does not prove his worth – that has already been established – but it served as rewarding moment toward the end of such a trying season.

His 6-8-14 scoring totals in 43 games are right down the middle of his NHL career, and Saturday’s heroics do not change that trajectory. But what Boqvist proves is that the NHL season is an arduous, six-month grind with ebbs and flows, spikes and plateaus, and all kinds of luck good and bad.

Six months later, what originally looked like an ineffectual free-agent signing has turned out to be one of Sweeney’s better ones.

Boqvist, whether or not he is standing in Lindholm’s shadow, officially goes 6-foot-1, 184 pounds. Unofficially, he is punching above his weight.

If Boqvist did not get your 7th Player Award vote, who did? I’ve heard several candidates put forth since the new year, and that alone is a testament to Sweeney’s pro-scouting team.

Others I would consider for “the player who performs above expectations” include: Charlie Coyle (I knew he’d be good, I didn’t know he’d be this good); Wotherspoon (buried in the Islanders’ AHL affiliate, the years learning under Brent Thompson have paid off); Heinen (can the Bruins keep him?); and David Pastrnak (the only Bruin ever to score 60 goals and not be named Phil Esposito has been bulls-eyed by the competition and has yet made himself a better player).

The Boston spin in the wake of the failure to trade Ullmark at the now month-old deadline has been that the Bruins have an advantage with two legitimate, No. 1 goaltenders. While this is technically true inasmuch as Ullmark (38GP) plays in a true tandem with Swayman (42GP), the Boston Bruins are not going to win a second straight Jennings Trophy for lowest team goals-against average.

Going into today’s action, the Bruins (2.62) ranked fifth behind Winnipeg (2.45), Florida (2.46), Los Angeles (2.54) and Carolina (2.57).

None of those teams with entrenched starters have burned them out because of excellent backup goaltending: Laurent Brossoit (13-5-2, 2.10 GAA, .925 SP); Anthony Stolarz (14-7-2, 2.12, .922); David Rittich (12-6-3, 2.21, .919).
Carolina starter Freddie Andersen is back after a significant absence, but in the interim the Hurricanes maintained their position in the chase for a top seed in the conference mainly thanks to the development of rookie Pyotr Kochetkov (21-13-4, 2.37, .910).

Question for Elias Sports Bureau: Has any team in the 21st century NHL (the 30-team era) ever made the Stanley Cup playoffs with a penalty kill as bad as the league-worst, 72.2% efficiency of this season’s N.Y. Islanders?

Awaiting confirmation from the Bruins alumni, we held last week’s news that former Boston Bruins winger Dave Forbes, whose wide-stance speed was used in a checking role, has passed away at age 75.

Forbes is most unfortunately remembered for his clash with North Stars winger Henry Boucha during the 1974-75 season in Bloomington, Minn. After the two fought, they exited the penalty box. Forbes’ hands came up, stick still in hand, resulting in a career-altering, eye injury to Boucha and prosecution in court. The Montreal native played four seasons for the Bruins before going to Washington in the 1977 waiver draft. Boucha, a Native American, passed away on Sept. 18, 2023.

Finally, I am not John Tortorella’s agent, but the emerging narrative that he pushed the envelope too hard and cost the Philadelphia Flyers a playoff spot is straight out of participation-trophy land. Tortorella saw the writing on the wall and tried to save a team that had hit a wall. Shame for them a season of significant progress won’t yield a valuable postseason experience. Jack Adams should be proud.

Copyright ©2023 National Hockey Now and Boston Hockey Now. Not affiliated with the Boston Bruins or the NHL.