It was the first game of the season, and so the Bruins could be forgiven for looking a bit out of sorts. The chemistry wasn’t always there. The play wasn’t always tight. But there was one aspect of their game that appeared in midseason form: the penalty kill.
“Our PK probably allowed us to win this game tonight,” coach Claude Julien said after the Bruins had taken their season opener, 3-1, over Tampa Bay at TD Garden. “They’ve got some guys that can do some damage on the power play, and our guys did a great job of being in the right position, not overreacting.”
But it wasn’t just that the Bruins were able to kill off two lengthy 5-on-3 opportunities for the Lightning, dangerous situations against a team that features Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. They generated some of their best offensive chances when down a man.
That started with Chris Kelly — Julien called him “arguably our best player tonight” — drawing a penalty shot as Mark Barberio hooked him on a shorthanded breakaway. Kelly deked Lightning goaltender Anders Lindback, leaving him sprawled on the ice, then backhanded the puck to score on the first penalty shot of his career. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time in NHL history that a team scored its first goal of the season on a penalty shot.
“I try that move in practice, but Tuukka [Rask] doesn’t move,” Kelly said. “It ends up just going into this pads so it’s kind of deflating. But I was happy [Lindback] bit.”
It was the first time the Bruins had scored on a penalty shot in their season opener in the team’s history.
After Milan Lucic tallied the winner with one minute left in the second period, off a nice pass from David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron capped the scoring with another shorthanded goal, an unassisted shot that beat Lindback.
It was a proper response to the biggest ovation any player received during pregame introductions. “Bergy was Bergy,” Julien said. “He didn’t look like he missed a beat. He was back at being his reliable self, hard-working. He’s one of those guys that although he had a short summer, he put priorities in the right place.”
The prowess on the penalty kill started, of course, with Rask, who stopped 32 of 33 shots and looked to be back to his regular, outstanding form.
The Lightning so dominated early that, with two minutes to go in the second period, they led in shots, 22-11 .
Their goal was scored at 10:32 of the second at even strength by Valtteri Filppula. But on the penalty kill? Rask wasn’t budging.
“Your goaltender has to be your best penalty killer,” Kelly said. “I’ll say that again and again. Tuukka was outstanding when we needed him to [be].”
There were other encouraging signs from the Bruins, despite the disjointed play overall. Jordan Caron demonstrated what the Bruins brass has always hoped he could become, playing aggressively and well, with a number of good scoring chances. Caron had a goal waved off on a questionable call in the second period.
There was, too, Jarome Iginla’s introduction to Boston. After a smattering of boos greeted him in his introduction, the newcomer won over the crowd when he dropped the gloves with Radko Gudas, his first fight since taking on Nathan Horton last season.
Lucic said he later apologized for the “suicide pass” that led to the fight. But Iginla might not have minded getting a chance to endear himself to the home crowd. He did say that it wasn’t planned, adding, “I wasn’t planning on getting run over either. It was a feisty game.”
“One of the things that I always said that I kind of looked up to him [for] is he’s willing to stick up for himself in the right situations,” Lucic said. “You saw it there.”
The Bruins’ play improved as the game went on, culminating in a better third period.
“I think everybody looked a little tired,” Rask said. “We didn’t have our legs. Mentally we weren’t as sharp as usual.”
Except on the penalty kill.
“Five-on-five, we were right there with them,” St. Louis said. “I think our power play let us down tonight. Not in a million years, I thought, our power play would be the thing that would let us down tonight.”
But it did, and so the Bruins were able to grab their first game of the season.
“Great job by the penalty killers,” Lucic said. “Great job by Tuukka. They’re the biggest reason why we came out and won this game tonight.”
Added Julien, “Happy with the win. We know we’ve still got some work to do.”