The Bruins knew their young defense would have growing pains. They hoped this season wouldn’t produce too many nights like Tuesday, where they’d be forced to outscore their issues.
Good news: “We have that card,” Charlie Coyle said. “We can play it.”
In a wild, high-event affair, Coyle and David Pastrnak scored in the shootout to lift the Bruins to a 5-4 win, their first over the Devils this season.
Giveaways, sloppiness on the breakout and lack of attention to detail by the Bruins (18-9-5) helped the visitors build a pair of two-goal leads, but a pair of third-period strikes from BU buddies Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk tied the score, the latter coming with 4:00 left.
They picked their spots, McAvoy pinching for a putback off a Craig Smith shot, and Grzelcyk firing quickly off a faceoff. They were needed, given the state of the rest of the defense.
Brandon Carlo was returning from a 25-day concussion layoff and played well, but two Jeremy Lauzon giveaways led directly to a pair of goals. Jakub Zboril continued his jittery play. Connor Clifton didn’t tie up Travis Zajac on a deflection in front.
Not only that, the young fourth line (Anton Blidh, Trent Frederic and Karson Kuhlman) was lost in the wash on a second-period goal by Michael McLeod. More disappointingly, they failed to deliver the energy shift the Bruins clearly needed for much of the first 20-30 minutes. Brad Marchand, returning from a three-day stint on the COVID list, was up to the task.
The Bruins down, 3-1, midway through the second, the star winger had enough.
He got hot at Ty Smith, tossing the defenseman’s helmet after a scrum in front of Devils netminder Mackenzie Blackwood. He took a seat for roughing. He was back there again a few minutes later for the same reason, along with Jesper Bratt after the two traded shots, dropped the gloves, and tossed each other to the ice. Referees Garret Rank and Dan O’Rourke interpreted it as a wrestling match.
The Bruins were fortunate they did. The Bruins had a power play after David Krejci drew a slash at 14:07. Marchand reloaded, took a cross-ice feed from Bergeron and ripped it blocker side.
“When we compete and we’re hard on pucks, we’re direct, and we play together, we’re a tough team to play,” said Marchand, who boosted his line to a team-best 13-23—36. “We completely took over that game. We can do that for a full 60. It’s got to start somewhere.”
The Bruins gave it right back in the moments after, Lauzon taking a faceoff win and trying to hit Pastrnak across the ice. He put it on the tape of Bruins killer Kyle Palmieri, who potted his fifth goal in six games (5-1—6) against Boston this season.
McAvoy and Grzelcyk got it back to even. After a rip-roaring OT, a pair of patient cutback shootout moves from Coyle and Pastrnak, and the fine work of Jaroslav Halak (31 saves) let 2,191 fans leave without seeing yet another loss to sixth-place New Jersey (13-16-5, and 4-0-1 against Boston).
Blackwood, off his 40-save shutout on Sunday, proved he was human. But he stopped one-time bombs from Pastrnak and Craig Smith in the final minute of regulation, each from 29 feet out. His teammate, Bratt, batted away a would-be winner in overtime.
“It’s nice when you can learn some lessons and get two points,” said coach Bruce Cassidy, who called out Lauzon, Clifton, Zboril, Senyshyn, Frederic, and Blidh during the second intermission for not doing enough to spark the team. This may be a wake-up call for most of them, playing because more proven players are either injured (Kevan Miller), on the COVID list (Jake DeBrusk, Sean Kuraly) or scratched (Chris Wagner, Jarred Tinordi).
“You hope the rest of their game grows, in terms of their execution, just with time and a little bit of confidence knowing that they’re staying in the lineup,” Cassidy said. “We got through it. I’m not sure it’s going to work against Pittsburgh [on Thursday and Saturday].”
It was back and forth for most of the night. The Bruins produced a season-high 48 shots, allowing 35. They surrendered four goals in regulation for the first time in two weeks. Part of the reason: Cassidy said the defense’s first touch was “as poor as it’s been all season.” In the first period, P.K. Subban pounced on Lauzon’s slow roller into Bergeron’s feet, snapping it back down low for a Miles Wood goal at 1:28.
The Bruins tied it with some puck luck at 5:55, when Nick Ritchie’s heavy snapper from the right wing found a hole in Blackwood’s webbing. On the three of the game’s next four goals, they pumped lead into their own boots.
“You kind of learn to move on,” said Smith, 10 years and 692 games into his career. “Mistakes are going to happen. It’s not a perfect game. You can try to be as perfect as you want, but you drive yourself nuts if you get down on yourself. You try to stay loose and move on and learn.”