A playoff crowd, shouting and waving yellow towels, greeted the Bruins at TD Garden for the first time in what seemed like forever.
The last time, to be exact, was June 12, 2019.
Hoping for a better night than that one, a 25 percent capacity crowd (4,565) started chanting “Let’s Go Bruins” before puck drop, as the players expected.
“It’s going to be great. There’s a lot of excitement,” defenseman Connor Clifton said before the Bruins’ 3-2 double overtime victory in Game 3. “I’m sure the guys are going to be buzzing, especially the first five [minutes]. It’s going to be good to hear those fans again.”
The banner captain, the fan selected to wave a Black and Gold flag for an inspirational reason, was “The Mighty Quinn” Waters, the 5-year-old cancer fighter from Charlie Coyle’s hometown of Weymouth. Waters, to great applause, gave a thumbs up as he waved.
According to his family’s Instagram account, Friends of the Mighty Quinn, he faces a second relapse of a brain tumor. But Wednesday, an MRI showed one of his tumors is “completely gone,” and the second one is “95% gone.”
“He’s still got a road ahead of him,” the post said, “but he tackled Heartbreak Hill without breaking a sweat!”
In part because of his friendship with the youngster, Coyle was named the Bruins’ King Clancy Memorial Trophy nominee Tuesday. Speaking about the honor before puck drop, Coyle tipped his cap to Bruins past and present.
“They set the standard here,” he said. “You try to follow suit and do the best you can and try to be a good person.”
He also thanked his parents, Theresa and Chuck, noting that he fully appreciates them now as an adult.
“You don’t realize it when you’re younger, but as you get older, you see the kind of people they are and what they did for you,” he said. “Not everyone has that.”
Clearly, the off-ice accolade meant something to them. Coyle said that in a call to reveal the news to his mother, she was “pretty teary-eyed right from the start.”
Tuukka takes issue
Don’t say Tuukka Rask is lacking fire in his belly.
It was Rask, looking like Tim Thomas, who took matters into his own hands when Garnet Hathaway knocked the netminder’s helmet off his head in the first period. The chippy Capital, downed after his drive to the net, absorbed four blocker jabs, as Clifton and Kevan Miller came to Rask’s defense.
“Just protecting myself,” said Rask of the play, which drew no penalties. “I’m not surprised it wasn’t a penalty. It’s going to take a lot for them to call anything. So I figured I’d let him know that if he comes close, I’ll give him a couple too many. That’s what the ref thought.”
Surprise starter in goal
Once again, Capitals coach Peter Laviolette didn’t reveal anything strategic in his pregame chat with reporters. The public didn’t know his netminder for Game 3 was Ilya Samsonov — the third starter in three games — until he skated onto the ice for warmup and began preparing his crease.
Significant players joined the Washington lineup (top-line center Evgeny Kuznetsov) and missed the game with injuries (Lars Eller), and all was revealed minutes before puck drop.
None of that mattered to Bruce Cassidy. Laviolette, the native son of Franklin, can be tight-lipped. Cassidy will remain an open book.
In his talks with the media, Cassidy regularly reveals lineup tweaks, strategies, philosophies and answers questions near and far. Asked why he didn’t consider sharing of information a competitive disadvantage — in stark contrast to his coaching opponent — Cassidy sort of shrugged.
“We know each other well,” he said. “Yes, when guys change lines or certain things, you go, OK, this is where I feel we can be better. I just think we’ve coached our team like, ‘Hey, stuff is going to happen through the course of a game, through the course of a year.’ You’ve got to be prepared against everybody on every night, so right away that’s a system structure thing that every player has to get down.”
Cassidy prefers to roll his lines, rather than chase a matchup by yanking players on and off the ice.
“They’ve got to be prepared that their matchup may change,” he said. “I don’t feel the rhythm of your team is good if guys are constantly coming on and off the ice. Of course we look at matchups, we want to get certain things going into a game. But I’ve said, I don’t love to chase them for that reason. I think it takes guys out of their game. You have some high-end players that could end up sitting in that regard. You want them on the ice. They’re the difference-makers.
“Why I’m open a little more is, I don’t know, it’s just the way I’m wired, I guess. Here’s our lineup, may the best team win.”
Kuznetsov, who opened the night with Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie, last suited up May 1. He came off the COVID protocol list Sunday. A major factor in the Capitals’ 2018 Stanley Cup win, he had a quiet 2021 regular season (9-20—29 in 41 games).
His elevation to the top line had Laviolette opening the night with Nicklas Backstrom between two big wingers, Anthony Mantha and Tom Wilson.
Eller, the third-line center who left Game 2 with a lower-body injury, was replaced by winger Michael Raffl. Journeyman Daniel Carr joined the Washington forward group, as the right winger for Raffl and Conor Sheary.
Not a warm welcome for Wilson
Fans got on Tom Wilson early, with expletive-fueled chants from the upper level. They booed the Capitals bad guy every time he touched the puck, and cheered when Charlie McAvoy flattened him on a reverse hit in the first. Wilson got in a laugh, chirping McAvoy a few feet away after Hathaway spilled McAvoy between the benches. McAvoy finished with his usual monster effort: 33:52 TOI, assist, three shots, three hits, two takeaways . . . Zdeno Chara’s slashing penalty drew a cheer from a Boston crowd for the first time since the spring of 2006, when he was with Ottawa. Craig Smith and Chris Wagner went after him with bodychecks, but the Bruins remain mostly respectful of their ex-captain . . . Best chance that didn’t happen: in the first, David Pastrnak was all alone at mid-ice, and would have been 1 on 1 with Chara as the Capitals were changing. Patrice Bergeron noticed, sending a hard rim from behind the goal. But Pastrnak (game-high nine shots) didn’t see the pass, which went for icing . . . The Bruins did not make any lineup changes. Jeremy Lauzon (right hand) remains out . . . Laviolette said prospect Connor McMichael, the 2019 first-rounder (25th overall), would be an option as a Black Ace. McMichael, who put up 47-55—102 in 52 games with OHL London last year, played one game during his NHL rookie season . . . Daniel Sprong was a healthy scratch for Washington.