COLUMBUS, Ohio — Josh Brown checked over both shoulders as he chased down a puck in the corner midway through his Bruins’ debut in an 8-1 blowout victory over the New Jersey Devils last Thursday. He got a glance at Devils defenseman Ty Smith lurking on his right side, but once he got to the puck, there was no way for the Bruins defenseman to see forward Nathan Bastian rushing in from the other direction.
Bastian lifted Brown off the ice and into the boards with a shoulder to the chest. Even though Brown got up and worked a few more shifts in the period, the impact of the hit still lingered.
“I made that play and as soon as I turned, I got hit pretty good there,” Brown said. “Just kind of maybe some whiplash or something like that.”
Brown sat out the third period and missed the following game against Columbus last Saturday.
“Felt a little off the rest of that game,” he said. “But we took the necessary precautions and all the tests and everything and I feel fine now. So, good to go.”
Brown was back on the ice for Monday night’s 3-2 overtime win against the Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. He was alongside Mike Reilly on the third pairing. In a way, his first game as a Bruin felt like a soft opening.
“It’s kind of a tough way, I guess, to end a debut,” Brown said. “I thought Riles and I were playing pretty good up until that point, too. The game was going great for the team. Obviously, a tough way to end it, but I had a couple good practice days with the guys and I’m starting to feel more comfortable with the systems and everything. So just business as usual now.”
Brown made an impression early, getting into a fight with Devils defenseman Mason Geertsen.
“That wasn’t planned or anything,” he said. “But the opportunity just presented itself, so I figured, yeah, it was probably a good way to introduce myself to my teammates and also the fan base, too. So yeah, it worked out pretty well, I think.”
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy wanted to see more from Brown before his debut was cut short.
“What we want to see from him is a good defender adapt to our system, be good around the front of the net in terms of boxing out, and a good first pass,” Cassidy said. “I know he’s not a guy that’s going to be up the ice like [Hampus] Lindholm has been since we got here. He’s more of a stay-at-home guy. Then, obviously, his stick and positioning on the PK.”
The arrivals of Brown and Lindholm at the trade deadline created a competition among the Bruins’ D-men, with eight players fighting for six spots.
As Cassidy has mixed and matched pairs, players who’ve contributed throughout the season — including Reilly and Connor Clifton — have had to sit while Cassidy has taken a look at some of the new faces.
“No one’s happy when they come out, right?” Cassidy said. “Everybody probably feels they deserve to be in on a regular basis. I don’t have a problem with that kind of mentality. When you go in, and you have to prove it, that’s the part where you have to back that up.
“But they’re all good teammates. They’re all good Bruins. So they’ve accepted that we are going to go through this process of looking at some guys for our third pair and that’s just the way it is. They’ve been told that, they were explained that the day Brown was traded here — and Lindholm — that there would be some mixing and matching until we see what we want to see at the end of the day and make the final decision.”
Brown saw the competition as healthy, adding that everyone wants to stay in. Brown and Reilly have some familiarity going back to the short time they spent together last season in Ottawa.
“First and foremost, we’re all teammates, we’re all rooting for each other,” Brown said. “But, obviously, there is a little bit of a competition on the back end right now. So I just think you’ve got to have your A-game every night — if that’s talking more with your partner or just trying to get on the same page.”
With 13 games left in the season, Cassidy said the competition for the third pair could last until the final day of the season.
“I think it might come down to the wire with health and different things,” Cassidy said. “We believe our top four is set. That could change, too, I guess. But those guys have been fairly consistent for us over the years and again this year, so we’re OK with that.”
Good feeling in goal
Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark didn’t have the track record that Tuukka Rask built for himself over 15 seasons, but Cassidy had confidence in both of them coming into the year.
Their performance has validated it.
The Bruins are the only team in the league that has two goalies with 20 wins. They’re one of eight teams with two goals in the top 30 in goals-against average.
“We felt good about both of them going into the year,” Cassidy said, “Tuukka was the unknown, to be honest with you. It didn’t work out for Tuukka, but the other two guys played up to what we thought they would.”
What is still uncertain is how either of them will hold up in postseason play. While Rask had 104 playoff games under his belt, the postseason experience between Ullmark and Swayman is limited to the 18:34 Swayman spelled Rask in Game 5 of the Bruins’ second-round series last year against the Islanders.
“At the end of the day someone’s going in that hasn’t played in the playoffs,” Cassidy said. “We’re fully aware of that. And the way they’re going to be judged is who’s on top of their game. And they’re both competing hard and doing a good job with that right now.”
A costly win
Bruins center Trent Frederic and forward David Pastrnak departed the game with injuries, and neither returned to the game. Frederic absorbed a heavy shoulder-to-shoulder hit along the boards from Blue Jackets defenseman Jake Christian. It buckled Frederic and sent him off the ice with eight minutes remaining in the second period. Then in the third, Pastrnak took a tumble on the ice during a power play and disappeared down the tunnel with an undisclosed injury . . . Columbus coach Brad Larsen was back on the bench Monday after clearing COVID protocol. Larsen went into protocol on March 29 and missed three games. Assistant Steve McCarthy remained in protocol . . . The Bruins came in 6-1-1 in the first game of back-to-backs this season and 4-4-0 in the second. After Tuesday’s game in Detroit, they have two back-to-backs remaining.
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.