COLUMBUS, Ohio — Jake DeBrusk had nothing but open ice in front of him because Columbus defensemen Andrew Peeke was on the other end, laying face down on the ice.
DeBrusk’s 20th goal of the season tied the game — and the score stayed that way going into the first intermission — but the hit Brad Marchand laid on Peeke practically froze time on the ice and set the tone for the rest of the night.
The Bruins survived an overtime battle with the Blue Jackets and left Nationwide Arena with a 3-2 win. DeBrusk delivered the game-winning goal at 1:03 of OT, allowing the Bruins to close out a sweep of the season series with the intensity between the two teams at its highest.
“It kind of reminds you a little bit of playoff intensity,” DeBrusk said. “Give them credit. They’re a proud team over there. They’ve got some guys that would react the same way we would.”
The sequence started when Linus Ullmark swatted a shot from Zach Werenski to the sideboards. Peeke chased it down, not realizing Marchand was chasing him at the same time.
As Peeke opened up to try to move the puck along, Marchand unloaded on him. The puck was on Peeke’s stick. Marchand’s hit did more than jar it loose. It brought everyone on the ice to a standstill.
Charlie McAvoy recovered the puck and immediately shot it up to a streaking DeBrusk.
“I heard the hit,” DeBrusk said. “Obviously, I saw where the puck went after that and saw that Charlie had it and he was kind of turning. To be honest with you, I was at the blue line at that point, so I was thinking breakaway.”
DeBrusk was so open that he raised his stick in the air. But beating Columbus goalie Elvis Merzlikins (34 saves) one-on-one was almost an afterthought.
“Honestly after I scored, I looked and he was still in the corner,” DeBrusk said. “I’ve never really seen that from anybody . . . But it was like time stood still. I didn’t know if there’d be a whistle or something was going to happen, but you play on and I was happy to bury that. I had three breakaways on this guy and haven’t scored one.”
Blue Jackets forward Jakub Voracek was livid and earned a 10-minute misconduct penalty after a furious exchange with officials.
“We understood coming into the second period that, hey, they might come at some of our guys, so we will stand up for each other, especially our top players,” DeBrusk said. “I thought that overall the game didn’t get too out of hand, by any means. I think there were some big hits on both sides and some scrums, but it raised the intensity. It was a fun game to play in, and I think it brings you closer as a team.”
The Bruins sent Josh Brown on the ice for muscle, knowing Columbus would be looking for retribution. When play resumed, Oliver Bjorkstrand had Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron in his crosshairs, checking him into the boards, then tying up with him moments later.
Columbus kept looking for retaliation. Taylor Hall took a stick to the face in the second period from defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov.
But the Bruins took the lead at the 7:52 mark in the second. Craig Smith hustled to retrieve a puck behind the net and in the Bruins’ offensive zone., He was rewarded when Charlie Coyle found him in the middle. Smith fired from the slot and scored his
Peeke returned in the second period and it didn’t take long for him to seek out Marchand.
He got his chance when Marchand rushed to the net to after a breakaway shot by DeBrusk.
Merzlikins had the puck frozen, so Marchand couldn’t make a play. Cole Sillinger grabbed Marchand to make sure nothing else happened, but that gave Peeke a chance to swoop in and take a swipe at Marchand from behind with his right hand.
DeBrusk jumped in the middle of the dust-up before it escalated, keeping Marchand out of the fray.
“It’s instinctual,” DeBrusk said. “I understood there’s probably going to be some sort of reaction from Marsh and he’s the best player on our team and I’m playing with him. There was a scrum after, I saw him get pushed and we don’t take that here.”
DeBrusk has scored in five straight games, but Cassidy said taking up for Marchand is something teammates will notice.
“That goes a long way — more than the goal will,” Cassidy said. “I mean, trust me, we want the overtime goal. Don’t get me wrong. But in terms of what you’re doing for your team, and the team-building aspect and sticking up for your teammate, guys don’t ignore that.”
But Marchand still went to the penalty box along with Peeke for matching roughing penalties.
Columbus proved their peskiness Saturday, taking a tie game into the third period against the Bruins.
They put the Bruins on their heels early Monday, jumping out to a 1-0 lead on Emil Bemstrom’s fifth goal of the season. Matt Grzelcyk couldn’t get control of the puck at the center line and Bemstrom won a race with Brandon Carlo to get to it. Bemstrom maneuvered by Carlo then went 5-hole on Ullmark to give Columbus the lead at the 4:31 mark.
The Blue Jackets tied it, 2-2, with 15.2 seconds left in the second when Werenski fired a shot from the left circle that whizzed over Ullmark’s left shoulder. Officials reviewed the play to see if Gavrikov used a high stick to keep the puck in the Blue Jackets’ offensive zone but determined he had not.
Once again, a goal in the final minute of a period put the Bruins in a precarious situation. Of the 181 goals the Bruins allowed going into the night, 20 of them were scored inside the last minute of a period. It was just the fourth time they gave up a goal in the last minute of the second period. They’ve allowed 10 in the final minute of the third.
“If there’s that many of them, then there’s clearly — every case is probably a little bit different but in general — just a lack of urgency late in periods to shut the door,” Cassidy said.
Despite it, the Bruins pushed their record to 17-3-1 over their last 21 games.
“When you win that often, you obviously have the ability to find ways to win and the ability to get out of funks quickly,” Cassidy said. “We certainly weren’t sharp tonight . . . We get back to our game fairly quickly.”
With 93 points, they’re tied with Tampa in the division.
“We know we’re in a battle,” Cassidy said. “Could finish fourth, could finish as high as second. The way Florida’s going, it doesn’t look like anybody will catch them. So we know we’re in the mix there somewhere.
“We’ve done a good job of taking care of business here. When you get into the dog days of late February, March, we’ve done our share of winning,” Cassidy added. “So we’ve separated ourselves from certain teams, but we’re right there with them and at the end of the day, we’re going to be right there with them at the end no matter what.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.