Entering Saturday, Patrice Bergeron was told he was a point away from tying Phil Esposito (1,012) for third in Bruins history.
His third-period goal pulled him equal with Esposito. The only players ahead of them: Ray Bourque (1,506) and Johnny Bucyk (1,339).
“These guys are legends,” the understated Bergeron said. “It’s an honor to be up there with them.”
With the Bruins on the power play and 14:44 left in regulation, Brad Marchand made it happen by outflanking two Sabres down low. He twisted and turned away from Jack Quinn and Mattias Samuelsson, as Bergeron waited near the right dot, stick poised for a quick swipe.
Marchand had a feeling his buddy would be there.
“Earlier in the shift, two guys came at me and I saw he was open,” Marchand said. “I wasn’t able to get it to him, but I knew there was a hole that was there because they left it open the first time. So when I saw both guys come in, I just knew if I got it there he’d be in a spot like he always is. He made a great shot.”
Jake DeBrusk’s learning curve
No surprise that playing with Bergeron and Marchand for the better part of a calendar year has helped Jake DeBrusk grow.
DeBrusk, who recorded a secondary assist on Bergeron’s tying power-play goal in the third, finished with three hits, including a shoulder pop on Dylan Cozens that sent the Sabres forward flying.
Since Jan. 1, DeBrusk was tied for 26th in the league in five on five goals (23) entering Saturday. In all situations, mainly as the right wing on that No. 1 line and the net-front option on either the first- or second-unit power play, he finished the calendar year with 33 goals and 28 assists for 61 points in 86 games.
But the finer details of DeBrusk’s game — his work on the walls, his skating routes, his stick positioning — have become sharper with experience. Same goes for his engagement level. On the penalty kill in Saturday’s game against the Sabres, he surprised Cozens with that big hit.
Already blessed with great wheels, DeBrusk has become a top-tier forechecker by revving his engine constantly.
“When he’s on top of his game — which fortunately for us has been a lot this year — he’s relentless in his pursuit of getting on top of people,” coach Jim Montgomery said before puck drop. “When you’re playing with two elite players like Bergy and Marchy, they read off that kind of pressure really well, which creates a lot of turnovers.
“When the three of them are buzzing, they’re probably our forecheck line, right? And that says a lot when it’s your top line, how hard they work.”
Brad Marchand gaining confidence
Marchand (1-1–2), who scored his first five-on-five goal since Dec. 5 and 10th of the season, feels his game improving as the new year dawns.
“Definitely getting better,” said the No. 1 left wing, who logged a season-high 22:48 of ice time some seven months and four days after double hip surgery. “Feeling better every game. I’m gaining confidence and I think I’m starting to find it, much more now.”
Since Christmas break, he said, he is trying to do more with the puck. His conditioning has been boosted by a stationary bike program he recently got permission to resume.
“It’s coming,” Marchand said. “It’s still a work in progress.”
Sabres play a different game
Montgomery was complimentary of the Sabres, who to his eye play like no other team. “Their willingness to make east-west plays all over the ice, it’s unconventional. Because it’s unconventional, it’s hard to defend,” Montgomery said. The middle of the ice, he said, is “the hardest area to defend, and they’re willing to live with turnovers to get offense” … Tomas Nosek is on track to play in the Winter Classic, Montgomery said. The No. 4 center — once again replaced by Trent Frederic on Saturday — missed his second game with an undisclosed issue. Nosek’s return could bump either Craig Smith or A.J. Greer out of the lineup. Greer didn’t take a shift in the final 30 minutes, and Smith took one in the third period. That meant more time for Pavel Zacha (assist, 19:37) … Frederic went 0 for 5 on faceoffs through 40 minutes, and did not take a draw in the third period. Montgomery saw an energy boost for Frederic once shifted to the wing … With the Winter Classic approximately 49 hours after Saturday’s puck drop, Montgomery wasn’t worried his team would look ahead. “Usually I’d be very concerned about that, but not with this group,” Montgomery said. “They’re very, very professional” … David Krejci (0-2–2 in 20:25) has skated north of 20 minutes in three of the last four games … David Pastrnak wouldn’t share what kind of costumes Bruins will wear to the Winter Classic. “You’ll have to wait until next year,” he said.