As stages go, the NHL’s Winter Classic is not the equal of the Stanley Cup playoffs, but it doesn’t feel that way in the moment.
It’s a day of hype. It’s a midseason moment in time that the NHL wants to shine and puts in Disney-esque effort to deliver the pixie dust.
That moment Monday at Fenway Park, with upward of 40,000 fans stuffed into the aged crown jewel of a ballyard, wasn’t looking far from magical for the Bruins after 40 minutes.
Through two periods, the true star of the day was the ballpark, followed next by the Penguins, who owned a 1-0 lead despite a depleted lineup, and then the Bruins a distant third, barely on the list of honorable mentions for the afternoon.
On a day meant to be a gift to hockey fans, the ballpark was the bow, the Bruins were the empty box.
Enter Nick Foligno.
“He asked me [after two periods], ‘Can I have the room?’ “ said Bruins coach Jim Montgomery. “And I said, ‘Yes, you can.’ ”
Foligno, known as Captain Fliggy during his long run as the Blue Jackets player in charge, is never short on words. Because of his profile, and years served, and the honest, straight-forward nature of what he has to say, his words matter. They play well on the ear in the dressing room, which can be harder than it sounds.
He didn’t have that voice here last season, his first with the Bruins, in large part because offseason surgery robbed him of his game all year. No game. No voice.
Given Montgomery’s blessing, and with 20 minutes to shake their two-period Back Bay melancholia, the 35-year-old Foligno grabbed the room’s attention.
“Let’s get to Bruins hockey,” said Foligno, who, in his comments following the Bruins’ 2-1 win, made it sound as if that was actually Montgomery’s message more than his own. “We have not shown the fans our style of play yet — and we take all that personally. We have a lot of pride in the room.
“So that was the message: Get back to who we are. We’re not leaving this rink without showing them the style of Bruins hockey we expect to play.”
Message received. And soon the 111-year-old ballpark was rumbling in a way David Ortiz used to shake down the thunder.
Jake DeBrusk squared it, 1-1, at the 7:46 mark, collecting a Brad Marchand dish at the goal line, twirling out to the left of Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith and mashing in a forehand.
Then it was DeBrusk Part Deux with the winner, finishing with an easy forehand pop from the top of the crease after linemate Taylor Hall did the heavy sledding — all speed and puck protection — off left wing to deliver a backhand stuff attempt on DeSmith. DeBrusk was right there, right where he often wasn’t last season, and poked it home.
“[Foligno] just kind of got everybody in, just talked about our team . . . our team throughout the year,” recounted DeBrusk. “What we’ve been able to do and how we’ve been able to do it.”
The setting counted. The stage counted.
“This is an event, a dream come true,” continued DeBrusk. “We don’t want to waste it. You don’t want to come, after a game like tonight, and think, ‘I could have done more, wish I could have done something.’ It’s very rare. You never know if you’ll get another chance to do it, so . . . I think it was more that message, ‘We know what we can do together as a group. We are the best third-period team in the league and let’s go prove it.’ ”
The win extended the Bruins’ streak of at least one point to a season-high 11 games (8-0-3). It also lifted them to 62 points, atop the NHL standings, with a six-point lead on Carolina. They are now a near-impossible-to-comprehend 19-0-3 on home ice, be it the rink on Causeway Street or Jersey Street.
For his part, Montgomery altered his lines after the second period. He put David Pastrnak, who had only one shot in the first two periods, back with old pals Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. He then subbed in Hall for Pavel Zacha on the second line, where DeBrusk had moved to join David Krejci.
Montgomery, who said earlier this season that he learned his line juggling from the great Scotty Bowman, keeps crediting his players, be it for their leadership, or their key goals, in win after win. It has overshadowed his influence. He goes nearly to the extreme to credit the players.
Case in point: with the score 1-1, he said, he found his words behind the bench turning negative amid Pittsburgh’s stick forecheck. It was then, he said, that Bergeron turned to the coach and said, ‘We’re going to be all right.’ "
The message, said Montgomery, was, “These guys have got it, so I just shut up behind the bench.”
That’s all part of the Montgomery delivery. He is never critical of his players when talking to the media. He praises them constantly, particularly the veterans, particularly for their leadership skills (see: Foligno). And thus far, it’s paid off handsomely. The rally Monday also made the Bruins a perfect 8-0-0 in games following a loss.
“Everyone dialed in in that third period, and found a way to win,” said Foligno. “Now I’ll look back and remember this as one of the best wins in my career. Hopefully we have a few more coming down the road here.
“This is definitely amazing, just to be able to experience this with our home crowd . . . We have something special going on here.”
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.