WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Entering this season, Jay Pandolfo had appeared in 881 career NHL games. Pandolfo didn’t know whether the 882d game would come.
But Sunday against the Jets, Pandolfo appeared in his first game this season, making his Bruins debut. Pandolfo took the roster spot of Milan Lucic, who returned to Boston Saturday because of a personal reason. Pandolfo skated on the fourth line with Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton.
Pandolfo, wearing No. 29, landed three hits in 6:48 of ice time.
“After not playing for a while, I felt OK,” Pandolfo said. “It was a good win, so that made it feel better.”
The Bruins called on Pandolfo for penalty-killing duty in the third after Rich Peverley was sent off for tripping. Pandolfo was on the ice for 36 seconds of shorthanded action, helping to keep the Jets from netting the tying goal.
“He knew exactly what he had to do,” said coach Claude Julien. “He’s a great penalty killer. We’ve got some guys that have done a good job. Being his first game, I didn’t want to give him too much if I had to. The plan was that if one of our penalty killers was in the box, he was going to be doing it. That’s why he got his opportunity.”
“I don’t think you’re normal if you don’t,” Pandolfo said before the game when asked if he got nervous. “I haven’t played a game in a while. It definitely makes you anxious. But once you get out there, you kind of settle in and feel pretty good.”
The Burlington, Mass., native signed his one-year, $600,000 contract last Tuesday. Pandolfo had been on a professional tryout agreement before then.
“Being from here and having a chance to play for the Bruins, that’s all I could ask for,” said Pandolfo. “It was pretty easy for me to come every day and just stick with it.”
Before scoring his invitation to training camp, Pandolfo skated and worked out at Boston University’s Agganis Arena. Pandolfo credited former BU teammate Mike Grier for keeping him motivated during the lockout. Grier helped lead on-ice sessions, which also included Thornton, Tuukka Rask, Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille, and Adam McQuaid.
A quick reboot
For Zdeno Chara, the thunderclap struck on Jan. 31.
That night, the Sabres lit up the Bruins, 7-4. Thomas Vanek scored a hat trick. Chara was on the ice for four of Buffalo’s seven goals. The captain, a regular Norris Trophy candidate as the league’s best all-around defenseman, submitted one of his worst performances in Black and Gold.
Since then, Chara has focused on a steady rebuild to bring his game back to his expected level.
“That game that Vanek got all those points, the 7-4 loss, kind of gave everybody a wake-up call as far as their role and what we do here,” said Julien. “I think he’s been extremely focused on that since then. You certainly don’t want to take the other parts of his game away from him. But he’s probably one of the best, if not the best, shutdown defensemen in the league. You need to play within your strengths. That’s certainly one of them — shutting down top players.”
Chara helped keep Vanek off the scoresheet in the two rematches following the 7-4 smackdown. Part of Chara’s turnaround was his defense-first commitment. His troubles can flare up when he tries to do too much offensively.
“Overall, we were slow closing on them in our zone, and they were getting some outnumbered situations,” Chara said of the first Buffalo game. “Last two games, those adjustments have been good. We were able to keep them to a few shots.”
Against the Jets, Chara played against the top line of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, and Blake Wheeler. None of the three scored. Chara had one assist and two hits in 23:35 of action.
For most of Sunday’s third period, Chris Bourque skated on the first line with David Krejci and Nathan Horton. Bourque had earned the promotion. In 15:04 of ice time, Bourque scored one assist, landed one shot, blocked two shots, and threw two hits.
“I really liked his game tonight,” Julien said. “I thought he was a real good player. He had good legs, competed hard along the walls and everywhere else. Had some good chances, so that’s why I put him out there with David Krejci. In my mind, he really deserved to be there, the way he was playing.”
Bourque started the game on the third line with Paille and Chris Kelly. Things went sour late in the first, when a Mark Stuart shot glanced off Bourque’s right hand, forcing him to drop his stick. On the bench, Bourque iced his hand.
But Bourque didn’t miss any shifts. His wall work late in the second led to Paille’s tying goal. Bourque had the secondary assist on Brad Marchand’s winning goal.
Visit on schedule
The Bruins returned to Boston after Sunday’s game. Julien and several players are scheduled to visit the families affected by the Sandy Hook tragedy in Newtown, Conn., Monday afternoon . . . The Bruins are scheduled to practice Tuesday at Ristuccia Arena. They will leave Wednesday and play in Tampa Thursday. The three-day pause is the longest between games the Bruins will have for the rest of the season.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.