COLUMBUS — Off on the wrong foot to start, the Bruins recovered quickly and dramatically Thursday night, paced by five points from Brad Marchand, five more from David Backes, and four from David Pastrnak en route to a 6-3, season-opening thumping of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
What began with a pratfall ended with the Bruins shaking off a 3-1 deficit at Nationwide Arena, paced by a barrage of five unanswered goals, two by Marchand, two by Backes, and finally an empty-netter by Pastrnak.
The Bruins cleaned up early mistakes. They played with increasing confidence. And perhaps most impressive of all, they didn’t succumb to first-night jitters once a Seth Jones shot with 6:44 gone in the second jumped the Jackets out again to a two-goal lead (3-1).
“Even after they got up, 3-1, we had a lot of momentum after that first goal,’’ said Marchand, who, like Backes and Pastrnak, came to camp confident after playing in the World Cup of Hockey. “There wasn’t any sense of panic on the bench. We had a ton of time left and we still hadn’t played our best hockey yet, so . . . after that we kind of beared down. You could kind of feel the guys were confident.
“Luckily it worked out. It doesn’t always work out that way.’’
The Bruins were without three key players, including Patrice Bergeron, perhaps the NHL’s best two-way centerman, as well as heavyweight blue liners Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid. Their absence was obvious in the early going, the Jackets staking a 2-0 lead at 17:25 of the first period on strikes by Alexander Wennberg (four on four) and ex-Boston College Eagle Cam Atkinson (power play).
Pastrnak struck for his first goal early in the second, converting a puck that Marchand lost as he whirled out from behind the left post, and then just over four minutes later Jones whistled in his shot to regain the two-goal lead. The sellout crowd of 18,144 relished the moment. The club’s trademark cannon shook the building. Truth was, the Jackets would land only 13 more shots the rest of the night and Tuukka Rask would stop every one of them.
“I didn’t think we played that bad,’’ said coach Claude Julien, reviewing the early trouble spots. “Just two mistakes that were costly, unfortunate, but I really thought we played well, even in the first period. Then it was just a matter of getting ourselves back in the game, cleaning up some of those little issues we had. We did that. I think we showed some resiliency. I think we showed some character and it was nice to see guys step up here and find a way to win a hockey game.’’
Backes, the former Blues captain hired on for $30 million in July, connected for both the tying (3-3) and winning goals in a span of less than four minutes in the second period. First the equalizer at 13:36 when he belted in a puck that ricocheted off the backwall on a bomb launched by Zdeno Chara (plus-5 for the night). The winner came at 17:12, Backes dialing in a slapper from long range after Marchand zipped him a pass from lower in the zone.
Backes anchored the top line in Bergeron’s absence, fitting hand in glove with Marchand and Pastrnak. The trio finished 6-6—12 for the night. Bergeron won’t have to fight him for the job upon his return, but Backes’s versatility came as advertised. The Bruins can use him at center or wing, and he should be able to deliver consistent punch from either spot.
“You could see some of the nerves, some of the squeezing of sticks,’’ said Backes, reflecting on the club’s rocky start. “But I think we responded really well, showed a lot of character in this room. Our game got better and better.’’
Rask, like the rest of his teammates, also stumbled in the beginning. Wennberg’s goal at 2:58 came on the Jackets’ first shot of the season, the Bruins already thwarted on five attempts against Sergei Bobrovsky. Wennberg scooted too easily into the zone, the sides at four on four, then whistled a 35-foot wrister by Rask that went inexplicably under his glove. Rask later said the shot took a deep, elusive dip off Wennberg’s stick.
Marchand followed with his pair of goals in the third, matching his career high for points (a 3-2—5 game vs. Florida) in one game. Pastrnak nabbed the line’s 12th point of the night with his empty-netter at 19:02. For the night, the trio landed 18 shots on net and finished a gaudy plus-16.
“Things were going the right way for us, I think,’’ said Backes.
“A couple of fortunate bounces, but I think we also were making our own luck by getting pressure on the puck, keeping it in the offensive zone. A couple of beautiful plays by my linemates to score some goals in the third. Fun to celebrate that many times in one game. We’ll take it, move on, put them in the bank.’’