David Backes had his gloves off and Phil Kessel in his clutches. Backes was ready to feed the ex-Bruin his knuckles had Eric Fehr not done his best to scrape the two apart.
Zdeno Chara gave Sidney Crosby a cross-check and a swat to the side of the head.
Colin Miller, when asked to go by Scott Wilson, responded by raining a flurry of rights to the Pittsburgh forward’s head.
It was no coincidence that the Bruins’ muscle-flexing led to a 4-3 come-from-behind win over the Penguins at TD Garden on Thursday. Hate and fighting and roughhousing may be on their way out of the league. But ill tempers still have a place in the Bruins’ hearts and fists.
“I talked about Z and Backs being emotionally engaged, but the response by Millsy when he gets jumped there was huge for our team,” said Torey Krug. “He created a spark. Guys were excited to see him when he came back in the locker room, giving him a tap on the shin pads and saying, ‘Good job.’ It’s great when guys step up like that. It was important.”
The Penguins did not win the Stanley Cup by blasting their way through four teams. They overwhelmed their opponents with speed, quickness, and skill. They are no different this season. The Penguins are built to sprint.
They are not, however, the best equipped to punch back when opponents spit in their face. Backes repeatedly ran over Trevor Daley and Brian Dumoulin. He got his gloves off against a non-fighter. While the Penguins are ill-equipped for a street fight, the cavemen wearing Black and Gold still find that physical play serves as a catalyst.
“We need emotional involvement,” said coach Claude Julien. “We need to be engaged. Tonight, we were engaged. Not so much in the first. It had nothing to do with the score. Because the goals they got, one went in off a stick, the other one was a breakdown on our penalty kill.
“We needed to be emotionally connected to this game. You saw Backes coming out and throwing some big hits. We started making plays. That’s what we need. You need to build around things like that. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
After falling behind by two goals in the first period, the Bruins could have felt sorry for themselves for the final 40 minutes. Brandon Carlo mistakenly slam-dunked a Justin Schultz fling into his own net. Sidney Crosby’s cross-ice pass through a stretched-out penalty-killing box allowed Kessel to slam home a one-timer.
But the Bruins dialed in the wayback machine in the second period. They hit. They skated. They controlled the neutral zone. And they let their best players take over.
David Pastrnak led the Bruins with two helpers. But the NHL’s Department of Player Safety should also have been credited with two assists. If not for a curious decision to let Brad Marchand skate with a $10,000 fine, the Bruins would have been without their No. 1 left wing and the two goals he pumped past Matt Murray.
“I think he needed to respond that way,” Julien said of Marchand’s two-goal, 23:25 effort. “I think it was important for him to respond that way. I’m going to be honest with you. We’re lucky we didn’t lose him tonight. Obviously he played a big part in our win. I respect the league. I respect their decisions sometimes. He’s been in trouble before. I’m sure that wasn’t an easy decision. I’m going to stand here and say we’re lucky we had him tonight.”
Marchand initiated the rally with a shorthanded goal at 1:38 of the second. Less than five minutes later, Marchand tied the game off a set play. After Patrice Bergeron won an offensive-zone draw against Jake Guentzel, the Bruins clicked into formation. Brandon Carlo retrieved the puck and went down the right-side wall to Marchand. After criss-crossing with Marchand, Pastrnak popped out to the high slot and waited for the puck. Murray booted out Pastrnak’s one-timer, but Marchand was in position to slam home the rebound at 6:27.
Video: Marchand shorthanded goal
“He skated like he was $10,000 lighter,” Backes said. “He was flying around, doing what he does best.”
The Bruins pulled ahead at 10:25 of the second. Riley Nash slipped behind Ian Cole to gain net-front position on Murray. Nash waited for Krug’s pass and tipped the puck past Murray to give the Bruins a 3-2 lead.
Video: Nash goal
The Bruins kept pouring on the gas in the third. Fifty-one seconds in, during a net-front power-play scramble, Bergeron snapped the puck over Murray. The puck rocketed back out and play continued. But replay showed Bergeron’s shot hitting the top of the net inside the crossbar.
Patric Hornqvist pulled the Penguins to within one with a point-blank shot at 10:35. But the Bruins fought off a pair of penalties to Matt Beleskey (delay of game) and Pastrnak (tripping) to strut off the ice like the bully kicking sand all over the beach.
“Backs was all over them. Millsy had a phenomenal fight,” said Marchand. “Guys as a whole, as a team, we were being physical. We were being tight. That’s how we have to play. We have to play with that emotion. It really drives our team.”