Jake DeBrusk was on his knees behind the Toronto Maple Leaf net, shaking his fists and looking around in bewilderment before his teammates quickly enveloped him in bear hugs.
He never saw the puck go in the net.
But it was DeBrusk who turned around the game for the Bruins, scoring the go-ahead goal at 5:25 of the third period in a 7-4 victory in a decisive Game 7 of the first-round series at TD Garden.
An absolute beast roaring out of the neutral zone with the puck, DeBrusk took a short pass from David Krejci and flew down the right side of the rink, bearing in on Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen with Leaf defenseman Jake Gardiner trying to chase him down. DeBrusk cut inside and then behind Gardiner and stuck a shot between Andersen’s pads.
“I think I kind of caught the defenseman offguard at first with just my speed and I tried to make a move, and actually tried to raise it,’’ DeBrusk said. “I didn’t even see it go in. I just heard the crowd go pretty nuts. It was a very special feeling.’’
The teams were skating four on four at the time, with Rick Nash and Tyler Bozak sitting out matching penalties. DeBrusk couldn’t resist the opportunity.
“I don’t get out there 4 on 4 too much so I just wanted to take it to the net,’’ he said.
DeBrusk might not be the youngster expected to make the offense happen for the Bruins. But it was not Charlie McAvoy, not David Pastrnak, not Danton Heinen, it was the dervish of energy on the second line, a 21-year-old left wing from Edmonton with NHL blood in his veins. His father Louie played for four teams in the NHL in the 1990s.
DeBrusk, who scored twice in the game for his fourth and fifth goals of the playoffs, brought something special from the start of the game, his energy so visible it left a trail behind him as he stirred up the game each time he got on the ice.
In an up-and-down game that was a series of small triumphs followed by quick disappointments, neither team ever got more than a one-goal lead. But DeBrusk made sure the Bruins got the last kick at the can.
“I was really happy to contribute,” said DeBrusk. “Tonight, with the home crowd here too.”
DeBrusk, a rookie who had 16 goals and 27 assists in 70 games during the regular season, built up his game as the season progressed. Playing with Krejci (three assists) and Nash (one assist), DeBrusk managed to sustain and channel his energy as the game went on, connecting with his linemates more and more often.
“Having Krech by my side the whole series has been huge,’’ DeBrusk said, “to just kind of keep me in check at certain times if I’m getting frustrated. He always wants to make sure I’m focused on the next shift.’’
As earnest a young man as can be found in the Bruins’ room, DeBrusk is increasingly a confident one.
“As the season went on, I got more confident in my game,’’ he said. “Going back to the start of the season I had some ups and downs . . . obviously didn’t think this was going to go this way in this series but with the amount of emotion and energy that’s why they’re there. It brings out the best in me this series and I hope I can keep it moving.”
When the Bruins moved into the lead in the third, DeBrusk felt the TD Garden move with them, the noise level rising ever louder.
“I just wanted to get on the ice again and stay out here forever if I could.”
In turn, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy’s confidence is DeBrusk is rising.
“He’s had a real good year and a real good playoff,’’ said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “He’s comfortable. Confident in his game, playing with good veteran guys that have pulled these young guys along. It was a big [goal] for us, so the timing was excellent.’’