Joakim Nordstrom lifts Bruins over Penguins in OT
Though November injuries have turned a cruise ship of a roster into something of a 20-man rowboat, the Bruins still know how to navigate in choppy, swirling waters.
Everyone’s got to row.
So they did Friday, until Joakim Nordstrom’s net-front tap-in of a brilliant Torey Krug slap-pass gave them a 2-1 win over the Penguins, 1:57 into overtime at TD Garden.
The Bruins (12-6-4), playing their fifth game in the last 10 days, third without Patrice Bergeron and fourth without Zdeno Chara, were up to the challenge Pittsburgh presented: namely, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and an offense that is far better than an 8-8-5 record indicated.
No lazy passengers, from the first puck drop onward. Elite goaltending from Jaroslav Halak (36 saves). Two points, making it 6 in the four games since Chara’s knee injury (2-0-2), and a very important bugaboo addressed.
Coach Bruce Cassidy has been irritated by his team’s play in overtime. They were 1-4 in extras entering the game, losing puck battles all over the ice. He was happy they didn’t allow an odd-man rush, and protected the puck well. To see a versatile grinder like Nordstrom win it, that was just gravy.
“Did I think he’d score the winner? No,” Cassidy said. “But hey, it worked out that way, and good for him. It’s nice to see a guy like that rewarded.”
Said Nordstrom, with four goals and 5 points in 22 games: “Didn’t really have to do much more than keep my stick on the ice.”
Also properly compensated for their efforts: the newly constructed line of Danton Heinen, David Krejci, and Jake DeBrusk. Cassidy called them “terrific” and “by far our best line.”
The Penguins’ defense, which could be classified as permissive by NHL standards, let the Bruins regularly enter the zone with control. The Krejci line, in particular, seemed destined for a goal.
They got it, erasing a 1-0 Pittsburgh lead in the process and an iffy call on Krejci.
Despite having fewer attempts (23-14) in the first period, the Penguins struck early in the second.
After Krejci tripped defenseman Juuso Riikola in the offensive zone, the ever-dangerous Pittsburgh power play snapped it around. Kris Letang set up Evgeni Malkin for a one-timer. Malkin hammered it far-corner, though a Patric Hornqvist screen, past Halak at 6:09 of the frame.
The Krejci line tied it at 13:40. DeBrusk played give-and-go with Krejci, one-timing a slapper past Pittsburgh netminder Tristan Jarry.
“I think it was my first-ever one-timer goal,” DeBrusk said.
The goal, DeBrusk’s ninth of the season, and sixth in his last eight games, saw Heinen driving the net for a rebound. More fine work from that line, which exited the defensive zone cleanly and had their skating legs. Heinen, with a 2-3—5 line after 20 games, looked as strong as he has all year.
It was Krejci’s 587th point as a Bruin, tying him with Peter McNab for 11th on the club’s all-time scoring list. Next up: Cam Neely (590).
He played as a veteran should: He brought his best against Crosby and Malkin with Bergeron and Chara injured.
“I thought he was really skating and attacking,” Cassidy said. “Their line could have had more than one goal.”
Another Bruin who has picked it up of late, David Backes, nearly got off a frustrating slide. With 2:35 left in the second, he appeared to stuff in on the rush, but officials did not see the puck cross the line. It certainly did when Sean Kuraly had a follow-up chance, but the play was blown dead by then. Those two, and Chris Wagner, celebrated as if they scored.
“Maybe next time,” Backes said. “I was already planning on doing the Auston Matthews [celebration] if I scored.”
The call on the ice — no goal — was confirmed after review.
“Sounded like it was going to be a good goal,” said Cassidy, who added that his video assistant “had a tough time” finding an angle that showed it in the net.
“I saw it,” Kuraly said. “What are you going to do? It’s the way it goes.”
The Penguins did have their chances, forcing Halak to make two big stops in the final 1:02 of the period, and several in the third, to keep it a 1-1 game.
Kevan Miller’s delay of game penalty at 10:41 of the third, after he dumped the puck over the glass, gave the Pens’ power play another chance. Halak made a glove save on Crosby, and the strong work of Kuraly, Brad Marchand, Matt Grzelcyk, and Jeremy Lauzon helped kill most of it.
Team effort, everyone needed, once again. Same recipe in Montreal on Saturday, Toronto on Monday, so on and so forth until Bergeron, Chara, Charlie McAvoy, and Brandon Carlo are back, and the Bruins are again cruising.
“If we all do our part, we can orchestrate some wins,” Backes said. “When you roll back in the high-end guys that are out, all of a sudden things — morals, staples, cornerstones — we’ve implemented as blue-collar workhorses now, you throw that skill in there, that’s a dangerous combination.
“We’ll keep adding points in the standings until somebody tells us we’ve made the playoffs.”