SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Their best players and netminder rose to the occasion, a grinder chipped in the winner, and the Bruins left historic Notre Dame Stadium on Tuesday with a buzz that could last a while.
Sean Kuraly’s goal at 10:20 of the third period helped the Bruins to a 4-2 win over the Blackhawks in the 2019 Winter Classic, and sent the fourth-liner throwing his arms high and leaping into the glass. His teammates felt the same.
After the final horn sounded, Brad Marchand (empty-netter with 33 seconds left) dropped to the ice and performed snow angels. After David Pastrnak scored one of Boston’s two tying goals, he flapped his arms like a bird. Patrice Bergeron, always understated, even showed a little emotion when he made it 2-2.
“I know it’s a regular-season game, but the meaning’s different when you’re playing in front of 76,000 people on national TV,” Bergeron said. “We know what’s at stake in those games. You want to make the most of it.”
The 2 points the Bruins (22-14-4) earned helped them keep pace with the rest of the Eastern Conference contenders (48 points, 6 points behind Toronto for second place in the East). Much more was tucked into this box score.
A sold-out crowd (76,126), the second-largest to watch an NHL game outdoors, saw all the pageantry of the NHL’s midseason nostalgia-fueled showcase. It was mostly Chicago fans, too, but Boston backers sounded “Tuuk” midway through, and near the end.
Tuukka Rask, who stopped 36 of 38 shots, loomed large in the second period when the Blackhawks pushed. He stopped Chicago sniper Patrick Kane twice on a breakaway, the score tied. He also denied him again with 40 seconds left and Chicago charging, 6-on-5.
“It’s a special stage,” said Rask, who helped the Bruins improve to 2-1 in Winter Classics (2010 win over Philadelphia at Fenway, 2016 loss to Montreal at Gillette).
The Blackhawks (15-21-6) scored the opening goal 8:30 in, when Brendan Perlini snapped one past Rask off a Torey Krug turnover behind the net. But the Bruins took advantage of the league’s worst penalty kill (74.2 percent success coming in) to tie it.
Bergeron snatched the puck from Marcus Kruger and fed Pastrnak all alone in front. The patient sniper waited as Cam Ward opened his pads, then slipped it low. Pastrnak joyfully pumped his arms in full flight.
“I was trying to do the LeBron James,” Pastrnak said.
After Chicago’s Dominik Kahun tipped the puck past Rask for a 2-1 lead at 11:24 of the second, Bergeron produced the game’s key sequence.
Beginning at 18:20 in the second period, a national TV audience saw 28 seconds of Perfect Patrice.
After Joakim Nordstrom drew a roughing call on Chicago defenseman Erik Gustafsson, forward David Kampf pressured Pastrnak into a turnover inside the blue line, racing the other way for a potential shorty. Bergeron, who broke as soon as he saw his winger about to cough it up, churned his 33-year-old legs to catch Kampf. He correctly guessed Kampf, after deking Rask backhand, would return to his forehand. When Kampf did, Bergeron lifted the stick and knocked the puck loose.
“He never quits. That’s why he’s Patrice Bergeron,” coach Bruce Cassidy said of Bergeron, the four-time Selke Trophy winner. “I expect him to make game-changing plays. That’s just who he is.”
After the game, Bergeron recalled every decision he made over that 6-second span. Rask, sitting next to him, listened to his narration, then leaned in and repeated, “Selke . . . Selke.”
After preventing a goal that would have made it 3-1, Bergeron made it 2-2 on the power play when he noticed Chicago’s Brandon Saad had lost his stick. He cruised into the slot, and when defenseman Brent Seabrook blocked a Pastrnak try from the circle, Bergeron shoveled the rebound past Ward on the backhand at 18:48.
After that half-minute of Bergeron’s elite sense and skill, Kuraly scored one for the trench men.
Muscling his way toward the front of the net, the 6-foot-2-inch, 213-pound fourth-liner playing with a busted nose (full face shield intact) pounced on a rebound and slipped it past Ward (32 saves on 35 shots).
Helping out: Chris Wagner, his partner in grime, who absorbed a Matt Grzelcyk slapper after creating a turnover by snowplowing Blackhawks defenseman Gustav Forsling along the boards. A breakdown in coverage, Grzelcyk’s step-up shot, and Kuraly dunked the rebound to get his second winner in two games (after beating Buffalo in OT on Saturday).
“We’ll leave the pretty ones to the guys who score the pretty ones,” said Kuraly, who pumped his arms in the air and slammed his fists against the glass as he leapt on it.
He said the celebration was purely a reaction, nothing planned for the stage of the Winter Classic, just the passion of the moment taking over.
“Not the best at hiding my emotions after something like that,” he said. “No reason to.”
Follow Matt Porter on Twitter at @mattyports