After a lonely, chilly All-Star break, a hockey-hungry Bruins crowd came eager for entertainment.
For most of the night, they were satisfied, but they left wanting after a 4-3 shootout loss. Boston, who spent the previous nine days away from TD Garden, allowed a pair of third-period goals from Winnipeg speedster Kyle Connor, and though Patrice Bergeron’s tying goal sent it to overtime, Connor beat Jaroslav Halak for a shootout winner.
Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck stoned Jake DeBrusk, David Pastrnak, and Brad Marchand for the win, leaving Boston (27-17-6) with a loss.
In regulation, Bergeron scored twice and Pastrnak, the newly minted All-Star, scored once, all off assists from Marchand. The game also saw the debut of rookie center Trent Frederic, who skated on a line with childhood hero David Backes and brought the house down with a walloping win in his first career fight.
They had their legs moving against the Jets (32-16-2), who lost 3-1 in Philadelphia the night before. Boston outshot Winnipeg, 20-8, in the first period, after which they held a 2-1 lead. They finished ahead, 39-27, in the shots battle.
“There wasn’t much rust,” Marchand said. “I thought we had a really good game for first game back, just unfortunate the way it played out in the third.”
In a 34-second stretch in the final period of regulation, a pair of mistakes — both with Connor flying around — sullied a game in which Boston controlled play for most of the night, played physical, and generated heaps of scoring chances.
“You’ve got to be careful you don’t beat yourself,” said coach Bruce Cassidy, who was pleased with much of the effort. “No disrespect to Winnipeg. They’re one of the best teams in the National Hockey League. But I think some of it was self-inflicted. Good teams don’t do that.”
The Bruins out-chanced the Jets, 5-0, before Bergeron zipped a one-timer past Hellebuyck, ex- of UMass Lowell, 9:49 in. Typically strong work from that line, which cycled and worked until Marchand fed his pal in the slot.
Bergeron, since returning from a 16-game absence with a rib/sternoclavicular injury, is sizzling (7-10—17 in 15 games). Marchand, with 10 points in his last five games, has 16 in his last 11. Pastrnak has scored in his last six.
That’s the good news. The bad: They’re still searching for a regular offensive pulse beneath the top line.
“If we get one, it might be the difference in the game,” Cassidy said of secondary production. “Jake [DeBrusk] was flying around, doing a nice job. [David] Krejci had a couple chances they were able to step in front of. We needed more out of them, obviously, but I don’t think they were completely quiet either.”
The trade chatter continues to bubble, less than four weeks before the Feb. 25 deadline. On Tuesday, TSN linked the Bruins to both prized Columbus winger Artemi Panarin and Carolina bruiser Micheal Ferland. Meanwhile, Boston’s top line continues to carry the load — scoring 43.4 percent of the team’s goals (145; 17th in the NHL).
Pastrnak grabbed his 28th of the year, beating Hellebuyck on another one-time dish from Marchand, at 18:33 of the first. The power-play goal, with ex-Bruin Blake Wheeler in the box for tripping, made it 2-1, and made up for a tying Josh Morrissey power play goal some five minutes earlier. The Bruins tightened up their penalty kill after allowing that one, killing a Zdeno Chara slashing minor without allowing a shot to the fourth-ranked Jets’ power play.
The second period was mostly dry, except for a sharp Halak save on Wheeler, the product of a Charlie McAvoy boo-boo behind the net. It was dry, that is, until the final five minutes.
After Kevan Miller dropped Jets forward Brandon Tanev with a thunderclap hit, he accepted Adam Lowry’s invitation to throw punches. That bout was merely the appetizer.
A half-minute later, Tanev, still salty over the Miller hit, agitated a post-whistle scrum in front of Hellebuyck. With players shoving and grappling, Frederic, caught in a rear chokehold from 6-foot-8-inch blueliner Tyler Myers, broke free and paired off with Tanev. The ex-Providence College winger didn’t seem to know that Frederic, who fought three times in 37 games with AHL Providence, had developed an affinity for the rough stuff.
Frederic tuned up Tanev, barroom brawl-style, sending the TD Garden crowd into a frenzy. His parents, Bob and Gaye, were going bananas in the stands.
If the Bruins found something in Frederic, they lost the game when they lost Connor.
The blazing Jet, drafted 17th overall in 2015 — behind Boston’s three first-round picks that year — spoiled the mood with two goals in 34 seconds, at 4:27 and 5:01 of the third period. On both, he went missing from the Bruins’ coverage.
On the 2-2 tally, Connor had a breakaway lane to beat Halak. Why? Defenseman Matt Grzelcyk decided to change as the Jets set up what Cassidy called “a pretty clearly defined play. . . . We’ve got to be sharper there.” Moments later, some strong east-west passing from Wheeler and Mark Scheifele set up Connor in front for his 21st goal of the year.
The answer came as the Jets were buzzing, and Connor was hunting a hat trick. Marchand emerged from a board battle with the puck, broke down the wing and fed Bergeron in front. A backchecking Connor got a stick on it, but Bergeron flipped it over Hellebuyck for the tying goal at 11:39.
Connor put Winnipeg ahead in the shootout, picking a backhand over Halak. Pastrnak nearly beat the Jets’ netminder in the shootout, but his glittering deke found Hellebuyck’s left pad, within the margin of error.
“He didn’t have me, then,” Hellebuyck said. “I had a nice big toe there. You got to beat all of me.”