Chris Wagner’s goal broke the ice for the Bruins
As off nights go in hockey, this one started decidedly out of whack for the Bruins, a first period filled with big hits and bad penalties, a second period that didn’t begin any more promisingly when barely a minute in, the visiting Hurricanes would net their second goal of the night, pinning one of the hottest teams in hockey in a pretty unfamiliar hole. These are the Bruins, who hadn’t trailed by two goals for some seven weeks, since a Jan. 16 game against the Flyers.
Somebody needed a wake-up call.
A late-arriving crowd hadn’t done it. A visiting team evoking old Adams Division enmity by wearing throwback Hartford Whalers jerseys hadn’t done it either.
But then, Chris Wagner did it. The kid from Walpole knows his way around Boston, and Tuesday night at TD Garden, he was in the exact right spot at precisely the right time to provide that much-needed alarm bell, burying a rebound of teammate Brandon Carlo’s shot at 12:28 of the second. The score sheet can show what the goal did in numbers — slicing a deficit in half — but as coach Bruce Cassidy indicated with his post-game assessment, it did so much more.
“It broke the ice,” Cassidy said.
And opened the floodgates. With the Bruins back in synch, they would rally to tie the game, to take the lead, to lose said lead, but ultimately, to win in overtime, a game-winner by David Krejci giving them a 4-3 decision over the similarly red-hot Hurricanes. That’s 17 straight games with at least 1 point now, a 13-0-4 stretch.
And it all started with Wagner.
As hometown returns go, this one has been pretty special for Wagner, whose goal got him to double-digit scoring for the first time in his career, whose two-year free agent signing this offseason looks like quite the bargain at $1.25 million per, whose Boston roots run deep. His mom and dad Paul and Cindy make the trip from Walpole for every home game, his brother Paul is usually with them as well. His own car knows that drive up the Mass Pike to Exit 20 so well it could practically do it without him. Outside of the small stir Wagner caused just this week when he commented on an Instagram post by fellow Boston pro athlete Kyrie Irving (more on that in a minute), this reunion of hometown athlete and hometown team has been the stuff of dreams.
“Ten goals,” Wagner said, shaking his head in the postgame locker room. “I don’t know if I could have ever dreamt of that when I was 16 playing at Xaverian. You don’t know if it’s ever going to set in how cool it is until probably it’s over. But yeah, I’m enjoying it right now.
“It’s pretty crazy.”
Not so crazy in the mind of Cassidy, who was pretty sure the Bruins’ style of play could be a good fit for a grinder like Wagner, a player willing to do the dirty work life on the fourth line requires.
“We figured he could get to 10, 12 goals if he played 13, 14, 15 minutes,” Cassidy said. “It doesn’t mean he’s going to do it, but we hoped he would with a little more opportunity. He’s taken advantage of it.
“I just think he goes to the net lots and he’s willing to get there. You watch him in practice, he’s got a decent shot. What he’s missing offensively is that play-making ability, but he’s willing to get there. I find the guys that are going to get there in this league, if you play enough, and you’ve got a decent shot, you’re going to get rewarded . . . That first goal, that was a good example of that.”
And so does this shining example of a Bruins season continue, hurtling toward a playoff run that feels more and more like it belongs alongside the championship ones by the Patriots and Red Sox, the one that stands in stark contrast to the stumbling, bumbling Celtics. Wagner is actually a huge Celtics fan, one who couldn’t wait to get out of the arena in time Tuesday night to watch Irving and Co. take on the Warriors in California, one who wanted to clear the air on the notion he’d taken a shot at Irving on social media.
Wagner’s reply to a post about Irving’s recently professed disdain for too many cameras in his face referenced Irving’s acting alter ego Uncle Drew, seemingly taking a shot at how much Irving actually likes the camera.
Not so, Wagner insisted.
“I was just making a joke to my buddy,” he said. “I didn’t think anyone would see it. I’ve got the most respect for him. He’s making money doing other stuff than basketball, which I probably wish I could do. I definitely didn’t see that [reaction] coming. I wish I never did it because it’s probably taken the wrong way.
“It wasn’t anything malicious. I love watching them. Huge game [against Golden State] and I’m going to root for them like I always do.”