The start was cold again, for a second straight game, but in the end the mojo flowed like molten Black-and-Gold lava down Causeway St.
It’s March, the Stanley Cup playoffs begin in a month, and the Bruins can do no wrong.
“It’s in our DNA now that we just don’t give up,” said Tuukka Rask, who, on even an off night for him, was good enough to back the Bruins to their 18th consecutive game without a regulation loss. “We go about our business and just battle to the end.”
They are one part Patriots. They are another part Red Sox. They are decidedly no part the current 12-car train wreck that is the Celtics.
Above all, they are having fun, pulling everyone in the barn with them, playing the last two months like a bunch of giddy AAA hotshots told to forget about homework, exams, and teachers’ dirty looks and just go lay waste to the out-of-town tournament (parents book those rooms early and bring loads of snacks) that hands a big silver cup to the champ.
In a game of capricious, sometimes cruel bounces, the 2018-19 Bruins have reached the point now, without a regulation loss in seven weeks (14-0-4, dating to Jan. 19) that they play like they expect some magic to happen, that they’ll conjur it up on demand as if their sticks have all been autographed by Harry Potter.
The wizardry in Game No. 67 came in the final 37 seconds, first with Matt Grzelcyk dialing up a long-range one-timer for the tying goal (3-3) and then a Patrice Bergeron snipe with exactly 6.7 seconds on the big Garden scoreboard that these days looks as if it been hacked by the Disney Channel. What next, a shower of pixie dust?
The second you don’t think it can happen, that there just isn’t time for it to happen . . . well, in the words of Ned Martin, the legendary Red Sox broadcaster, if you’ve just joined us, it’s happened again. They are hotter than an August night in the Red Sox magical season of 1967.
“The guys want to win every night,” said Bruce Cassidy, coach of hockey’s 2-points-in-the-win-column gang. “They don’t want to just say, ‘Hey, we’ve had a real good run, let’s . . . you know, it’s not our night, let’s get on to the next one.’ That’s a positive sign for us, that we’ve got a bunch of gamers in there.”
The good feels overflow, beyond practices and games. For side entertainment, fellow shorties Torey Krug and Brad Marchand have been trading good-natured insults on social media, cutting each other down over their lack of height. Let’s just say their shots from the keyboard are the equal of those from their sticks. Midget word wrestling. Shtick and sticks.
“It’s like the way we win,” added Cassidy, on track to be only the second Bruins coach ever to record back-to-back 50-win seasons. “Different guys contributing . . . shorthanded goal (Bergeron to make it 2-2), so never quit.
“I love that about the guys. They play for one another every night. It’s not always perfect, but they’re great that way. And they’re happy for each other. You don’t see that in every team — trust me. [Sometimes] some guys are not happy for others. They want to be the guy and I think our guys are genuinely happy for each other’s success.”
If they’re not, then they’re hiding it better than all the secrets in Al Capone’s safe. These aren’t the swashbuckling Big Bad Bruins of the Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito era, but we’re all (at least most of us) a half-century or more beyond the innocent ’60s.
Back then, only the NHL team owners were millionaires and players typically were playing for their next contract. Now millionaires flood the ice, and it’s no easy task for a coach to get a buy-in from the well-heeled help. Cassidy has been able to get them to focus on cashing in 2 points as shared equity.
“What’s interesting this year,” added Cassidy “is that we have lost some certain guys.” Most notable loss: top gunner David Pastrnak. He has been out for more than three weeks. And all they’ve done is continue the beatings.
“So that part of it has been nice to see . . . who’s next?” he said. “You know, who’s going to step up next? Tonight [Grzelcyk] gets the big goal. Hopefully Saturday [vs. Ottawa] it’s the next guy. I think that’s good team-building when everybody has their day.”
Charlie McAvoy, who pitched in with two assists, sounded like a kid who figured he should still be back at BU, not knowing quite what to make of the unending magic carpet ride.
“Oh, man, what an exciting game,” he said. “Felt like it had everything. What an effort by us.”
Only 48 hours before, noted McAvoy, the Bruins were in an identical pickle, down, 2-0, to the ’Canes. They won that one. They allowed the first two vs. the Panthers, only to waltz down the West End again with another W.
“Just this team, you know, no one ever says die,” said McAvoy, marveling for a moment over Bergeron’s shorthander. “What a great effort by our team. Every one played their part tonight. No one quit . . . all the way down to the last buzzer. What an exciting game. Morally, that feels great for us. It’s so exciting, I feel like I’m not off that high right now.”
There is still a long way to go. They’ll need to keep the high. There are no guarantees that it lasts beyond Saturday night’s faceoff, but for now, in the moment, Boston and hockey have stirred up the magic and the imagination.
We were once a city afraid to run with it. Now it’s almost like the magic has become the norm.