DALLAS — Last year is officially last year, and these Bruins don’t appear to be wallowing in their Game 7 grief.
Scoring twice on their first two shots of 2019-20, they held on for a 2-1 win over the Stars on Thursday night in the season opener for both clubs.
The defending Eastern Conference champions won without David Krejci, whose nagging lower-body injury proved too much a risk to test in Game 1. They also did it without dominant performances from their top line and power play. Other than 16 third-period stops from Tuukka Rask (28 saves), they leaned on the new faces from last spring, and two who joined their ranks July 1.
Brett Ritchie, one of several quiet moves general manager Don Sweeney made in the free agent market, and Danton Heinen scored in the first six minutes.
Ritchie dented the scoreboard 69 seconds in, collecting a loose puck near the left dot and sending a heavy snap shot, short side, underneath the right pad of ex-teammate Ben Bishop. The chance was compliments of Charlie Coyle, who thwarted a Stars breakout attempt along the boards.
“New team, new opportunity,” said Ritchie, who spent six years in the Stars organization and entered the Bruins’ lineup after the morning skate. “That [shot], I was trying to get it through the D-man. You never know.”
Heinen made it 2-0 on the power play at 5:59 by roasting Bishop high, short side, with Coyle screening in front. The power-play goal came thanks to Par Lindholm, another July 1 signing. Promoted from fourth-line center to second-line Krejci replacement, he drew a pair of penalties.
Coach Bruce Cassidy said the team believed Krejci would be ready, but “it didn’t heal as quickly as we’d like, so we’ll aim for Saturday [at Arizona]. We’ll see who ends up in and out then.” Cassidy didn’t have to make many switches Thursday, his charges skating hard and, if not shooting out the lights, playing a responsible, solid game on the road.
“It doesn’t even feel like we had much of a summer, we just came back in,” defenseman Brandon Carlo said. “There were a couple breakdowns here and there, but that’s to be expected.”
The Bruins were 1 for 4 on the power play, their first unit unable to get many looks against a capable Stars penalty-killing unit. Heinen, Coyle, and Ritchie (also creating traffic on Heinen’s goal) combined for the winner, and the defensemen — Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk — had the assists. For a second power-play group that doesn’t typically see much action, it was a strong showing.
Good signs elsewhere: Defenseman Connor Clifton and winger Karson Kuhlman, returning rookies who got a taste of the playoffs last spring, showed their wheels. Kuhlman got loose for a pair of break-ins. Clifton activated from the back end and almost set up Brad Marchand for a tap-in, the defenseman’s pass off-target.
Rask, typically slow to start the season, jumped out of the gate. Speedy young winger Roope Hintz beat him blocker high on a breakaway, taking advantage of a botched change by the Bruins’ defense. But Rask stopped Hintz early after the Finn beat McAvoy on another break-in. He was not done.
Protecting a 2-1 lead, Rask made four sharp stops on a penalty kill in the opening minutes of the third. He handled a Radek Faksa tip from the high slot, two follow-up tries, and a Miro Heiskanen wrister from long distance. Minutes later, Rask got lucky: Tyler Seguin rang the crossbar after a turnover in front.
But Rask left Hintz shaking his head midway through the third. The netminder went split-legged and snagged a laser of a wrister, labeled for the top corner, and kept it 2-1. He stuffed Jamie Oleksiak from 20 feet with seven minutes left.
“Even though Tuukka was excellent, we were committed in front of him,” said Cassidy, whose team was walloped, 7-0, by the Capitals last year on opening night.
“I felt the best in the third, I don’t know if it’s because I had the most action,” said Rask, who will cede the net to Jaroslav Halak on Saturday. “We’ll see how the next game goes.”
The Stars, who had Bishop out of the net in the final 90 seconds, couldn’t get pucks toward Rask. They became the first victim of the Bruins’ 2019-20 revenge tour. It rolls through the desert on Saturday.
Will it hit a wall? Will the two-month grind of last spring, its carryover effects, catch them in a matter of weeks, or months?
“With this group and the work ethic, there’s no general concern of that,” Carlo said. “I think we’re just excited to be here and play hockey again.”