A little more moxie in their game, the Bruins elbowed, shoved, and punched their way back into the winner’s circle Thursday night with a 4-1 triumph over the Penguins at the Garden that was paced by goals from Sean Kuraly, Par Lindholm, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand (empty net).
Only some 48 hours after being shut out for the first time this season, a 3-0 blanking in Columbus on Tuesday, the sons of Bruce Cassidy showed up with their attitudes recalibrated.
“Whatever that saying was,” said Cassidy, recalling the words of Fred “The Fog” Shero, onetime coach of the bully-laden Philadelphia Flyers, “you know, ‘Arrive but arrive in an ornery mood’ . . . I thought they did a good job of doing that tonight.”
That blend of sandpaper and offense translated into one of the more entertaining nights this season on Causeway Street, where the Bruins improved to 16-2-9.
After falling behind, 1-0, on the first shot fired on the night, by superstar Sidney Crosby, the Bruins put their minds to battling for the pucks along the wall, chasing down pucks on the forecheck, and otherwise looking like a team willing to pay the price — something that came into question earlier in the week in losses to Philadelphia and Columbus.
The overall dip in energy, noted Cassidy, led to a team meeting earlier in the day in Brighton, with the coach underscoring some key elements of play and approach that needed refreshing.
“Some of the stuff has to stay in the room,” he explained after the win. “We did have a different day today. We had a different meeting on some things we needed to do better as a group. It wasn’t necessarily a challenge. It was a reset . . . on supporting one another all over the ice. You hope if you do that, to get pucks back, it will bleed into . . . physical play and everything else that goes with it. I thought that part was good. We addressed a little bit about our mentality.
“We feel we are winners in that locker room — but you have to prepare to win, you have to compete to win, and go through the process of winning. I thought today was a good first step to getting back to who we are.”
The Bruins erased the Crosby strike with two of their own in a span of 2:13 in the first. Kuraly led it off with a sharp-angled snipe, helped by a screen from Karson Kuhlman at 10:03. Lindholm followed with what was the game-winner at 12:16, applying a low-slot tip to Kuhlman’s 45-foot snap.
Recalled from Providence in the morning, to fill the roster spot that opened when Brett Ritchie was waived to the minors, Kuhlman applied the little bit of jump Cassidy and crew wanted out of him. He finished with two assists, the same as David Pastrnak, a good night’s work for the former Minnesota-Duluth standout.
Chris Wagner also woke up, displaying more of the physical side of his game that is essential to his fourth-line forechecking, crash-and-burn role. Asked and answered.
But it was Torey Krug, the Bruins’ back-end points producer, who provided the best bounce per ounce. Frustrated by too many hacks from Patric Hornqvist, he tangled with the Penguins forward at 16:05 of the second after seeing Hornqvist smack Matt Grzelcyk with a cross-check. They both went off for roughing. Fresh out of the sin bin, Krug then went right after Hornqvist again, a good punchup that sent them both back to the box for five minutes.
“Just tensions running high,” explained Krug, who threw down for the first time since November 2018. “I’ve been hit by him many, many times over the years, so . . . just something that happens in hockey. It was good. Hopefully it energized our group a little bit.”
Ideally, said Krug, that’s a one-and-done for him in 2019-20.
“But,” he added, “you never know.”
Bruins goalie Jaroslav Halak’s best work came in the final seconds of the second period, off a 2-on-0 break that was triggered by Charlie McAvoy muffing a puck high in the opposite zone. The Bruins still had the 2-1 lead as Bryan Rust and Zach Aston-Reese came barreling down the ice with McAvoy chasing in their vapor trail with about 15 seconds left in the period.
“What was I thinking?” said Halak, who improved to 11-5-6. “I’m thinking hopefully they’re going to run out of time. But that didn’t happen. So I just tried to play the guy with the puck. Thank God he shot it. If they start making plays out there, that’s the hardest thing for a goalie.”
Halak turned back the initial attempt, by Rust, and then followed up with two more stops at the left post on Aston-Reese, the onetime prolific scorer for Northeastern. It preserved the lead at 2-1, and Bergeron provided the knockout punch with his 20th goal of the season at 3:19 of the third.
“We have to remind ourselves what we are, and be grateful to be around this group,” said Cassidy. “A privilege to wear the sweater. Some of these things you get away from a little bit. We have a good group in here. We’ve got a chance again. We’re a good team. Let’s play like it. Let’s get back at it.”