ST. PAUL — Prior to skating out here and roughing up the struggling Wild, 6-1, Saturday night, the Bruins banked their 30th win of 2019-20 just 24 hours earlier in Winnipeg and did it with an uncharacteristic swagger that included three fights, one with an attached 10-minute misconduct, a total of 39 penalty minutes overall.
Oh, and when they weren’t going full food fight, John Belushi Animal House-style, their 2-1 win also included a couple of power-play goals by Patrice Bergeron and Jake DeBrusk.
Because, hey, skill still counts for something, right?
“Definitely a physical game,” said defenseman Brandon Carlo, who led the Black-and-Gold parade to the penalty box with no fewer than 19 PIMs. “Fun to kinda jump right back into it. I think we did a really good job of handling that style of play.”
It was in the same Bell MTS arena two years before that Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, roughly two years into his bench tenure, lauded Carlo’s overall work in development. If only, noted the coach, the lanky backliner could increase the grit in his game.
“Wish he could take some mean pills,” said Cassidy.
Just back from the 10-day bye break, it appeared the 6-foot-5-inch Carlo spent his vacation at a UFC boot camp.
With 4:12 gone, amid a pileup around Tuukka Rask’s net, the long-armed Carlo reached into the crowd and tossed Jets No. 1 center Mark Scheifele right out of the bar. Scheifele, banged around all night, got the message.
Just over five minutes later, Carlo rolled up a 17:00 PIM bundle (2 minutes instigator, 5 fighting, 10 misconduct) when he went after Gabriel Bourque, retaliation for the left-winger’s hit on Boston’s Charlie Coyle.
The hit on Coyle wasn’t all that egregious, but no one on either side was much interested in style assessments. The tone of the evening was set late in the first period when Charlie McAvoy upended Scheifele — the night’s piñata — with a big, clean hip check in open ice. Neal Pionk took McAvoy to task for the hit, and the remaining two-plus periods had both sides playing with a snarl more typically featured in playoff hockey.
For the Bruins, it was a clear message of attitude adjustment. Both the front office and coaching staff have had to ponder the squad’s battle level of late. No, the ’80s aren’t walking through that door here in 2020, but pugnacity still counts for something, a lesson the Bruins learned all too well last June when they couldn’t match the Blues, pushback for pushback, in the Stanley Cup Final.
“Part of the message . . . ,” said Cassidy, who turned a postgame question about Carlo into a general statement abut his team, “. . . was definitely about being harder to play against, and building in these types of games if they’re out there for you. It was there. It presented itself.”
Getting dragged into fights, noted Cassidy, “is something our team needs . . . and typically responds well.”
As for Carlo specifically, Cassidy was happy to see the moxie.
“At the end of the day, Brandon was a big part of that as well,” noted the coach. “He wanted to play harder. He’s a big boy, wanted to take care of the front of the net.”
In his previous 281 regular-season games across three-plus NHL seasons, Carlo amassed 163 penalty minutes. He finished Game No. 282 with a total of 19. Mean pills.
“I definitely want to be engaged physically,” said Carlo, a fixture in the club’s top four defensive rotation since breaking in his rookie year with Zdeno Chara his partner on the left side. “I think at times it’s going to show a little bit more, depending on the style of game and style of play — I am not going to instigate anything most of the time, but overall I am not going to back down from the physicality aspect, I guess you could say.”
Bruins turn on power
The two power-play goals against Winnipeg, on only four chances, snapped a four-game drought (0 for 15 overall) that the Bruins carried into their vacation. The four-game blanking had been their worst of the season. “Some of it is quicker puck movement, less forcing of plays,” said Cassidy, detailing the prior man-up dysfunction. “I think we’ve kinda tried to hit a home run a lot of times instead of just moving the puck around and taking the available shot. Eventually, things will go your way.”
Kuraly takes a seat
Sean Kuraly was designated to the Xcel Energy Center press box because Cassidy was not impressed with his compete level the night before in Winnipeg. Par Lindholm, a scratch vs. the Jets, drew back into the order. “We’re going to make that switch,” Cassidy said after the late-morning workout. “Lindy’s played well. Sean, again, we’ve got to pull a little more competitive spirit out of his game. That’s what we’re looking for.” . . . Danton Heinen was a scratch (lower-body injury). Anton Blidh moved into his spot in the lineup and filled out a fourth line with Lindholm and Chris Wagner. Blidh was a shot-blocking demon early in the third, taking hard shots three times with top penalty-killer Chara off for hooking. The score was 4-0 and Blidh was out there eating rubber, all the more impressive because he was risking injury even with the Bruins in control of the score. “We can’t all be Pasta,” said the modest Blidh. “So that’s my game. I want to stay in the lineup.”
Bergeron dodges bullet
A Jeremy Lauzon shot off one of Bergeron’s hands sent the veteran pivot to the bench in pain early in the third. Bergeron returned to the ice later and looked none the worse for wear . . . Blidh finished with Boston’s lowest ice time (12:09), which is a good-sized portion for fourth-liners. Coaches typically are more intent in balancing ice time on the second night of a back-to-back, but Cassidy, in general, likes to distribute his minutes and keep the entire bench engaged . . . Jake DeBrusk (two goals in two nights), finished with five shots on net, high for the Bruins. . . . Ex-Bruin Ryan Donato, dealt here for Charlie Coyle last February, was a healthy scratch. He has cobbled together a 9-6—15 line in his 45 games . . . WannaB Jack Studnicka clicked for 2-2—4 in Providence’s 6-2 win at Syracuse. Cassidy has liked what he has seen with the recent roster shuffling. Studnicka could be the next man up.
Cassidy on whether general manager Don Sweeney will be able to upgrade the lineup as the Feb. 24 trade deadline approaches: “I’d be good if we traded for [Connor] McDavid and [Leon] Draisaitl . . . I’d be OK with it.” . . . The Bruins will enjoy a day off Sunday and return to practice Monday in Brighton to tune up for Tuesday’s visit by Vancouver. Jim Benning’s Canucks stood at 29-18-4 and on top of the Pacific Division as of Saturday morning.