CHICAGO — Four-plus months into the new season, one now edging inexorably toward the second season, Charlie McAvoy on Wednesday night scored his first goal.
Small step for McAvoy, and a giant leap into first place in the NHL’s standings for the Bruins.
Racing up ice with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk, McAvoy rushed to the right post and knocked home DeBrusk’s perfect feed with 1:19 gone in overtime, lifting the Bruins to a 2-1 win over the Blackhawks and carrying them into the top spot in the standings with 78 points — 1 point ahead of the Capitals.
Thus ended McAvoy’s scoring drought at 51 games, and 75 shots on net, and maybe a thousand shakes of the head in frustration.
And then, the deluge. As McAvoy tumbled near the rear wall after potting his goal, only the 15th of his career, the entire Boston bench emptied and pig-piled onto the joyous 22-year-old blue liner.
“Relief!” McAvoy said following the win, which lifted the Bruins to 33-10-12 for the season.
McAvoy, the former BU defenseman now playing in his third NHL regular season, praised the work of both Krejci, who carried the puck into the zone, and DeBrusk, who fired his pinpoint feed from the left wing after Krejci dished off on a 3-on-1 attack.
“Really simple for me,” explained McAvoy. “I was just going to the back post and he put it right on my stick. And the rest is history.
“It’s nice . . . It weighs . . . As much as you don’t want to say, you do think about it. It’s your confidence and everything.
“You feel like you can contribute a certain amount and sometimes when it’s not there, your confidence takes a hit.
“Like I said to these guys, ‘Thanks for keeping my confidence high.’ They all do . . . Everyone kept saying, ‘It’s coming, it’s coming.’ So their response there was pretty neat — they were all kinda bustin’ my chops. So I hope now there’s a little more confidence, and maybe we’ll start to see more things go in for me.”
McAvoy, chosen 14th overall in the 2016 draft, signed a three-year deal worth $15 million before the new season began.
He has been anointed the franchise defenseman of the future, a status that has looked perhaps a bit premature as he has struggled to put in a goal.
“He is still playing very well for us,” said coach Bruce Cassidy, his club a perfect 4-0 since returning from the bye break. “I know he wants to get on the board.
“He’s had a little tough luck and sometimes he’s over-passed. Tonight, he had no choice on that one — he had to shoot it. So good for him. Hopefully, he’ll have a few more.”
It was Boston’s fifth straight win, and fourth since returning from the break.
The Blackhawks appeared to take a 2-1 lead with 1:55 to go in regulation when Drake Caggiula whistled a puck by Bruins goaltender Jaroslav Halak (21 saves) off the rush, the Hawks attacking on a delayed-penalty call.
However, the officials immediately took the goal off the board because the whistle had blown just before Caggiula fired. Defenseman Olli Maatta was guilty of a hand pass, they ruled, just before Caggiula took possession.
“We could hear the whistle on our bench,” said Cassidy.
Time soon expired and the clubs headed to OT.
The Blackhawks didn’t do much right in the opening 40:00.
They generated only 13 shots for the two periods, including a stretch of some 10 minutes in the first in which they didn’t land a single shot.
However, they did score first after a scoreless first period.
Only 47 seconds after Krejci was whistled off for a rare boarding penalty (only the fifth of his career), Alex DeBrincat potted the 1-0 lead, rushing in form the back door after Patrick Kane launched a wrister from the right wing circle.
Amid Brandon Carlo wrestling in the crease with Kirby Dach, Kane’s shot popped out to the left side and the opportunistic DeBrincat smacked it by Halak for the lead at 6:50.
The Bruins were back with the equalizer at 12:49, Sean Kuraly connecting after he carried behind the net, curled out from behind the right post and rifled a flat-angle wrister that squeezed in between Robin Lehner’s pads.
On a night the Bruins fired 40 shots on Lehner, Kuraly led all shooters with five on net. After a recent night scratched from the lineup, he has returned in a new role as a left winger with Charlie Coyle at center and Anders Bjork on right wing.
“I think when the three of us do our thing,” mused Kuraly, “we’re all a little bit different, but all combined, if we stick to our strengths it’s an effective trio.”
Coyle helped provide a screen, setting up at the right post with Jonathan Toews — what appeared to keep Lehner from getting a good luck at the Bruins winger.
The power-play goal by the Hawks was the first allowed by the Bruins since getting back to work on Jan. 31. In the previous three games, they were a perfect 13-for-13 on the kill.