BOSTON – As debuts go for the Boston Bruins, Drew Stafford enjoyed a pretty solid one after joining the team following the NHL trade deadline.
The 31-year-old veteran winger had a power play goal overturned in the second period and still ended up serving the primary assist on Boston’s game-winning goal in the third period of the Bruins 3-2 win over the New Jersey Devils at TD Garden. It was actually remarkable how much chemistry he had with Ryan Spooner and Frank Vatrano right off the bat after replacing Jimmy Hayes as the right wing on the third line, but it showed some of the possibilities with a player like Stafford that can keep up with them offensively.
“Our plan was to put him in with [Ryan] Spooner and [Frank] Vatrano, see how that fit, maybe mix him around. I think we set up the line a little bit – I thought he responded well and did the things that we expected,” said B’s interim head coach Bruce Cassidy. “When the puck was on his stick, he was dangerous tonight and that’s what we want from our offensive guys while still playing that 200-foot game. Like I said, he checked all the boxes tonight in terms of being a successful night for him.”
At the end of the night, Stafford led the Bruins with seven shots on net, had nine shot attempts overall and mixed in four registered hits as well in 14 plus minutes of ice time that mixed some good, old-fashioned physicality with a player that can also create some offense for himself. It was just too bad Stafford couldn’t have the goal as well after he bulled his way to the New Jersey net on the B’s power play, and shoveled home a second effort score after taking a solid centering feed from David Backes.
It was ruled a goal on the ice, but a New Jersey coach’s challenge resulted in the goal getting overturned based on evidence that Stafford might have pushed Cory Schneider’s pad before the puck went into the net.
It was an iffy goal reversal given the number of Devils defenders crashing into Schneider at the time of the score, and the fact it cancelled out Stafford’s efforts to crash hard toward the net with some blue collar ferocity. But it obviously didn’t stop Stafford, who kept plugging until the third line broke through with Ryan Spooner’s game-winner in the third period off a sweet dish from the former Winnipeg winger hanging out in the slot.
“I don’t really know what happened. I was just battling in front trying to get something on it, and wasn’t really paying attention too much so I don’t know,” said Stafford. “The refs obviously made their decision. I’m not happy about it, but it is what it is. We were able to grind one out – big win for us, we needed that.
“I couldn’t ask for much more than that. Big win with the boys. It was still kind of a quick turnaround to jump in, but the boys have been great; very supportive – the coaching staff, everybody. I just had to go play and get back to how I know how to play and I was able to get an opportunity to kind of get back into the rhythm and the routine of the minutes and making plays. Those guys [on the third line] they can make those little plays and it’s great. Hopefully it can get better.”
Stafford comes to the Bruins with four goals and 13 points in 40 games this season where injuries and a youth movement in the Winnipeg lineup took away plenty of the production that’s been there for most of his NHL career. Instead, the Bruins hope that Stafford can tap into the skill and hard-nosed play that allowed him to score 21 goals for the Jets just a season ago, and now has him entering a B’s lineup where he’ll get plenty of chances moving forward as a third-liner that’s holding a major influence in the wins and losses these days.