BOSTON – Bobby Orr’s iconic, leaping goal that clinched a Stanley Cup for the Bruins was memorable enough to earn its own statue outside the TD Garden, and will always be No. 1 in the hearts and minds of hockey fans around New England.
But it’s been bumped down to No. 3 for longtime TD Garden Bull Gang member John Grzelcyk for understandable reasons, and both of those preferred favorite moments involve his hockey-playing son, Matt. One was a game-winning goal vs. Northeastern to secure a Beanpot when he played for Boston University, but the newest one was all about his burgeoning career with the Black and Gold. The Bruins rookie defenseman did his Zamboni-driving papa proud on Friday afternoon when he snapped home his first career NHL goal in a 4-3 B’s win over the Pittsburgh Penguins at TD Garden in their annual Black Friday matinee.
“I feel bad for Bobby Orr, but he’s my son,” said the elder Grzelcyk, beaming with pride. “Sorry.”
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The 5-foot-9, 174-pound Grzelcyk’s goal ended up being a pivotal one in Boston’s fourth win in a row as it arrived in the second period amid a flurry of three goals from the Penguins, and allowed the game to still be tied entering the third period. Jake DeBrusk had slipped a centering pass to David Krejci in the slot for a one-time opportunity, and the playmaking center fanned on the shot attempt with the puck drifting over to Grzelcyk crashing toward the net.
The quick change of puck direction opened up a shooting seam for the 23-year-old Grzelcyk, and he snapped the puck past Matt Murray for his first goal of the season at either the NHL or AHL level this season. The first NHL career goal would have been welcomed no matter when it happened for Grzelcyk, of course, but to have it go down on national TV in an NBC game had to make it extra special.
You couldn’t tell any of that, of course, because the younger Grzelcyk was trying to act like he’d been there before after the score. But it was clear how excited his teammates were for him as Kevan Miller quickly retrieved the puck for his D-partner, and they gathered around him for the time-honored hockey hug celebration.
“It was pretty special, obviously. It brings back memories of skating [on the Garden ice] as a kid and stuff like that. It hasn’t really set in yet, it was pretty cool to get that out of the way,” said Grzelcyk, who has a goal and two points along with a plus-4 rating in three games with Boston this season. “It was kind of a jolt through my system. I didn’t really know what was going on. I was trying to hide it the best I could. I think the rest of the guys were trying to make me smile. I was really happy.”
Part of the reason Grzelcyk got to remain in the lineup was Bruce Cassidy’s choice to go with seven defensemen against the Penguins, a game lineup look the Bruins haven’t used in an awfully long time. It allowed the Bruins to ease Torey Krug back into the lineup after missing the last couple of games with an upper-body injury, keep Robbie O’Gara active in case they needed more of a big-bodied presence in the D-zone and let Grzelcyk keep playing given how good he’s looked in his NHL appearances this season.
Cassidy indicated that plugging both Grzelcyk and Krug in among a 7 D-men formation, for a greater puck-moving dimension to the team, is something they may tinker with more moving forward.
“We don’t mind that 11 forwards, seven D. It may be something we look at more often if you have Krug and Griz [Matt Grzelcyk] in there. But they both played well, well enough Robby [Rob O’Gara] didn’t see a lot of ice. I thought he was fine when he was in there, to be honest with you. It’s not easy to sit there,” said Bruce Cassidy. “But adding Griz into the mix does give you another puck mover with Charlie [McAvoy] and Krug if all three are in there. I think that’s important.
“That’s not being disrespectful to the other – when we have more heavy guys. It really helps our penalty kill. When you have four guys– makes it tough to get inside. We are finding that balance. And I think it’s something that we’ll tinker with for a while, and the more Griz plays consistent hockey, the easier the decision it makes.”
Either way, it will take quite a bit for Grzelcyk’s next big hockey accomplishment to live up to a pretty cool setting for his first NHL goal, or be enough to finally edge Bobby Orr out of the old man’s top-3 favorite hockey moments of all time.
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GOLD STAR: David Pastrnak netted the game-winner in the third period after getting freed up for a breakaway chance, and then throwing a double-move at Matt Murray before tucking one under his glove hand. It was the first goal in six games for Pastrnak, and it capped off a day when he topped 22 minutes of ice time, had a team-high five shots on net and battled through some physical play from the Penguins to get toward his offense. The 21-year-old continues to set the pace for the Bruins offensively, and has shown all the signs in the last couple of games that he’s busting out of whatever mini-slump was holding him down. Everybody knows that Pasta isn’t good for Thanksgiving, but it is certainly good for Black Friday.
BLACK EYE: A tough afternoon for former Boston College standout Brian Dumoulin, who got rocked by a couple of heavy Noel Acciari hits later in the game, finishing with a minus-2 rating while sitting on the ice for a couple of goals against. Dumoulin finished with three giveaways in 20:03 of ice time, managed only a single shot on net and was one of the weaker links on the ice for Pittsburgh in a game where they didn’t play too badly in the final 40 minutes. Dumoulin seems to struggle a bit when he comes back to Boston, and Black Friday afternoon was no exception.
TURNING POINT: The Bruins were outplayed in the second period despite outshooting the Penguins by a 14-8 margin, and they watched as Pittsburgh pressed them for three goals in the middle 20 minutes. But in what turned out to be a very important play in the game, Matt Grzelcyk finished off a broken play in front of the net to score his first NHL goal on the Garden ice where he grew up skating. That goal allowed the Bruins to move into the second intermission with a tied hockey game, and set things up for the third period heroics where David Pastrnak scored the game-winner on a breakaway strike.
HONORABLE MENTION: Jake DeBrusk put together another strong performance, and his line played a giant role in the Bruins jumping out to a 2-0 lead after the first period. He set up the David Krejci goal that got the Bruins up and rolling in the first period, and then he also fed Krejci again in the second period on a shot attempt he fanned on in the slot. The puck drifted over to Matt Grzelcyk for Boston’s third goal, and it capped off a day where the rookie winger topped 18 minutes of ice time, had two assists and a plus-1 rating, finished with four shots on net and had a couple of hits in there for good measure.
BY THE NUMBERS: 3 – the placement the Bruins now have in the Atlantic Division after winning four games in a row, which puts them back into a playoff spot on the day after Thanksgiving. What a stunning turnaround it’s been over the last couple of weeks.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “it’s exciting. You’re on NBC, you’re playing against the Stanley Cup Champions, everyone is watching, let’s put our best foot forward. I know it’s one of 82, but it’s a bigger one of 82 the way I look at it, and I think they felt the same way coming out [in the first period].” –Bruce Cassidy, on the strong start from the Black and Gold.