OTTAWA -- While it was far from playoff perfect and it included a DOA second period without a single shot on net, the Bruins had to be encouraged by much of what they saw in taking Game 1 from the Ottawa Senators.
They put out a lineup that was missing four injured regulars -- Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo, David Krejci and Noel Acciari -- and featured eight players making their playoff debuts. Yet they still pulled out a 2-1 victory for a 1-0 series advantage.
“I’ve used the word resiliency a lot and I think it’s become a bit of our middle name,” said Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy. “We’ve gone through quite a bit in-game and with some injuries, and we seem to find a way. I think this group has got a lot of character and it stars with the leadership. Then sometimes you need to look at the game plan a little differently, but in the end it’s the players. They have to go out there and play. They’re the ones that push the pace and bring the energy, and in the end they’re the ones that come through.”
It certainly wasn’t easy going through a second period that featured a) a bad shift from the Adam McQuaid-Zdeno Chara pairing led to Bobby Ryan manufacturing a goal off a McQuaid turnover, b) Colin Miller going down after a dangerous leg-on-leg hit by Mark Borowiecki, and c) the Bruins being were held without a single shot on net. That’s something that didn’t happen to them during the entire 82-game regular season, but they could break through against Guy Boucher's 1-3-1 trap while Ottawa was trying to sit on a one-goal lead.
“They were all over us in the second,” admitted Brad Marchand.
But the Bruins kicked it up a notch in the third period and showed some things that could allow them to have extended postseason success.
Frank Vatrano snapped out of a funk that saw him go without a goal, and just two measly points, in his final 16 games of the regular season, the longest offensive drought of his career as a pro. The game-tying goal he provided is exactly the kind of secondary scoring that teams need to be successful in the playoffs, and they got it in Game 1 while the Senators did not.
Boston’s best players also came to play in Game 1 and were strong across the board. Tuukka Rask stopped 26 shots while basically keeping the Bruins afloat in the second period, and his stops in the first period on quality scoring chances by Ryan and Derick Brassard were as timely as they were impressive. Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy were all on the ice together late in the third period for the game-clinching1 shift, and just kept on winning battles and logging attack zone time while grinding down the Senators into submission.
Sure the game-winning goal came off a good bounce -- a Patrice Bergeron shot went off a shin pad in front and bounced right to Marchand, who hammered it into the net -- but it was also a product of the B’s most dominant offensive players outlasting Ottawa in a battle of wills.
Marchand also snapped a 20-game goal-scoring drought in the playoffs. His goal was also a byproduct of Boston’s best players flat-out beating the match-up Boucher had hand-picked as defenders against them all game, the Jean-Gabriel Pageau line and the D-pairing of Cody Ceci and Dion Phaneuf.
“[Being out] there with a group of guys like that, a forward group like that [while paired] with Chara obviously, they were so good at reloading just puck after puck after puck after puck,” said a bit of an awestruck McAvoy at the kind of talent Boston was flashing in exerting its will late in the third period. “So we were able to get that fortunate bounce, and that was awesome.”
Ah yes, McAvoy.
The 19-year-old was perhaps the most encouraging Bruins development of them all as he stepped up to play 24:11 of ice time, good for second on the B’s behind Chara, and checked all the boxes about his readiness for Stanley Cup playoff hockey in his NHL debut. His passes had tape-to-tape precision. He displayed the kind of om-ice vision that’s a rare commodity. He showed the ability to blend in immediately on a power play that needs to keep producing. And he demonstrated poise in a spot where many 19-year-olds would have turned into a puddle.
McAvoy took a big hit from Mark Borowiecki early in the first period as part of his welcome-to-the-NHL moment, but shook it off. And he even showed an ability to defend well enough in his own zone when it was called for in moments of stress. Clearly, McAvoy will need to keep this up for as long as Torey Krug is out injured, but it’s also clear the B's now have another badly-needed impact defenseman.
“A lot of guys did a good job of stepping up," said Marchand. "In the third [period], we used everybody and that’s what you have to do in the playoffs. You need to use your whole bench. Guys did a really good job of coming in and stepping up. McAvoy did a great job. All the guys that it was their first game [played well]. It was great to see and we’re going to need it going forward.
“Whoever plays has to play their best. We can’t afford for any guys to be weak links. It’s the playoffs, so it’s all do-or-die.”
For the Bruins it was all “do” and no “die” in Game 1 over the Sens, and they hope that’s harbinger of good things to come.