BOSTON – The moves that Bruins GM Don Sweeney made at the NHL trade deadline are already paying winning dividends for the Black and Gold.
The Bruins got very strong performances from new guys Rick Nash and Tommy Wingels and used goals from each of those newly acquired forwards to eventually take a 4-3 overtime decision over the Carolina Hurricanes at TD Garden. It was 20-year-old defenseman Charlie McAvoy that provided the final difference-maker in the extra session, but it was the two new Bruins who led the way playing with energy, enthusiasm, skill and the kind of hard-nosed adrenaline that their sagging teammates needed more of down the stretch.
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Nash showed the offense when he scored his first goal as a member of the Bruins, and his 800th NHL point, on a nifty David Krejci pass to him wide open in front of the net, but the 6-foot-4 winger also showed his 200-foot game when he saved a goal in the first period sweeping a puck away from the crease with Tuukka Rask out of position. It was part of a game-high five shots on net for Nash while forging some very good chemistry with Krejci and Jake DeBrusk just two games into their triple partnership.
All the while, Nash was also showing that he’ll win battles along the walls and play some pretty effective two-way hockey in all zones while being perhaps the perfect complement for Krejci.
“[There was] definitely some good chemistry there. I thought the first game we spent the whole game in the other team’s zone and [on Tuesday] I thought two periods were good – the second period we kind of turned it over a bit,” said Nash. “But it’s been good, and I feel like we can only get better.”
It’s remarkable just how much chemistry that second line has shown in just two games together and it brought the best out of both Nash (10 shots on net in two games) and an energetic DeBrusk (two assists and a plus-3 vs. Carolina) in the win over the Hurricanes.
“[Nash] clearly, he attacks defensemen. He’s a big man, so he backs people off," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "It’s going to allow Jake some room to get to the net. I thought Jake had lots of juice tonight. He was really flying out there and made some plays on the puck and going to the net. He looked like a smaller version of Rick Nash tonight, to be honest with you. That will make [Krejci], obviously, better because he likes to bring people with him and find the guys with speed.
"[Nash] helped that line, I thought, a lot tonight. It looked good to me. I don’t know from your point – I thought they seemed to have some chemistry, which is what we’re looking for, so hopefully, that continues as they play more together.”
Wingels, the other trade deadline piece, certainly might not have quite the same “wow factor” as Nash, but the 29-year-old was every bit as effective in the come-from-behind win. Wingels scored the tying goal in the second on a sniper shot from the face-off circle and set up the pivotal Riley Nash goal just ahead of the first intermission when he disrupted a Carolina play with a dogged, unyielding fore-check in front of the Hurricanes.
Not only did he have the hard-edged work ethic to win the one-on-one battle in front of the net, but then he had the veteran presence to know that Riley Nash was right behind him ready to make a play with the puck. It can’t be underestimated how much easier it is for the Bruins when a Wingels, a solid NHL veteran, enters the lineup when the B’s have to be without Patrice Bergeron for a time with injury.
That was certainly the plan for Sweeney when he shored up his young, talented roster with qualified veteran backups at every position - Wingels at center, Gionta on either wing and Nick Holden on the back end - in case of rookie inconsistencies down the stretch or possible injuries, which have already begun to crop up.
Now, those break-glass-in-case-of-emergency plans are already coming into play and working in Boston’s favor.
“[Wingels] was very good. Lots of energy, physical, obviously contributed offensively and played positional as well,” said Cassidy. “Sometimes, you have to go back and watch the game again to see reload or if you’re taking someone else’s position or covering. [You ask] how are your layers, but from bench-level, looked like he was just a smart, hard player. [It was] nice to see him get on the board early for us.”
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That aforementioned burst of Wingels' speed turned the puck over in front of the Carolina net and the newest Bruin was able to drop a pass back to a dangling Nash as he maneuvered around Scott Darling on his way to scoring Boston’s second goal. That timely score gave the B's a ton of momentum headed into the second period and helped build the Bruins up to the eventual come-from-behind win.
“They’re both experienced players in the league, and I think they’re good people that want to help the team win, so that’s part of it. I’d have to talk to them; I don’t think there’s any animosity of how they ended up here,” said Cassidy. “We wanted them and they can help a good team be better, so I think that’s part of it, as well. Like anybody you go to a new job, you want to [make a] good first impression. I think that’s human nature, and they’ve done that.”
Clearly, there is a long way to go toward formalizing thoughts on what the Bruins did at the trade deadline and there will be any number of ways to break things down given some of the big names that changed teams around the league.
But the early returns for the Black and Gold and for Sweeney are excellent. Nash and Wingels already contributed heavily to an important win that ended a two-game losing streak and the new guys are only scratching the surface of what they can do once things really start to take a turn for the playoffs a couple of months from now.