BOSTON -- There’s no longer any need to call 21-year-old Jake DeBrusk an NHL rookie anymore.
It’s simply time to just start calling DeBrusk a big game player that shows up when it matters most after he put together a two-goal game for the ages in Boston’s 7-4 win in Game 7 over the Toronto Maple Leafs at TD Garden.
HAGGERTY: The Bruins are who we thought they were
It was DeBrusk that scored the game-winner little more than five minutes into the third period when he bombed down the right wing, twisted Jake Gardiner into a defensive pretzel and then pushed a quick shot past Frederik Andersen as he powered to the net while taking a hit from Gardiner after releasing the puck. It was a big-time play from a forward not named Bergeron, Marchand or Pastrnak, and exactly that little something extra needed to put the Black and Gold over the top in the decisive elimination game for the B’s.
“I don’t get out there for four-on-four too much so I just went to the net and kind of caught their defenseman off guard right away with just my speed. Then I tried to make a move and actually tried to raise it, and I didn’t even see it go in,” said DeBrusk. “I just heard the crowd go pretty nuts and it was a very special feeling, especially making it 5-4 at that point. I knew as soon as we got the lead there the next goal, we were going to be fine. It was very special.
“It was special. It’s something I’ll never forget. I’ll never forget this series just in general. First playoffs and I was really happy to contribute, and obviously [Game 7] with the home crowd here too. How the game was going, it was back and forth, and emotions were pretty crazy…insane. It was nice to get on the board, and it was nice to help the team win.”
It was also the kind of thing that players, both young and old, need to do in the playoffs if they want to be consistently successful and effective at a time of year when the little things matter most. He scored the team’s first goal in the first period when he deflected a David Pastrnak point shot while camped down low, and then he landed the game-winner in the third by refusing to take “no” for an answer from Gardiner and Andersen.
“He scored going to the net [and the] dirty areas. He had some chances tonight. So that’s always the first thing: Get into the inside, play inside, be willing to get hit, fight for your space, and that’s playoff hockey. It’s a little more difficult to get there,” said Bruce Cassidy. “They weren’t freebies, all of his goals. He’s around the net. He got a shot through the other night in Toronto, but the other ones here, he’s been real greasy, as advertised.
“He had his legs the whole series. The issue we had with Jake during the year was that consistent push, use your legs and use your feet because he’s young and he’s got them. He can really get on pucks and make people uncomfortable, so I was happy for him. He’s a good kid, he’s worked hard, and he’s really contributing for us.”
DeBrusk was the best player on the ice for the Bruins in Game 7 with his two goals and five shots on net and three hits in 15:40 of ice time, and he was a consistent force in the series with five goals and seven points in the seven games against the Leafs. Lining up against players hyped up by the Toronto media machine like Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner, it was DeBrusk that was making the clutch plays in the big moments.
But this really shouldn’t be a surprise as the fiery, skilled DeBrusk has consistently answered the bell this season in the big moments. He responded resoundingly each time on the rare occasion he was a healthy scratch this season, and nobody will forget the way he took over his first game this season against the Islanders after being reminded that leading Calder Trophy candidate Mathew Barzal was selected right after him in the NHL Draft.
Now DeBrusk has added to that big game player legacy with a strong first playoff experience, and a glowing introduction to Game 7’s that Bruins fans won’t be forgetting anytime soon. He was also consistently the best player on his second line in the series vs. Toronto while using his speed, toughness, and tenacity to create offense around the net.
“There’s something inside of him that not many guys have. He hounds the puck. He stays on it,” said Torey Krug. “We saw it all throughout the series, whether it was up in Toronto [on] that play he made where he’s climbing down the boards and three guys take a run at him, and he hits [David Krejci] back door.
“When he wants it he’s going to get it so, he’s a great player for us. You need contributions from your young guys, and he was a big part of it [in Game 7].”
When looking for another forward that was going to step up and help shoulder the scoring burden with Boston’s top line, most people looked at former All-Star winger Rick Nash or postseason standout David Krejci as candidates to step up and be difference-makers. Instead, it was a youngster that the Bruins wisely refused to trade at the deadline for Ryan McDonagh, and a solid, skilled winger that’s at the very heart of the B’s Youth Movement that’s been so successful this season.
Those that have watched the Bruins all season know just how clutch and timely that DeBrusk is with his moments to break through and do something special, and now the rest of the NHL knows as well after watching him dominate a Game 7 for the ages.