Even if the Bruins ultimately lost Friday night in Winnipeg, they showed something that gives a lot of hope for the remaining 30 regular-season games and beyond.
Ultimately the hockey gods rewarded Boston’s grit, toughness and willingness to play for each other and the Bruins pulled out a 2-1 win over the Jets at the DTS Centre that keeps them five points ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Atlantic Division.
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It was a big-boy win in every sense from the Bruins dominating special teams with a couple of power-play goals while holding Winnipeg to an 0-for-6 on its own power play, and ultimately overcoming a 1-0 deficit in their first game back from a 10-day layoff over NHL All-Star weekend and the bye week.
Even better, the Bruins took a one-goal lead a little more than three minutes into the third period and spent the rest of the third playing heavy, committed hockey to protect the lead rather than give it up.
Bruins defensemen were punishing Winnipeg players in the offensive zone, B’s players were paying the price all over the ice and Tuukka Rask was brilliant making 15 saves as the Jets desperately tried to tie the score.
"Part of the message - you talk about teams working on their game - it was definitely about being harder to play against and building these types of games if they're out there for you," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy to reporters in Winnipeg following the game. "It was there, it presented itself. [Zdeno Chara] had a good hit. Charlie has a good, clean hit, they come after him.
"All of a sudden, that changes the complexion of the game. All of a sudden, it's one of those games. Get dragged into the fight, something our team needs, typically responds well."
Brandon Carlo was a wrecking ball on a number of third-period shifts while throwing bodies around in the offensive zone and powerfully clearing bodies out from the front of the net when things started getting a little crowded.
When Carlo plays with a snarl and a bit of a tough-guy swagger as he did on Friday night and McAvoy throws his weight around as he did against Mark Schiefele, it truly changes the complexion of this Bruins into a team that could be very difficult to play against a few months from now.
Best of all, the Bruins responded overwhelmingly when the Jets turned up the physical heat in the first period.
David Pastrnak and David Krejci were hit hard early in the first and McAvoy responded by wiping out Schiefele on a clean, punishing hip check as he tried to enter the Boston zone at high speed. McAvoy then dropped the gloves with Neal Pionk, though both players served roughing minors rather than fighting penalties.
That was followed in the second period by three different fights, including Carlo throwing down with Gabriel Bourque behind the play after the Winnipeg skater threw a big hit at Charlie Coyle. The two teams combined for 64 penalty minutes in the second period and the Bruins spent most of the middle 20 minutes killing off one power play after another, but through it all, the B’s scrapped and clawed to keep it tied.
“It was great by our team to show up and stick up for each other and have a game like that,” said Brad Marchand to reporters after he threw down with Nikolaj Ehlers in the second period and then flexed at the Winnipeg winger on his way to the penalty box. “They're a lot of fun to be a part of, especially when we were [shorthanded] for pretty much the entire second period, to be able to pull that off."
In essence, the Bruins were telling Winnipeg they weren’t going to turn the other cheek once the Jets started throwing their weight around, and instead, they threw punches twice as hard back at the oncoming Jets.
It was an important statement that the Bruins weren’t going to pushed around by a bigger, stronger Jets team on Friday night, and it was a just-as-important message to the rest of the NHL that the B's are going to be at top-level intensity for the final 30 games of the regular season with everything on the line.
Clearly, it’s not going to be fight night every night for the Bruins. These examples of old-time hockey have been the exception rather than the rule in today’s NHL.
Still, the B’s did go from outside the top 10 in fighting majors to sixth overall in the NHL after Marchand, Carlo and Karson Kuhlman all logged fighting majors in the pugilistic affair. And they showed they aren’t going to take any crap from other teams while standing up for themselves and for each other.
Those kinds of things go a long way in a hockey locker room and they speak to a different, focused mindset for the Black and Gold as the sprint portion of the regular season begins with just two full months remaining in the regular season.