This was one of those games. You know, one of those that you circle on the schedule because a former popular player (Milan Lucic) returns to the scene of his glory days accompanied by one of the National Hockey League’s premier players (Connor McDavid). Thursday evening, there was the unmistakable electricity in Boston’s TD Garden because it was one of those games.
The electricity was heightened with a very fitting tribute to the late Milt Schmidt, the Bruins legend who passed away Wednesday at 98 years of age. Mr. Schmidt, a former player, coach, and general manager of the Bruins, was the oldest living former NHL player at the time of his death.
The electricity that was so high at the start of the game was turned off by the Oilers as they skated to a 4-3 win over Boston.
Edmonton’s Patrick Maroon scored the first hat trick of his NHL career and McDavid garnered two assists while goaltender Cam Talbot stopped 27 shots to lead the Oilers to their first regulation victory in Boston since November 7, 1996.
McDavid’s pair of assists gave him 45 points on the season, moving him past Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin with the most points in the NHL.
“For sure a tough game to lose,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. “Especially on a night like this. It was a night where it was dedicated to Milt (Schmidt) and what he has done and I felt that we let him and obviously his family, including the fans, down.”
Maroon set the tone for the evening just 1:08 into the contest with his 12th goal of the season. The Oilers executed precision-like passing while breaking out of their defensive zone. Once in the neutral zone, Leon Draisaitl sent a pass to a streaking McDavid who carried the puck into the Boston zone on the right wing. He put an inside-out move on Chara then sent a backhand pass across Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask’s crease and Maroon converted the pass into the net to give the Oilers a 1-0 lead.
Colin Miller tied the contest at 1-1 for Boston with a blast from the right point that eluded Talbot at 7:16 of the first period. It was Miller’s third goal of the season. Austin Czarnik, who skated off the left wing boards with the puck and fed it to Miller, assisted on the goal along with Torey Krug.
That would be it for the goal scoring in the opening period. The Bruins outshot the Oilers 13-8 in a period in which they carried the play for long stretches of time.
The second period was more of the same with Boston sending 15 shots on Talbot but the netminder was up to the test giving up just one goal to Patrice Bergeron at the 10:43 mark of the period. Kevan Miller started the play with an outlet pass from deep in his own zone to David Pastrnak. Pastrnak carried the puck along the left wing into the Edmonton zone before putting on the brakes along the half-wall and finding Bergeron, who was skating down the middle of the ice, with a perfect pass. Bergeron released a quick wrist shot past Talbot giving Boston a 2-1 lead.
Maroon would score his second of the game to tie the score at 2-goals apiece only 2:26 after Bergeron’s goal. McDavid was below the Bruins goal line to the right of Rask. He passed the puck out to Oilers defenseman, and Boston University alum, Eric Gryba at the right point. Gryba corralled the pass and put a wrist shot at Rask, it hit Maroon, who was tied up with Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid, but twisted away from McQuaid and put a wrist shot past Rask’s stick side giving the Oilers a 3-2 lead. It was Maroon’s 13th goal of the season which is a career-high for the St. Louis, Missouri native.
Edmonton would finish the period with nine shots for a two-period total of 17 shots on goal. Boston had a total of 28 shots on Talbot’s net.
Although they entered the third period in a 2-2 tie, the game unraveled quickly for the Bruins in the third period.
It took all of 14 seconds into the period before Ryan Nugent-Hopkins gave Edmonton a 3-2 lead. Matt Benning, who played his collegiate hockey at Boston’s Northeastern University, carried the puck from the neutral zone into the Bruins zone. He sent a shot from the right faceoff circle that Rask sticked-aside into Nugent-Hopkins. The puck bounced off the 23-year-old forward and landed behind the Boston goaltender for his eighth goal of the season.
Maroon completed his hat trick and increased his club’s lead to 4-2 with his 14th of the season at 9:02 of the third period. Boston’s Brad Marchand collected a pass along the left wing boards in his defensive zone. He attempted to pass the puck to the middle of the ice to Bergeron but it deflected off a skate onto Maroon’s stick and the forward skated right-to-left along Rask’s crease. He deked Rask with a feigned wrist shot then pulled it back before depositing the disc past an outstretched Rask.
Boston’s David Krejci would close out the scoring with the Bruins on a five-on-three power play. Boston worked the puck around the Edmonton zone until Pastrnak sent a pass from the right point to Marchand, who was standing on the goal line to the right of the net. Marchand found Bergeron in the slot with a pass. Bergeron put a hard, snap-shot on Talbot but the goaltender made the save, however, he left a rebound to his right and Krejci snapped it home cutting the Oiler’s lead to 4-3 at 17:04 of the third period.
In the waning minutes, the Bruins pressed for the tying goal but Talbot withstood the pressure to preserve Edmonton’s victory.
The shots on goal in the final period were even at eight apiece for a three period total of 25 shots for the Oilers and 36 shots for the Bruins.
After the contest, a visibly agitated Bruins coach Claude Julien said the loss was the result of his squad not giving its best effort for the entire 60-minutes of the game.
“Well, you know, again – a wasted good effort, because I thought we played hard, we played well, we had lots of chances, and we didn’t give them much,” Julien said. “But everything we seemed to – every breakdown we seemed to have, ends up in the back of our net. So, those are frustrating nights; they’re frustrating losses, especially when you need to win. So, definitely, that’s how I look at it. We were the better team, there no questions there. We just gave them too many gifts. I’m frustrated about it and I’m sure the players in there (dressing room) are as well.”
Patrice Bergeron echoed his coach’s sentiments.
“It’s really frustrating,” Bergeron said. “I thought breakdowns, I guess, in our zone. I didn’t think they had that much time there. But, if you let these teams get those types of chances, they’re going to hurt you. It’s really frustrating, especially on a night like tonight with the passing of Milt [Schmidt]. So, it’s really tough right now with this loss.”
The Bruins have lost 10 of their last 15 games but Austin Czarnik remains optimistic.
“We are trying to focus on us, not so much the other team,” the first-year forward said. “Shift by shift, period by period, so we are just going to try and focus on the small details that will make us successful. You know it might be a little bumpy road for a little bit like it has been right now but if we focus on the right things every single day then it will start to come and it will be a snowball effect.”
The snowball, of which Czarnik speaks, will need to take effect much sooner rather than later if the Bruins are to avoid a third consecutive Spring without playoff hockey in Boston.
The game versus Edmonton was the 41st of the season for Boston (20-17-4), they have 41 games remaining on the schedule.
Friday, the Bruins will depart on a four-game road trip with games at Florida (Saturday), Carolina (Sunday), St. Louis (Tuesday), and Nashville (Thursday).
Follow ESPN New Hampshire’s NHL Writer, Shawn Hutcheon, on Twitter at @ShawnHutcheon.