Old time hockey returned to Boston’s sold-out TD Garden Thursday night when the Bruins played less than gracious hosts to the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. In a physical game that brought back memories of the Big, Bad, Bruins, Boston overcame a two-goal deficit to defeat Pittsburgh 4-3.
Bruins forward Brad Marchand – who was fined $10,000 earlier in the day for a “dangerous trip” on Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall in Boston’s win over the Red Wings last Tuesday – scored his 20th and 21st goals of the season to lead his club to the victory. Linemate Patrice Bergeron scored the game-winning goal and added an assist while David Pastrnak garnered two assists. Goaltender Tuukka Rask stopped 19 Penguins shots while Bruins improved to a 25-21-6 record.
“It’s the kind of game we’re looking for,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “We need emotional involvement, we need to be engaged, and tonight we were engaged. We needed to be emotionally connected to this game and you know, you saw (David) Backes coming out and throwing some big hits and we started making plays and that’s what we need. You need to build around things like that and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
“I liked the fact that we didn’t sit on our heels; we just went after these guys (Pittsburgh) and continued to put some pressure on them.”
However, the night began looking like it would belong to Pittsburgh.
Justin Schultz put the Penguins on the board after some nifty puckhandling through the neutral zone by teammate Conor Sheary. Sheary received a breakout pass, in the Pittsburgh zone, from Ian Cole and skated into the Bruins end of the ice before losing his balance and having the puck roll off his stick. Schultz had joined the rush and put the puck at Rask but it hit the stick of Boston defenseman Brandon Carlo and slid past Rask giving Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead 7:37 into the period.
Phil Kessel made it a 2-0 game with a power play goal at 11:26 when he scored with a one-timer off a cross-ice pass from Sidney Crosby. It was the 15th goal of the season for Kessel. Schultz was credited with the secondary assist for moving the puck to Crosby, who was in the left faceoff circle, from the center-point.
When the period came to a close, Pittsburgh held the lead although each team had taken 13 shots on goal.
The second period saw the game become a more physical affair with each team dishing out some big-time hits and more than one, shall we say, word of encouragement uttered between the players after whistles. Through it all, Boston would reel off three of four consecutive goals in the period.
Marchand got the scoring parade started for Boston with a shorthanded goal just 38 seconds into the period. With Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid in the penalty box, Kevan Miller broke up a Penguins’ rush in the Boston zone. The puck squirted free to Bergeron. He found a breaking Marchand in the middle of the ice and sent him in alone on Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray. Marchand beat Murray through the netminder’s feet cutting the Penguins’ lead to 2-1. The goal gave Marchand the League lead in shorthanded goals (3) on the season. It was also his 20th goal of the season making this the fourth consecutive season he has scored 20 goals and the sixth time he has achieved the fete in his eight-year career.
Marchand scored his second of the game at the 6:27 mark of the period. Bergeron began the play by winning a faceoff in the right circle in the Penguins zone. The puck went to Carlo at the blue line and he sent it into Marchand along the right wing boards. Marchand hit Pastrnak with a pass at the top of the circle. Pastrnak’s shot was stopped by Murray but the rebound landed on Marchand’s stick in front of the net and he swiped it behind Murray to tie the score at 2-2.
A bit of rivalry nastiness began to boil over when Boston’s David Backes and Pittsburgh’s Trevor Daley were sent off for unsportsmanlike conduct penalties at 8:26 of the period.
The Bruins took the lead on Riley Nash’s third goal of the year at 10:25 of the period. With his line getting strong offensive pressure, Dominic Moore skated the puck towards the right corner before passing to Torey Krug back at the bottom of the faceoff circle. Krug moved toward the middle of the ice and let a hard, low, wrist shot go at Murray. Nash, stationed in front of Murray, deflected the shot over the goaltender’s glove hand and into the net giving Boston a 3-2 lead.
During the offseason, the Bruins signed Backes to be a leader on the ice and off, and he led Boston’s physical play with six hits and if he did not set the tone with Daley, he did that and more when he exchanged words and cross-checks with Kessel before finally dropping the gloves with the former Bruin.
“He’s had nights where I think he’s skated well,” Julien said when asked to assess Backes’ performance on this night. “There’s other nights where it’s been tougher on him. I think the physicality of him tonight was certainly something we can definitely use and it was nice to see because that, to me, created some energy. It showed great leadership. We’re looking to find an identity and get better with it and I think Backs if he can certainly build on that, it’s certainly going to help our hockey club.”
The Backes/Kessel altercation was followed by an all-out rock ‘em, sock ‘em bout between Boston’s Colin Miller and Pittsburgh’s Scott Wilson. Miller won the fight sending TD Garden into a frenzy believing that, for one night at least, the hard-hitting, battling, Bruins were back.
Boston began the third period with the 3-2 lead and a 29-17 lead in shots on goal.
For the second consecutive period, the Bruins struck early as Bergeron scored a power play goal 38 seconds into the third period. Ryan Spooner controlled the puck at the right half-wall then sent a cross-ice pass to Pastrnak. Pastrnak shot a wrister at Murray that was stopped but Bergeron, standing on the doorstep, needed two swipes at the puck but put the second swipe under the crossbar. At first, the play was not ruled a goal by the referee but replay showed that the puck did enter the net, hit the bar in the back of the net and came directly out. With the play ruled as a goal, Boston took a 4-2 lead. The goal was the 11th of the season for the centerman. It was also the 75th power play goal of Bergeron’s NHL career moving him one ahead of Bobby Orr into 7th place on the Bruins all-time power play goal list. ICYAW (in case you are wondering) Cam Neely is at the top of the list with 129 career power play goals.
At the 10:35 mark of the period, Pittsburgh’s Patric Hornqvist made the things interesting. He scored his 12th goal of the year reducing Boston’s lead to 4-3. Upon entering the Bruins’ zone, he sent the puck down low behind the net to Chris Kunitz. As Kunitz gathered the puck to Rask’s left, Hornqvist burst to the front of the net from the left wing. Kunitz sent a pass out to Hornqvist, who was all alone and he buried the puck as he carried it across the crease.
The rest of the period belonged to Boston’s solid commitment to competing which has not been present in all Bruins games this season.
“I think that’s when we’re at our best when we’re playing with emotion,” Marchand said. “I think we’re starting to realize that, and the guys did a really good job in showing their character in the second period and stepping up. You know, Backes was all over them. Millsy (Colin Miller) had a phenomenal fight, and, you know, just guys as a whole, as a team, we were being physical, we were being tight. And that’s how we have to play. We have to play with that emotion, you know. It really drives our team.”
Backes agreed with Marchand’s assessment of their team.
“We’ve hit our stride in these last two games,” Backes said. “We’ve got to bottle this up and be able to rekindle these feelings of what it takes to win and do all the little things and put that back on the ice when we get back together on Tuesday.”
The NHL will now begin its All-Star break. Marchand and Rask will be members of the Atlantic Division team in the three-on-three tournament in Los Angeles.
The League will resume the regular season schedule on Tuesday. Boston will be Tampa Bay ( (7:30 p.m. ET; SN, SN1, TVA Sports, SUN, NESN, NHL.TV).
Follow ESPN New Hampshire NHL Writer, Shawn Hutcheon, on Twitter @ShawnHutcheon