Finding ways to win when you may not have your best is one of the truest tests of a good team. For much of the first two periods on Wednesday night, the Bruins looked anything but the group that had won eight of their last 10 games.
Boston managed just two shots on goal in the first period – none over the frame’s final 18 minutes. The Red Wings played a stifling brand of defense for much of the night, zipping shut shooting lanes with 22 blocked shots.
But the Bruins were not deterred.
Boston twice battled back from down a goal to tie the game in the third period, before Brad Marchand sealed the come-from-behind victory with a backhand breakaway just 35 seconds into overtime at Little Caesars Arena. The Bruins’ ninth win in 11 games was, perhaps, its most telling.
“It’s big. It just shows the character that we have in the room and that we’re really learning a lot and starting to come together,” said Marchand, who also delivered a slick assist on David Pastrnak’s tying marker with 1:26 remaining in regulation.
“Different guys are stepping up every night. To have a good team you need that. We’re going to need that still going forward, but it’s great to see.”
After a Dylan Larkin shorthanded tally put Detroit ahead midway through the third, Marchand forced the game to overtime with a stellar dish to Pastrnak with the goalie pulled.
Bruce Cassidy summoned Tuukka Rask to the bench with 2:32 remaining, allowing him to deploy David Backes as the extra skater, a luxury Boston’s bench boss was without during the winger’s absence earlier this season.
With Backes’ big body parked at the top of the paint, the slightest of lanes opened up through the slot, allowing Marchand to thread a pass through three Detroit defenders. Pastrnak was positioned at the far post where he ripped the puck into an open net to tie the game, 2-2.
“What goes unnoticed is that’s where we missed Backes a little bit earlier in the empty nets [situations]. He’ll go right to the top of the paint,” said Cassidy. “He’s going to occupy the goaltender, at least one defender, so that does open up lanes. I thought [David Krejci] did a really good job up top.
“Obviously finding the lane was the key part of it and that’s on Pasta to move around to find it.”
Pastrnak did just that, admitting that he only picked up the pass from Marchand at the last second. His 15th goal of the season extended his league-leading points streak to nine games (5-6-11).
“I didn’t even see Marchy,” said Pastrnak, who was playing in his 200th career game. “Last time I saw him he was coming down the wall. I thought he was going to shoot it. I saw the puck real last second. It was not an easy shot; it was coming pretty hot. But I got it on the ice and had an empty net. I’m surprised I even hit that puck.”
Boston started the extra session with Patrice Bergeron, Torey Krug, and Marchand – Cassidy’s preferred overtime trio. They wasted little time ending it.
Bergeron helped Marchand dig the puck off the wall in the Bruins’ end, before Marchand quickly moved it to Krug (two assists) and started a 2-on-1 through the neutral zone. With Mike Green closing on Krug, the blue liner sauced a backhand to Marchand in open ice.
Marchand broke in all alone on Jimmy Howard and shook off a late attempt by Green to break up the play, roofing a backhander over the sprawling Howard for the winner just 35 ticks into extra time.
“They played a really good defensive game. They didn’t give us a whole lot,” said Marchand. “They play really tight, almost a man-on-man over the whole ice; they really collapse in the D-zone. If you don’t take care of pucks, which we didn’t do a good job of early on you’re not going to get much and they worked hard.
“They out-battled us early on. Luckily we were able to bounce back.”
While Boston’s top dogs carried them to victory in the end, it was a more unheralded group that lit the match early in the third period. Down, 1-0, the Bruins got a boost from its fourth line to spark the offense.
After losing a faceoff in the attacking end, Tim Schaller and Noel Acciari charged hard into the corner, forcing a turnover behind the net. Acciari scooped up the loose puck and had his attempt to tuck it in at the post denied by Howard. The rebound popped out to Schaller, who had two more attempts stoned by Howard.
Fortunately for the Bruins, Acciari had circled the net and was there to finally swat it home and knot the game 3:02 into the final frame.
“We talked about it after the second period that sometimes you need other guys to step up in these moments,” said Cassidy. “Tonight our top guys were having a tough time getting through their checks. Good for Noel and [Sean] Kuraly and Schaller to do that…gotta give them a lot of credit because they gave us some juice.”
It may have taken a little longer than they would have liked, but the Bruins got what they wanted. Another balanced effort with contributions from up and down the lineup. And two more points in the bank as they continue to climb up the Eastern Conference standings.
“A lot of pride in that room realizing we needed to be better,” said Cassidy, while still preaching the importance of producing a full 60-minute effort. “Guys wanting to win, appreciating what to do to play winning hockey eventually.”