Are we seeing the return of the Big Bad Boston Bruins? It was only one game, but that one game showed signs of the Bruins’ physical, bruising and fighting style of the 1970s and 1980s when they were the toast of the town.
After showing no sign of being the physical and intimidating Bruins they used to be through the first 51 games of the season, they came out of the All-Star break with a bang. They opened the final push towards the playoffs with arguably their two strongest back-to-back games of the season. On Jan. 31, they beat the Winnipeg Jets 2-1, before rolling out a 6-1 win over the Minnesota Wild. With the two-game trip in the books, here are four takeaways from those wins.
Fight Night in Winnipeg
In the 1970s, the team was known as the “Big Bad Bruins” for their willingness to drop the gloves at any time during a game to protect a teammate or spark the club.
When the 2019-20 Bruins returned from their 10-day break to play the Jets, they had a chip on their shoulder. A thunderous open ice hit by defenseman Charlie McAvoy on Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele in the first period sent the first message. In the second, the Bruins were like those teams of the good old days.
Brad Marchand dropped the gloves with Nikolaj Ehlers early in the second period before flexing his muscle at the Jets forward following the fight. Brandon Carlo squared off with Gabriel Bourque midway through the period, while Karson Kuhlman and Lucas Sbisa ended the punching late in the period with the third fight of the second. It was like watching an old hockey game from the 1970s or 1980s. More of this the rest of the season. Please.
Special Teams Were Special All Weekend
Against the Jets, the Bruins scored both goals on the power play to boost the NHL’s third-ranked unit; Patrice Bergeron scored in the final minute of the opening period and Jake DeBrusk scored the game-winning goal early in the third.
One night later in Minnesota, the power play was clicking again with three more goals. Second period goals with the man advantage for Torey Krug, Brad Marchand and league-leading goalscorer David Pastrnak helped the Bruins break open a 1-0 game and give them a commanding 4-0 lead heading into the third.
As for the penalty kill, the Bruins were sent to the box six consecutive times against the Jets and didn’t allow a goal. Jeremy Lauzon was called up from the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League and was a big part of the penalty kill with 4:21 of ice time while shorthanded. Against the Wild, the Bruins killed four penalties with some help from Anton Blidh who sacrificed his body with a pair of blocked shots. It was an impressive 10-for-10 weekend on the kill for the Bruins.
Rask’s Strong Return and Halak Shines
Tuukka Rask returned from his latest injury with an impressive performance against the Jets. He has been out with a concussion since a game Jan. 14 at the Columbus Blue Jackets when he was hit in the head by Blue Jackets forward Emil Bemstrom as Bemstrom skated in front of the Bruins net.
Rask stopped 37 of 38 shots, as Patrik Laine scored the only goal for the Jets in the first period. Rask was at his best in the second period when the Jets had six straight power plays, including a two-man advantage, and then making 15 saves in the third period when Winnipeg put on more pressure.
Jaroslav Halak played the second game on the back-to-back, as usual, and returned to his old form. After being forced into full-time duty after Rask sustained his concussion before the All-Star break and going 2-2-1 during that time, the extended break and rest seems to have done Halak good.
Halak turned aside 25 of 26 shots against the Wild, as Mats Zuccarello scored his team’s only goal with under six minutes remaining in the game.
Cassidy Sending Message
Sean Kuraly was a healthy scratch in Minnesota. Head coach Bruce Cassidy was likely sending “wake-up call” to the forward. Par Lindholm was inserted into the lineup and won 50% of his face offs in 13:47 of ice time. Blidh had 12:09 of ice time, but it was a third period penalty kill where he blocked two shots that highlighted his evening. Going forward, it was the little things that he did that could put himself in the lineup more the rest of the year.
After sputtering into the All-Star break, the Bruins came out looking like a different team. Two wins against Western Conference teams fighting for a playoff spot on the road is a step in the right direction. If they can continue the physical, bruising style of hockey and not back down like old days with the Big Bad Bruins, then it will be a different team the rest of the season.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. A frequent user of the Oxford comma. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.