If you didn’t get a chance to watch the first period of the Boston Bruins game against the Vancouver Canucks game Thursday, you missed out on the best stretch of Bruins hockey so far this season. For starters, both Patrice Bergeron and David Backes made their season debuts after missing the team’s first five games due to injury. Recently called-up Kenny Agostino also found himself in the lineup and was immediately slotted onto the team’s top power-play unit in place of Ryan Spooner. A noticeable negative heading into the game, however, was the fact that the Bruins would be forced to start Anton Khudobin as Tuukka Rask suffered a concussion in practice earlier this week.
With an early Canucks’ goal coming less than two minutes into the game, the Bruins seemed poised to once again play from behind in the game. That lead wouldn’t last long, however, as Anders Bjork quickly responded 31 seconds later. The turning point of the game happened just a few minutes later when Erik Gudbranson was handed a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for boarding Frank Vatrano behind the Canucks’ bench. While Vatrano made his way down the tunnel (he would ultimately return to the bench later in the period), the Bruins’ made their mark early and often with the ensuing man-advantage.
Bruins Power Play Fires on All Cylinders
It was a wild stretch of hockey, but the Bruins proved that they could capitalize on a good opportunity when it was staring them right in the face. With Bergeron, Backes and Agostino inserted into the team’s power play squads, Boston got to work quickly.
It started with David Pastrnak scoring his fourth goal of the season in what could ultimately be the nicest goal that any Bruin will score this season when all is said and done.
Yeah, we'll let you guys watch this one again…and again. pic.twitter.com/xBhJUTsbDi
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) October 20, 2017
Following that goal, just 23 seconds later, Bjork scored his second goal of the game and third of the season. David Krejci scored just under a minute and a half later and the Bruins quickly took a 4-1 lead over the Canucks.
While the Canucks will likely finish as one of the worst teams in the NHL this season, there’s no denying their efficiency on the penalty kill heading into this game. A top-five team while shorthanded prior to the Bruins’ flurry of goals, it was encouraging to see what the Bruins’ could do with their full arsenal of power play skaters and an extra bit of motivation following the boarding call.
Up to this point in the season, the Bruins had been wildly inconsistent and desperately missing both Bergeron and Backes. The addition of them to the lineup meant that the team was better equipped talent-wise, but also better equipped with leadership. While it’s refreshing to have a team full of young players and rookies – and the Bruins are certainly loaded with young players and rookies, it’s also important to have leaders in the lineup who have a voice that holds weight in the lineup. As Thursday proved, finding that healthy balance is important.
Bjork Impressing Early
It isn’t every day that a fifth-round draft pick makes it to the NHL just a few years after being selected. In the case of Bjork, however, it’s clear that he isn’t just your every day late-round draft pick. Not only is he getting an opportunity right away with the Bruins, but he’s played his entire tenure with the Bruins in the team’s top-six through six games with power play time.
To his credit, he hasn’t shied from the opportunity. He hasn’t looked like he’s been in over his head. Instead, he’s looked like a bonafide top-six player while skating primarily alongside David Krejci on the Bruins’ second line while also seeing time next to Riley Nash early on, and finally Bergeron now that he’s returned from injury. With one goal and two points in five games heading into Thursday’s contest, he clearly wasn’t dominating on the scoresheet. It was what he did with most of his shifts that made it clear from the start though that he could legitimately hang with NHL regulars.
Following Thursday’s game, Bjork is now up to three goals and five points through six games and looks like he’s primed to be one of the best rookies in the league this season if he can continue to perform alongside Bergeron and Marchand, the Bruins’ two best players. This wasn’t unexpected, but the fact that he’s performed so well so quickly – despite not scoring in every single game is what’s made his rookie campaign so encouraging to date. His ability to contribute on the power play shouldn’t be underestimated either as the Bruins know from history that a bad man advantage can be very discouraging at times, even if they won the Stanley Cup with virtually no power play.
Beating Vancouver Always Holds More Weight
It may have been seven seasons ago, but the Bruins and Canucks Stanley Cup Final matchup in 2011 won’t soon be forgotten by fans of either franchise. For the Bruins, the 2011 Stanley Cup is still the most recent championship for the Original Six franchise. For the Canucks, the 2011 Final appearance remains the last time the team made it to the big game. Needless to say, the games always hold a little extra weight, even if the rivalry isn’t where it once was.
Finishing the game with four power-play goals and no signs of slowing down (despite allowing two goals in 34 seconds in the third period), it’s clear that the Bruins are starting to find their stride with the man-advantage. While Nash did everything that was asked of him while playing in relief of Bergeron, he simply couldn’t play as effective as a role, especially with the man-advantage. With Bergeron back, the power play dynamic looked totally different, and for the better at that.
With a final score of 6-3, the Bruins’ victory meant more than just a return to .500 on the season as they now hold a 3-3 record. It wasn’t just a victory against the Canucks either, but instead, it had the potential to be a turning point in the Bruins’ season. Momentum from game to game is hard to evaluate, but it’s impossible to not believe that a good team win doesn’t affect a team’s morale overall. With a healthy Bergeron and a healthy Backes and a very healthy power play ready to go, the Bruins look primed to hold the fort while Rask recovers from his concussion.
Brandon Share-Cohen has covered the NHL and various professional sports for seven years. Working with The Hockey Writers, Brandon works extensively on covering the Boston Bruins in addition to his role as the News Team Lead.