The Boston Bruins’ 5-1 victory over the Washington Capitals was a season-defining moment, as the Bruin players rallied around a fallen teammate to win one of the biggest games of the regular season and earn a crucial two points. A dirty hit from Tom Wilson knocked Brandon Carlo out of the game late in the first period (which somehow did not lead to any in-game punishment). Boston responded with four straight goals and a dominant performance in all facets of the game.
Seeing one of the most respected players on the roster in Carlo go down to the ice, head in his hands, lit a fire under the Bruins that we had not previously seen this season. Brad Marchand went on a profanity-laced rant about the hit in an interview during the first intermission, and Patrice Bergeron scolded Wilson at the start of the second period. The rest of the game featured constant chirping and scuffling between the two teams, including some lengthy stays in the penalty box on both sides.
While Marchand and Bergeron led the way in the scoring department as they normally do, the role players stepped up in a big way and made the win a complete team effort. Former Nashville Predator Jarred Tinordi earned respect from his new teammates by getting payback on Wilson and adding some physicality to the sparse defensive lineup. Jaroslav Halak shut the door on the Caps, proving that he still has the makings of a starting goaltender. The often-forgotten fourth line proved its worth, contributing to the win in more ways than one.
The response from these players to Carlo’s injury tells a lot about the character of the Bruins as a team. Friday night’s win showed that even with the adversity from the injuries and no-calls, they can still come together and outplay anybody.
Welcome to Boston, Jarred Tinordi
On Feb. 27, the Bruins acquired Tinordi off waivers from the Predators to provide some much-needed depth on defense. He seemed excited for a change in scenery, as he drove 17 hours from Nashville to Boston so he could pass through COVID-19 protocols and play in the March 3 game against Washington. He immediately started and played well with Connor Clifton on the third pair in a low-scoring defensive battle.
Then, when Carlo went down, he suddenly found a new role as the team’s muscle. At 6-foot-6, 230 pounds, his size alone made him the ideal choice to go after Wilson, but being new to the team, he naturally felt that he needed to prove his loyalty. The opportunity to defend a fallen teammate and curry good favor with the leaders in the locker room presented itself, and Tinordi took it.
Tinordi has always been known for his physicality, and with things looking bleak on the blue line, the Bruins will need every hit and blocked shot that he can provide. And, when things get chippy, he can step in and do some enforcing. This is exactly what he did on Friday night, and in just his second game with the team, he has provided fans with one of the best moments of the season.
Halak Holds It Down
The Bruins enjoy the luxury of having the league’s best back-up goalie in the veteran Halak. He made 31 saves and shut out the Capitals for just under 34 minutes. It takes a lot of humility to play like a starter but still sit on the bench a majority of the time, and in doing so Halak has fully demonstrated his commitment to the team over individual gain.
While he was being overshadowed by the fisticuffs and scoring highlights on the other end, the 35-year-old Slovakian netminder was quietly putting together one of his best outings of the season. He and Rask may be the oldest duo in the league, but they are not playing like it. The Bruins will have a hard time holding onto both of them this offseason, but they would certainly like to.
Halak has started 8 out of 21 games so far this season, and is outpacing Rask in both save percentage (.913) and goals-allowed-average (2.24). These numbers are skewed by the seven goals he gave up to the New York Islanders last week, but besides that one bad start, he has exceeded expectations. His effort this season has been fantastic, and his 5-2-1 record is a big reason why the Bruins find themselves a point out of first place in the East Division.
On Friday night, he withstood three power plays and prevented any change in momentum. While Tinordi’s efforts gave the Bruins an energy boost, Halak’s play crushed the Capitals’ spirits. Normally when a team sees a back-up goalie in its opponent’s starting lineup, they jump for joy. This is not the case when facing the Boston Bruins, as either Rask or Halak can put up a wall on any given night.
Fourth Liners Getting Involved
With all the talk about the Bruins trading for Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel, it is easy to forget about the young center named Jack who is already making an impact night in and night out. Jack Studnicka has anchored the fourth line these last two games and looks very comfortable back in his natural center position.
Along with Bergeron, Studnicka led the team in the face-off department. He won seven out of nine draws, his best output of the season. He also finished second on the team in short-handed minutes (1:48), showing his skill set on both ends of the ice.
The only other player to finish with more short-handed minutes was fourth-line winger Anders Bjork (2:29), who is among the team’s most dynamic short-handed forwards, behind Marchand. Whether it’s killing penalties, delivering hits or speeding up and down the ice applying constant pressure, Bjork has carved out a nice role for himself on this team and silenced some doubters in the process. Good skaters who can kill penalties like Bjork are very valuable down the stretch.
Chris Wagner has kept energy levels high on the fourth line this season, pestering opponents and taking every opportunity to start a scrum. He didn’t have to start one on Friday, as Wilson did that for him. Wagner was the first player there to defend Carlo, taking Wilson down to the ice in a headlock.
Every fourth line needs an edge, and Wagner provides that edge for the Bruins. He leads the team in hits, and often gets involved in the instigation department as well. His role has been especially important this season, with frequent back-to-back games creating a lot of bad blood. We should also give a shoutout to Trent Frederic in this regard, as he has spent some time causing trouble on the fourth line this season and leads the league in penalty minutes.
In a season that has given new life to rivalries and plagued the league with injuries, role players have become more important assets. Boston’s role players – the back-up goalie, the new guy, and the fourth-liners – played their best in arguably the most important game of the regular season on Friday night, and they’ll have to keep up that level of play for the Bruins to stay in the top four of a highly competitive East Division.
I cover the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. Fan of all things New England sports.