Brad Marchand's feisty forecheck sparks Bruins' comeback win
BOSTON — The Boston Bruins had been doing some good things. In Saturday’s first period, they put 13 pucks on the New Jersey Devils net, including several high-quality chances by Johnny Beecher and Mason Lohrei.
Georgii Merkulov, recalled from the AHL the previous day, was holding his own as the No. 3 center between James van Riemsdyk and Trent Frederic.
But early in the second, they were down 2-0. The second goal against was a rare goof by Linus Ullmark: a wave at an unscreened Luke Hughes attempt from the top of the left circle. It is usually a slam-dunk stop for the defending Vezina Trophy winner.
Brad Marchand identified an opportunity to swing the momentum back in his team’s favor.
Vitek Vanecek probably thought he was in the clear when he went behind his net to play the puck. But just as the New Jersey goalie approached the puck, Marchand accelerated behind Vanecek to win the race. Nico Hischier regained possession for the Devils, but Charlie Coyle stripped the center. After picking the puck back up, Marchand fed DeBrusk for a strong-side chance. DeBrusk had the calmness to slash through the crease and backhand the puck past Vanecek at 5:35 of the second.
The Bruins were in business. Three second-period goals later, the Bruins had the outcome in hand.
“Obviously that was a key moment in the game,” DeBrusk said following the 5-2 win. “Happy it worked out.”
Marchand is the Bruins’ emotional accelerant. He is a lead-by-example captain. By outworking opponents at critical times, Marchand practically pulls his teammates into line behind him. They cannot help but follow his lead.
The left wing was back at it later in the second when he sprinted after a puck in the offensive zone. He got to it first, which forced Kevin Bahl to take a holding penalty. David Pastrnak scored the deciding goal on the following power play.
It’s a spaghetti show. pic.twitter.com/AKXJDP09uI
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) December 31, 2023
As Charlie McAvoy started a neutral-zone regroup, Pastrnak accelerated to high speed. McAvoy noticed. The defenseman connected with DeBrusk up the ice, knowing that Pastrnak would not be far behind at the rate he was traveling. Once DeBrusk entered the offensive zone, Pastrnak made himself available for the puck at the top of the right circle.
At first, Pastrnak targeted high glove on Vanecek. But the right wing knew how fast he was going. If he pulled the puck to his backhand, Pastrnak figured Vanecek would not have the speed to match him.
Pastrnak was right.
“It’s hard for the goaltender to follow me all the way to the far post with as much speed as I had,” said Pastrnak.
Marchand ended his night with a power-play dish that Kevin Shattenkirk buried in the third period. The left wing’s line: two assists, 18:25 of ice time, multiple Devils irritated by his chirping (Vanecek, Hischier, Bahl). Vanecek was so fed up with Marchand at the end of the second that he gave him a quick slash as the teams skated off.
“That battle level by Coyle’s line leading to that first goal,” Montgomery said, “was immense.”
Montgomery is a nonstop tinkerer. But even he is likely to keep his hands off his top two lines. Pastrnak is helping to transform Morgan Geekie, usually a bottom-six grinder, into a credible No. 1 pivot. Pavel Zacha, who had formerly occupied the position, is giving the Bruins more presence at left wing.
Meanwhile, Marchand, Coyle and DeBrusk have been dangerous three-zone players on the No. 2 line. Marchand’s feistiness on the puck looks like what DeBrusk needs. The No. 2 right wing has one goal and three assists in his last two games. It is the most points he’s recorded in any two-game set this season.
“I haven’t felt this all year,” said DeBrusk. “So it’s nice to be back, in that sense of things. Obviously it was a great play by Marshy. Those are chances that, even with everything, I don’t really miss. So that was a great play by him.”
Montgomery has even found a late-game third line in James van Riemsdyk, Trent Frederic and Danton Heinen. Montgomery rode the trio when the score was 4-2. After Shattenkirk’s goal, Montgomery put Merkulov back on the ice to finish out his first career game. It was a clean, professional and efficient NHL debut for the 23-year-old center.
Merkulov will get another chance to make his offensive mark Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings.
(Photo: Winslow Townson / USA Today)