OTTAWA – The reports of the demise of the Bruins appear to be greatly exaggerated.
It certainly didn’t look good when David Krejci was lost to another knee-on-knee hit from the Ottawa Senators, courtesy of Chris Wideman at the end of the first period, and the Bruins were down 2-0 to a trap-happy Sens group that should have closed around that two-goal lead like hockey’s version of a Venus Fly Trap.
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Instead, the Bruins pushed on and pushed back while deciding their season wasn’t going out like that and a big string named Sean Kuraly came through with two goals after he was pulled by interim coach Bruce Cassidy entering into Game 5. The game was more than your run-of-the-mill comeback, however, as the Bruins needed to fight through a pair of massive calls that went against them in overtime to overturn a couple of plays that could, or should, have been goals.
Instead, the Bruins fought through into double-overtime for a 3-2 win courtesy of Kuraly and they’ll get ready to try and even the series in a Game 6 matinee on Sunday afternoon at TD Garden that should be pretty interesting. Perhaps because of all they’ve been through this season to get this point, the Bruins to a man said it was simply a determined, focused effort that never wavered once they’d tied things up and pushed it into the OT sessions.
“We stayed pretty cool. There was no chirping,” said Tuukka Rask. “We were just sticking with it and we believed it was going to happen. It was about grinding it out and that was it. Nobody was down. Stuff happens during the game and the past couple of games calls have been against us, but we stuck with it and got rewarded.”
While it’s not always pretty for the Bruins against a Senators team trying to gum everything up, and it defies explanation how they’ll actually win the series down so many players, one has to admire the way they battle through the bad stuff. That included a Kuraly rush to the net in overtime that looked like a winning goal but was eventually ruled goalie interference, and later a David Backes shot in front covered up by Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s hand for what should have been at the very least a penalty shot for the Bruins.
The “nuts and bolts, we got screwed” thought was going through the minds of an entire region of Bruins fans after a parade of questionable calls in the series culminated with a pair of possible scores getting wiped off the board in OT, but that kind of thinking thankfully didn’t infiltrate the Boston dressing room.
“The message stayed the same the whole game: We need to stay with our game and with our system, and we just need to continue to execute up to our standard. If we do that then we’re going to like the outcome,” said Backes. “They get two breakaway goals which are certainly breakdowns on our part. But we come back and show some character. [Brad] Marchand has a heck of a play to [David] Pastrnak, Kuraly stuffs one in and however many they’re going to call back in overtime, we’re going to keep going to those areas until there’s a good one that stands.
“It ended up taking late into the second overtime, but that’s the way she goes. Now we’re going to play a Game 6 and we need to take care of that one as well.”
The early breakdowns are what we’ve seen a lot in this series. Mark Stone and Jean-Gabriel Pageau got free passes for scoring chances that beat Rask, and with the Bruins in general icing the puck for each shot on net (six) they had in a first period where they struggled against the 1-3-1 Guy Boucher trap. But it started to turn because a few things changed that tilted the game in favor of the Bruins.
Pastrnak found his shooting range with six shots on net for the game and a whopping 15 shot attempts to dwarf the measly two shots on net he had in the first four games of the series. The 20-year-old Pastrnak ended up breaking the ice with the first goal for the Bruins after slamming home a rebound score of a Marchand wraparound chance once Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Pastrnak had been put together following the Krejci lower body injury.
Then there was Kuraly, who stepped up and played the “hero from out of nowhere” role that teams need if they’re going to win Stanley Cup playoff games. The former Miami University forward became just the sixth Bruins rookie in franchise history to score an overtime goal, joining the likes of Bergeron, Ted Donato, Vladimir Ruzicka and Matt Fraser among others, and he did it one better by scoring two goals, including the double-overtime winner on a rebound after a Charlie McAvoy blast from the point.
This was very clearly a win for the Bruins player development system after Kuraly arrived a couple of years ago in the trade that sent Martin Jones to the San Jose Sharks, and it was a win for Cassidy, who made the call to replace a struggling Ryan Spooner with Kuraly. He did it based on who he believed had the “will to win a puck battle” if it came down to that in a do-or-die elimination game. Kuraly went out and produced two goals and six shots on net in 18-plus minutes while forming a strong line with David Backes and Frank Vatrano once Krejci went down.
“We really felt like we were pushing the pace and we were close to scoring that winning goal,” said Zdeno Chara. “There’s nothing you can do about the goals [called back] from the referees, or from [NHL video review in] Toronto. You’ve just got to stick with it and get the next one.”
Now, the Bruins mettle and stick-to-itiveness will get tested again on Sunday afternoon for a do-or-die matinee at TD Garden where they’ll again be fighting for their lives and possibly fighting against the upstream current as they successfully did in the double-overtime of Game 5 in Ottawa’s home barn.