The debuts of the three new Bruins could have gone more smoothly Tuesday night, but in the end, Taylor Hall, Mike Reilly and Curtis Lazar were still able to hear the strains of “Dirty Water” after their first game in Black and Gold.
And they can thank a Bruin who has four NHL games under his belt for that. Jeremy Swayman made 21 saves, including a couple of big stops in overtime, and then he turned away Victor Olofsson and Tage Thompson in the shootout. Charlie Coyle scored first for the B’s in the skills competition and Jake DeBrusk gave the B’s the walk-off 3-2 win.
“Shootouts are my favorite part of hockey,” declared Swayman boldly after the win.
But Swayman has been battling his emotions since his beloved college coach Red Gendron died unexpectedly on Friday. He played through it in a loss on Saturday in Philadelphia, but nailed down the win on Tuesday.
“We all know how impactful Red was to the hockey community, especially my life,” said Swayman. “I loved Red and, the things he taught me, I’ll have for the rest of my life. My heart goes out to (wife) Jan, (daughters) Katie and Allison, his beautiful family that I consider my own. Again, I’m just so grateful for the experiences I had with him. He’s definitely going to be a role model for the rest of my life.”
As for the three newcomers, they were pretty much as advertised, for better and worse. The defenseman Reilly moved the puck well and had no problems getting his shots through, something not all the B’s defensemen could say this year. Lazar brought energy and competitiveness to an improved fourth line, even though he was victimized in the third period when the Sabres’ tying goal off the stick of Rasmus Dahlin went off his stick.
And Hall was a mixed bag, but at least he did get better as the game went on. He had a terrible giveaway in the first period, a blind backhander at his own blue line, and seemed indecisive on his one power-play opportunity. But he seemed more comfortable with the puck later on and his backcheck saved the game in the waning seconds when he broke up a pass intended for Casey Mittelstadt, who had an open net.
“He certainly creates in space. I thought he did a good job off the rush, finding the open guy. Overtime, obviously he looked dangerous and had a nice backcheck as well, so good speed,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “The details of the game we’ll have to look at closer to see where he is structure-wise. I don’t want to over analyze that his first night here. (Wednesday) we’ll sit down and see where we thought he was good and where the coaching part (comes in) on the details and structure.”
It was fortuitous that the B’s were playing against the last-placed Sabres to integrate the new players. They’ll take a giant step up in competition when the Islanders come to town for games Thursday and Friday.
The B’s started the game in nearly the same discombobulated fashion in which they played Sunday’s 8-1 drubbing at the hands of Capitals. The B’s kept going backward on the first couple of shifts until they found themselves down 1-0 just 1:52 into the game, with a couple of former Bruins picking up points.
Jarred Tinordi, in the lineup while Jakub Zboril got his first scratch of the year, lost a puck along the left boards and it was rimmed all the way over to the right side. Dylan Cozens’ pass was deflected out high to Colin Miller, who walked into a slapper and beat Swayman to the blocker side. Anders Bjork, dealt to the Sabres on Sunday, picked up the secondary assist.
The B’s eventually got their footing and tied the game after Nick Ritchie got away with what easily could have been an interference penalty. Craig Smith had just won a board battle with Riley Sheahan and as the Sabre turned back toward the middle of the ice, Ritchie blasted him. Whether it was ruled incidental contact or just plain missed, play continued on as Sheahan headed to the bench and down the tunnel clutching his left shoulder (he would return in the second period.) Eventually, Jeremy Lauzon got a shot through that produced a big rebound for David Krejci, who lifted a backhander over Linus Ullmark to knot it at 13:20.
Early in the second period, Matt Irwin drew the short straw to make Ritchie answer for his hit. Ritchie quickly landed a couple of hard rights and Irwin held on for dear life.
The B’s took their first lead of the game on some nice end-to-end play by the white-hot Smith. First, he broke up a play in the defensive slot to start the break-out up to Krejci, who moved it to Hall on the right wing. Hall tried a drop pass to Smith but fanned. No worries. Miller pushed it right to Smith, who buried a far-side shot at 5:29. That gave Smith 4-10-14 totals in 12 games.
Tempers continued to flare. Kevan Miller delivered a green-light hit on Rasmus Asplund along the boards that Thompson didn’t like. The gangly 6-foot-7 forward challenged Miller to a fight, catching a brutal roundhouse that knocked him down. He got up only to take another one that ended it.
The B’s outshot the Sabres 13-6 in the second but had to settle for the one-goal advantage going into the third.
They could not hold it. With 8:07 left in regulation, the new fourth line, which had some good energetic shifts earlier, got caught in their own end. Dahlin’s shot from the blue line went off Lazar’s stick, then Miller and skipped past Swayman to tie it up.
The B’s had a chance to win it in regulation when Miller made a nice rush in deep and set up David Pastrnak for a one-timer. It would have been automatic for Pastrnak when he’s on his game, but he’s clearly not there.
But in the end, Swayman, Coyle and DeBrusk pulled the second point out of the fire.