The plan was to spark some secondary scoring by shaking up the lines. The plan, regardless of which line was on the ice, was to get more “inside ice” in the offensive zone and work for gritty goals.
Neither plan came together immediately, but both did eventually as the Bruins came from behind to beat the Sabres 4-3 in overtime Saturday afternoon at TD Garden in their first game in over two weeks.
Through two periods, it looked like this might be the same old story for the Bruins. They were outshooting Buffalo 26-14, but losing 3-1. The top line had shown it could still score with Craig Smith in David Pastrnak’s place, as it was Smith getting to the net and poking in a rebound off an offensive-zone faceoff win for the Bruins’ lone goal to that point.
The other new-look lines were quiet, though. Shots, yes. Great scoring chances and goals? No. Against the lowly Sabres, it looked like the Bruins might still just be a one-line team.
But then things finally started to click in the third. Jake DeBrusk drove hard to the Buffalo net -- getting to that inside ice -- to set up Nick Foligno with a juicy rebound that the veteran winger flipped in for his first goal as a Bruin.
After that new third line -- with Charlie Coyle centering DeBrusk and Foligno -- had been vicitimized on Buffalo’s first goal of the game, this was the kind of response they needed. Foligno had several good looks on the day, including hitting the post on a power-play chance, and finally got rewarded. DeBrusk played with some fire most of the day. Coyle’s overtime heroics were still to come.
"I liked the second goal, because Jake DeBrusk skated and attacked the D -- something we addressed a couple times tonight, about attacking Buffalo’s D," Bruce Cassidy said after the game. "And Nick stops in front. That’s where he’s going to score goals."
A little more than a minute later, it was the new second line’s turn to go to work. Matt Grzelcyk’s breakout pass sprung Taylor Hall on a 3-on-2 the other way with new linemates Erik Haula and David Pastrnak. Haula drove hard to the net to occupy one Sabre. Pastrnak’s presence demanded the attention of another. Hall saw the opportunity to cut to the middle, to that inside ice, which is exactly what he did before snapping a shot past Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.
The strength of a Hall-Haula-Pastrnak line should be the transition game and creating chances off the rush. This rush in particular was perfectly executed, with Hall showing some aggression and willingness to attack that hasn’t always been there this season.
"The Hall goal is a good drive by Erik Haula driving the net," Cassidy said. "Starts with some good D zone, structure was good. We have a good attack, support, structure. Taylor has to execute the shot. First goal is Smitty top of the crease. We talk about that a lot, making sure we have a net presence.”
The Bruins kept the pressure on for the remainder of the third. The second and third lines continued to create chances, including a DeBrusk breakaway and a Pastrnak one-timer off another rush chance. But the game ended up going to overtime.
Coyle made sure the comeback earned the Bruins two points instead of one, stepping into the high slot off the bench before collecting a pass from Brad Marchand and ripping a shot glove-side. Discouraged by what could be viewed as a demotion to the third line? Not today.
It’s only one game, it was against the Sabres, and it took a little while to get going. But it was also the first game in over two weeks, and the first game with these new lines. The fact that the plan did ultimately come together is still encouraging.
“On the surface, some positive results,” Cassidy said. “Took a little while, but two greasy goals from the net-front, another one with a nice attack and the center lane drive. … Good for the guys. See how it works out tomorrow.”