The defending Western Conference Champion Nashville Predators paid visit to Boston for the season opener for both teams Thursday night. Nashville, coming off an unexpected playoff run that saw them sweep the Chicago Blackhawks and dispose of the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks each in six games before losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final, was expect to be a formidable opponent for a young Boston team. The Bruins were eliminated in six games by the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the playoffs last season and hoped to start the season at home on the right foot.
The first period began with Boston and Nashville switching off controlling the pace of play. One of the best chances for the Bruins early on came from Tim Schaller on a two-on-one short-handed with Noel Acciari.
At 7:58 into the period, with the score still tied at zero, Matt Irwin and Roman Josi took coincidental minors for slashing and cross-checking respectively. Only 39 seconds later Charlie McAvoy slid a point pass across to David Pastrnak who fired the puck past a screened Pekka Rinne to put the Bruins up 1-0 on the powerplay.
Charlie McAvoy took a holding penalty just 1:03 into the second. In the resulting power play, Nashville had quality scoring chances, including a huge save from Tuukka Rask on a Craig Smith attempt.
Pekka Rinne returned with big saves of his own on David Pastrnak when Colton Sissons took a tripping penalty 3:44 into the period. On the same powerplay Jake DeBrusk powered to the front of the net off a David Krejci feed to put the Bruins back in the lead 2-1. This goal marked not only DeBrusk’s first NHL goal but also winger Anders Bjork’s first NHL point with the secondary assist.
The majority of 3rd period went by uneventfully, with the Bruins and Predators swapping scoring chances. However, with 3:05 left in the 3rd and the Bruins up 3-1 Kevan Miller was sent to the box for delay of game.
On the ensuing powerplay Nashville pulled goaltender Pekka Rinne to get a 6 on 4 advantage. Only 12 seconds into the powerplay Brad Marchand fired a puck from the Bruins’ end into the empty Nashville net to make it 4-1.
As fans began pouring out of TD Garden, Zdeno Chara took a slashing penalty with 2:25 remaining to put Nashville on a 6-3 powerplay with the empty net. A little more than half a minute later Ryan Johansen fed Scott Hartnell in front of the Bruins net who lasered a puck by Rask to cut the lead to two.
The Predators weren’t done yet. Still on a 6-4, Filip Forsberg beat Rask with 34.9 seconds left to make it a 4-3 game.
Despite the late game goals from the Predators, the Bruins held on to win 4-3. Shots favored the Bruins 32-29. Three stars of the game were Jake DeBrusk at third with a goal and assist, Tuukka Rask at second with 29 saves and David Krejci as the first star with three assists.
The Bruins youngsters came to play Thursday night with Jake DeBrusk (1G,1A), Charlie McAvoy (1G,1A) and Anders Bjork (0G,1A), all recording their first NHL points.
While McAvoy had a goal and assist, he also had three penalties (2 holding,1 slashing). It is clear McAvoy is still adjusting to the play in the NHL and was forced to take penalties after being caught flat-footed. The game as a whole had 12 minor penalties along with fighting majors from Adam McQuaid and Cody McLeod in the first period. Five of the twelve penalties were slashing calls.
It was noticeable that refs will not be backing down on the league’s new stance on slashing calls, where any contact to an opposing player’s hands with the stick of another player is now game for a minor call.
Overall, the Bruins were the better team on the ice for 60 minutes. Tuukka Rask was sharp in net, and the rookie Bruins, likely the biggest question mark for the club heading into the season, performed distinctly well. This was all without the contributions of Patrice Bergeron, David Backes and Torey Krug, who were sidelined with injuries. This is certainly a good indication for the B’s heading forward and it will be interesting to see how the team performs once all players are healthy.