BOSTON (CBS) — Really, no matter what took place Thursday night at TD Garden, the big story coming out afterward was guaranteed to focus on Jaromir Jagr. So when the 41-year-old future Hall of Famer scored the lone goal in a 1-0 Bruins victory, the stories of Jagr’s arrival flowed like wine out of the local media (guilty).
The response was to be expected, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that Jagr was not the No. 1 star of the game. That title very clearly belonged to Tuukka Rask.
The goaltender hadn’t played since last Saturday, when he allowed three goals on 22 shots in an ugly team loss, and that was a game that followed the 6-5 shootout loss to Montreal last week, a game that coincided with the Jarome Iginla madness. In part due to the two losses, in part due to fans thinking they had Iginla only to be told he chose the Penguins, and in part due to Anton Khudobin’s ridiculous play (71 saves on 73 shots) in the two games that followed, the microscope was on Rask a little bit this week.
It would’ve been harder for Rask to have been much better against the Devils, stopping all 40 shots he faced and being very much in control in a game the Bruins badly needed him to be outstanding. While Claude Julien made a good point after the game in saying the Devils were throwing all sorts of bad shots on net in the first period and that strategy inflated the shot total a little bit, Rask was in a special sort of zone all night long, and his 40-save shutout deserves its proper due.
Even still, Jagr and Rask weren’t the only stories of the night, so let’s dig through some leftover thoughts from the 1-0 win.
—Jagr’s goal obviously came on a fortunate bounce, but I refuse to call it completely lucky. The exact circumstances were lucky, yes, but Jagr had already done some great work in the dirty area in front of the net in the first period. He screened Martin Brodeur and tried to redirect a Zdeno Chara wrister from the blue line on his very first shift, and he later screened Brodeur again later in the period on a long shot from the blue line. If you go to the front of the net enough, you’ll get rewarded eventually, even if it takes a lucky bounce.
—I and everyone else in Boston learned that lesson from Mark Recchi, and if Jagr keeps plopping his “big butt” (Tyler Seguin’s words, not mine) in front of the net to score some gritty garbage goals, the comparisons will only continue. Tell me this postgame quote from Claude Julien about Jagr couldn’t have applied to Recchi countless times during his Bruins career:
“His goal was something that we like to see, and it’s called net drive. It doesn’t have to be a highlight goal, but he was heading to the net and he wasn’t going to get pushed to the side, and it went off his skate and in. So that’s a good example for the rest of the younger guys to take from a guy who’s still doing it at that age.”
I immediately thought of Recchi, who scored 56 goals with the Bruins, exactly zero of which were “highlight” goals. So I went back and checked the AP recap of Recchi’s second game with the Bruins, when he scored twice in a 5-3 win over the Blackhawks. Aaron Ward said this of Recchi:
“They call him the wrecking ball for a reason. It takes courage and bravery to do what he does. He gets in the dirty places and plays with grit.”
Obviously I think Jagr brings a lot more to the table than Recchi in terms of skill, but all season long, I’ve felt what the Bruins needed most was a veteran who would play with guts on every single shift the way Recchi did. It was only one game, but Jagr filled that role nicely right away.
—One thing I noticed immediately about Jagr that differentiated him from the Bruins is that when he had the puck in the corner, he twice decided to throw it in front rather than pass to the blue line. The first time, Chara actually called for a pass at the blue line, but Jagr threw it to the front of the net. The second time came on the power play (during which Jagr logged a full 2:00 shift), when he flung a pass to the front of the crease, where Milan Lucic nearly redirected it for a goal.
After the game, Julien said Jagr can “quarterback a power play a lot like [Marc] Savard used to do on the half wall.” Obviously, that’s something the Bruins could certainly use heading down the stretch and into the playoffs.
—I don’t know if they let Jagr pick the postgame celebration music in the locker room, but when I was down the hall at Peter DeBoer’s scrum, there was some really loud techno music blasting from the Bruins’ room. Though I guess looking around that room, there are about a half-dozen guys who could have been the culprit.
—This kid wore a helmet to the game. This kid is cool in my book:
—Maybe he started to sense some healthy scratches in his near future, or maybe it took him a month or so to find his legs, but whatever the reason, Jay Pandolfo has played some excellent hockey the past two games. I’m sure I’m not the only one who found it odd that the theoretical Stanley Cup-contending Bruins’ third line included a player who potted 17 goals for Jack Parker at BU in the 1992-93 season, but I’ll admit to being wrong this week.
Against the Devils, he fought for a loose puck off a faceoff in the defensive end and drew a penalty on David Clarkson in the second period, and he also perfectly stood up to a rush by Henrik Tallinder, skating all the way across the ice and laying a hipcheck on the New Jersey defenseman right in front of the Devils bench to start a breakout going the other way.
He’s still got goose eggs on the stats we all look at, and it won’t be a crime when he’s relegated to the press box after Chris Kelly returns, but I think the Bruins are finally getting what they expected when they signed the veteran this past offseason.
—One thing I’ve enjoyed greatly covering the Bruins this season has been the outstanding work on the organ by Ron Poster. The guy is a Garden legend, and some of the songs he busts out (especially about 60 minutes before the game) are pretty spectacular. This season, some songs that have stood have been “Walk” by the Foo Fighters, “The Way” by Fastball and “Interstate Love Song” by the Stone Temple Pilots. And on Thursday, he busted out Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie” during an intermission. It was A+ work.
—Seeing Jaromir Jagr play against Martin Brodeur made me want to bust out NHL ’94 for Sega Genesis in the worst way. There is absolutely not a chance in hell that you could beat me if I’m playing with Pat LaFontaine, Alexander Mogilny, Grant Fuhr and the Buffalo Sabres (with line changes and offsides off, obviously). I’m sorry I’m not sorry but I would beat you 7-0 no matter what.
—The troubling part of the Bruins’ game on Thursday was that they were essentially the beneficiaries of a good bounce and they pretty much tried to let that one fortuitous bounce lead them to victory. It’s the type of “hang-on hockey” that’s a dangerous way to live in the NHL, and it usually comes back to bite a team on a night when the goalie makes, say, 38 saves instead of 40. It’s hard to crush the Bruins for it, as the Devils were very clearly a desperate team on a losing streak trying to stay in the playoff picture, and in the shortened schedule, fatigue is a very real thing for these guys. Still, it’s not the type of game that will be all that reliable come playoff time.
—Jagr was asked when he’s going to bust out his famous salute, and he said it’ll come out in a much bigger moment than a bounce off his skate:
—I don’t think Johnny Boychuk lost any teeth when the puck hit him in the face at his own blue line, but he had a nasty gash on his face and swollen lip after the game, and he seemed pretty miffed about it. But if for some reason you weren’t aware of Boychuk’s Manchuk-ness, let’s review the sequence of events:
- Neutral zone dump-in gets deflected and hits Boychuk in the face.
- Boychuk immediately drops to his knees in pain and holds his face. Because a hockey puck just hit him. In the face.
- Realizing the puck is right in front of him, Boychuk takes his hands off his face, puts them on his stick, and clears the puck out of the zone.
- Boychuk skates toward the bench holding his face but sees the Devils have gotten the puck and are skating toward the Bruins’ end. Boychuk turns right around and plays defense. Once the puck is comfortably deep in the Devils end, Boychuk finally makes his way to the bench, puts a towel on his face and walks down the runway.
I’m not sure what he did when he went down that runway, but I have to assume he ate a raw steak, chopped some firewood, chugged a Busch Heavy and crushed the empty can on his head. Johnny Manchuk.
—Jagr said after the game that he appreciated the huge ovation from the fans on his first shift, and he said he “didn’t know the fans love hockey so much here in Boston.” Well, Jaromir, they sure do, so you better get ready for Saturday night, because he’ll be getting his first taste of the Bruins-Canadiens rivalry, in Montreal, with first place on the line. In his 1,381 career NHL games, Jagr’s pretty much experienced everything there is to possibly experience in the league, but jumping into the Boston-Montreal madness is not a bad addition to the resume in season number 19.