By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Bruins showed on Thursday night at the TD Garden that if it’s a late-season battle for first place, they’re willing to do just about anything. That includes having their goaltender ignite a good old-fashioned donnybrook in his crease, and having their most talented young goal scorer drop the mitts at center ice.
The first of those unlikely incidents came midway through the second period, when Lightning center Cory Conacher decided to take a quick seat on Brandon Carlo after dumping the Bruins D-man into Tuukka Rask in the Boston crease. It was not the world’s most egregious offense. But Tuukka Rask did not like it.
Rask’s rage boiled over, resulting in a series of punches, jabs and shoves directed toward the face of Conacher. Likely a bit stunned to have been physically accosted by a goalie in the middle of a game, Conacher didn’t really fight back before a whole host of bodies came screaming over for an impromptu pigpile.
Rask, not exactly known for his pugilism, said he had some pent-up frustration for a dangerous play in the first period that spilled over in the Conacher tussle.
“In the first period someone fell on my knee there,” Rask said of Alex Killorn shoving Matt Grzelcyk and getting an interference penalty in the closing minute of the first period. “And that one it felt like to me that I don’t think our own D’s were jumping on me, I felt like[Lightning skaters] were pushing or something so I just had to let them know I was there, because it happened twice. So I jumped in there and threw a couple punches and that was it.
“I just felt like they were pushing our guys into me I felt like I had to do something,” Rask added. “The last thing you want to do is get hurt in some stupid play like that. I’m not accusing anyone of anything because I haven’t seen [the replays] but that’s what I was feeling in there in the game.”
Don’t expect another Rask fight for a long while, though.
“Hopefully I don’t start doing that every game,” he said. “I have to go have a couple beers now and cool off.”
Rask’s pushback drew rave reviews from his teammates and his coach.
“Well, I do. I do,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said when asked if he likes to see that emotion from his goaltender. “It’s not something you want every night because I don’t – it doesn’t happen every night, for obvious reasons, but yeah you want to see some fire, some urgency. He’s defending his territory without being reckless, I didn’t think. He just did what he had to do in that situation, calmed down and played.”
“I love it,” Noel Acciari said. “He’s passionate and it’s good to see. He fired up the team from there on out.”
“It’s great,” said Brad Marchand, who knows a thing or two about riding the emotions in a game. “It shows that he’s engaged and he’s in the game. He’s emotional and that’s when a lot of guys play their best, when they’re emotional like that. Again, he’s stepping up for his teammates and reacting the way he does. He had a great game so it’s good to see.”
Rask was not the only unlikely member of the Bruins to engage in some fisticuffs, as David Pastrnak immediately challenged Dan Girardi to a fight after Girardi delivered a clean but heavy hit on Patrice Bergeron in the neutral zone in the third period.
“Yeah, it was an awesome game. You know, that’s why we play hockey, for this kind of game,” said Pastrnak, who also tallied a goal and an assist for his first ever Gordie Howe hat trick. “It’s a lot of fun and it just shows how good of a team we are and the guys – you could see that everybody was on the board tonight.”
Pastrnak said “I don’t know exactly what happened” to inspire him to fight, as it’s not something he’s familiar with at all.
“My [last] fight? I don’t think I’ve fought ever … like, ever,” he said. “Yeah I’m a pretty calmed down guy. So it was fun.”
Just like Rask, Pastrnak impressed his teammates with his willingness to get physical. It wasn’t a fight that will go down in the annals of the greatest bouts of all time, but it was the willingness of the 21-year-old with 32 goals to throw down for a teammate that stood out to teammates and Cassidy.
“Well, it’s our team right there in a nutshell. We stick together, and I think we’ve done that all year, no matter who is in the lineup,” Cassidy said. “We trust our players to go out and do the job and have each other’s backs. That’s what makes it a special group. You wouldn’t suspect – I mean, goalies get
into it every once in a while, but Pasta getting the Gordie Howe or Cam Neely hat trick – he’s not the guy I would have picked before the game, but good for him. It looked like he handled himself well.”
“[For] Pasta to defend Bergy a little bit there, he felt a little liberty was taken on him,” veteran forward David Backes said. “Probably a clean hit but you can’t have your better players being taken advantage of like that and kudos to Pasta for stepping up, fighting a bigger guy who is maybe more used to having his gloves off. But that’s one heck of a job by a 21-year-old kid that’s really starting to get it and really starting to have an all-around
game and you can’t say enough about those actions.”
“It gets guys going,” Torey Krug said. “Especially some guys that sometimes don’t have a pulse on the bench, it gets them engaged in the game and then all of the sudden you’re standing on the bench wondering what’s going on and you see one of your superstar players getting going on the ice. And someone you think you’d never see [fight], and it’s fun. He stood up for himself and obviously guys will jump in if they have to. It was fun.”
Perhaps the craziest part of Rask’s fight was that once the dust settled, it was the Bruins who ended up on the power play. That’s because Tampa Bay netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy skated the length of the ice to engage Rask in a classic goalie fight, but the on-ice officials prevented the two from interacting.
For his 200-foot dash, Vasilevskiy was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and the referee decided to asses a minor penalty for interference on Conacher. (The referee’s arm was not raised prior to Rask’s decision to jump the forward, if you were keeping track of such things.) Rask and Conacher were both hit with roughing penalties, with Rask’s being a double-minor. But with three penalties against Tampa and two against Boston, the Bruins emerged from the scrap with a man advantage for two minutes.
They didn’t ride any of that emotional momentum to score a goal on the power play, but a little more than midway through the third period, the trio of Marchand, Bergeron and Krug executed a picture-perfect series of passes in the offense zone to score what proved to be the game-winning (and first-place-seizing) goal.
Outside of the fight, Rask had a solid night, stopping 26 of 28 shots against the NHL’s No. 1 scoring offense. Rask did let in a soft goal, which cut Boston’s lead to 3-2. But with the Tampa net empty, Pastrnak and Bergeron selflessly passed up empty-net bids before Marchand buried the dagger (Marchand looked like he wanted to pass it back to Pastrnak before taking the sure goal). Rask stuck his nose in another post-whistle scrum in the waning seconds, when Tampa skaters outnumbered Boston’s 6-to-5, before the final horn sounded.
It was, in every sense, a playoff atmosphere inside the TD Garden, and for the Bruins it was their second consecutive game that featured heavy contact and high emotions. They handled themselves well in both affairs. Now they’re set to welcome back Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy, among others, as they try to hold on to first place in the division and the conference over the season’s final week.
And the best news of all? The Bruins head to Tampa for a rematch with the Lightning in four short days. It ought to be an emotional one.