By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Wait a minute — didn’t anyone tell forward Tommy Wingels that the Bruins acquired him to provide depth and be a bottom-six plumber when forced into the lineup?
Maybe Wingels didn’t get the memo, because in addition to his ferocious forechecking and mucking in the corners, Wingels contributed a goal and assist in his Bruins debut, a 4-3 overtime win against the Carolina Hurricanes at TD Garden on Tuesday.
Wingels, acquired from Chicago before the NHL trade deadline on Monday for a fifth-round pick that could become a fourth-round pick in 2019, helped start the Bruins’ rally from 3-1 down by stripping the puck on the forecheck and setting up Riley Nash’s goal with three seconds left in the first period.
Wingels then cashed in from the right faceoff dot 5:34 into the second period to tie the score 3-3. Charlie McAvoy scored the game-winner in overtime.
It appeared Monday that the Bruins had traded for the 29-year-old, 2017-18 version of Wingels, but maybe they got the younger, 2013-14 or 2014-15 version that scored 31 goals in 152 games those seasons. Over the past two seasons, Wingels scored 14 goals in 130 games.
“Change,” Wingels said after the game in response to a question about where his offense had been before Tuesday. “I’m not going to make excuses, I think I can score 15 goals a year at least in this league. It’s about going out there and doing it. It’s about opportunity, it’s about making the most of that opportunity. … [Bottom-six guys] might get a couple less [scoring chances], but there’s no reason they can’t produce on those. It’s just about bearing down on those chances and I’m going to try to do that down the stretch.”
The Bruins didn’t get Wingels to score down the stretch; they got him to make sure that if injuries weaken their lineup, or a couple of their young forwards get worn down, they can insert a veteran that’s played more than 400 games and plays a heavy, responsible game, into their lineup. At 6 feet, 200 pounds and with a resume of 54 NHL playoff games, Wingels is a better option than some the Bruins already had in their system.
He didn’t arrive until around 11 a.m. on game day, which turned out to be right on time. Tuesday morning the Bruins announced that first-line center Patrice Bergeron would be out with a fractured foot and won’t be re-assessed for two weeks. Coach Bruce Cassidy said he was inserting Wingels into the lineup because of his experience playing center, but Wingels played wing with David Backes in the middle and Danton Heinen on the left wing.
Wingels didn’t have much time to adjust to his new environment. The only familiar face was Sean Kuraly, a fellow alum of Miami University, albeit a younger one. Kuraly made the introductions off the ice and on the ice Wingels introduced himself by playing what Cassidy usually calls “dog-on-a-bone” hockey. He was all over the place and nearly had a second goal shortly after he scored when he was stoned by Carolina goaltender Scott Darling after chasing down his self-pass off the end wall in the slot.
“Very good. Lots of energy, physical, obviously contributed offensively, played positionally well,” Cassidy said of Wingels’ debut.
The coach helped Wingels out by picking the right linemates. Wingels liked the way Heinen, who was benched for all but two shifts in the third period, opened up space by drawing defenders for the first 40 minutes. And then there was Backes, whom Wingels went head to head with for years in some bruising St. Louis-San Jose battles.
“The way he plays,” Wingels said of Backes, “he plays a good and a right way. He’s physical, he goes to the net. His habits of being in the right place, driving the net, are what you want out of a hockey player. He’s an easy guy to play with and I think as a player that’s a huge compliment. So we’ll try to build off one game here and continue to grow as a line if it continues to stay like that.”
No one’s expecting Wingels to use the Bruins’ final 21 games to close the gap between his career-high of 16 goals and the eight he has right now. Luckily the Bruins have plenty of guys to carry the scoring load. They just want him to continue to be a menace to opposing puck carriers, win some faceoffs and maybe kill some penalties for however long he’s in the lineup. If he chips in again, the Bruins will take it.
But by setting up one and scoring a second crucial goal in the comeback win against Carolina, Wingels has already exceeded production expectations and made general manager Don Sweeney’s trade look wise.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.