Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Wagner scored one for late grandfather in Bruins’ win

Matt Kalman
January 05, 2019 - 11:33 pm

Bruins forward Chris Wagner isn’t known for his scoring, but he was all over the offensive zone in the Bruins’ 2-1 win against Buffalo at TD Garden on Saturday.

As it turned out, Wagner had some extra motivation to get on the score sheet. He had six shots on net and cashed in early inthe game after Noel Acciari grabbed a giveaway and found Wagner in the slot.

Wagner was playing one day after the death of his grandfather Jim Phelan.

“Maybe he was watching out for me, making the puck follow me around, who knows,” said Wagner, the Walpole native. “But he was probably laughing after that first goal was disallowed. He would drive me around when my parents couldn’t, went to all my games, watched all these games even up until the Winter Classic [on Tuesday>, so it means a lot.”

That disallowed goal Wagner was talking about came 20 seconds into the game, when Wagner followed up Sean Kuraly’s shot that Linus Ullmark saved. Kuraly made contact with Ullmark outside the crease, but the referee on the ice ruled the goal didn’t count and the Bruins’ challenge didn’t overturn it.

Boston bounced back and Wagner eventually scored at 10:10 to make it 1-0.

David Backes scored his first goal in 10 games, in his first game back after a three-game suspension, to make it 2-0 in the second period. Tuukka Rask finished with 31 saves.

Despite the tragedy in his life, there was no doubt Wagner was going to play against an important Atlantic Division rival.

“It’s been obviously a tough couple of weeks for my family,” Wagner said. “Going through some struggles, especially it’s my mom’s dad, so I feel bad for her. Sports is a great outlet and he loved sports so definitely meant a lot.”

Wagner now has five goals. His line with Kuraly and Noel Acciari has become the type of fourth line the Bruins have counted on in their best seasons. Kuraly recently scored game-winning goals against Chicago and on the road against Buffalo. Acciari assisted on Wagner’s goal Saturday. Coach Bruce Cassidy called that line the Bruins’ “best” after the victory.

And Cassidy lavished praise on Wagner not just for playing well in the face of adversity but for coming on strong of late.

“He’s a good player in the league. I think maybe early on it took him a while to find his rhythm with his linemates,” Cassidy said. “Maybe the puck’s just finding him now, he’s in one of those streaks where he’s playing more. At the start of the year I didn’t have a full appreciation for what he [could do>. I know he’s physical and he generally led our team in hits, him and Noel, every night. But more of a trust factor with Kuraly now starting to happen where they’re seeing more of the top lines. At the start of the year I’m not sure they had that nailed down. So sometimes it’s opportunity.”

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