Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports

Bruins 4, Penguins 3: Youth embrace national spotlight in 4th straight win

Ty Anderson
November 24, 2017 - 5:47 pm

A nationally-televised, post-holiday matinee against the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins would have been the perfect setting for the Bruins, a team icing seven rookies and riding high on a three-game winning streak, to wet their pants.  

But a standing ovation from the TD Garden crowd in the closing seconds of Black Friday’s 4-3 win over the Penguins confirmed that the B’s did anything but that.

Starting “on time,” which is something that’s been preached ad nauseum from B’s head coach Bruce Cassidy, the Bruins jumped out to a 2-0 edge through the first 20 minutes of play with beautiful goals from David Krejci and Sean Kuraly scored just 4:38 apart.

Krejci was the only non-rookie to factor in one that scoring, too, as Jake DeBrusk and Peter Cehlarik picked up assists on the Krejci goal, while it was Charlie McAvoy that activated into the offensive zone and fed Kuraly for the one-time blast.

It was then that it became more than obvious that Cassidy’s fresh-faced players embraced the bigger stage for what finished as their fourth straight victory.

“I think it’s exciting. You’re on NBC, you’re playing against the Stanley Cup Champions, everyone is watching, let’s put our best foot forward. I know it’s one of 82, but it’s a bigger one of 82 the way I look at it, and I think they felt the same way coming out,” Cassidy said of his team’s energetic start. “Now, I also think with a young group you’re always a little more juiced up at home; they’re still in that stage of their career. So, I think that explained a lot of their start, why we were better early on.”

The ultra-talented Penguins clawed their way back into this game with goals from Jake Guentzel, Phil Kessel, and Sidney Crosby, but it was the first NHL goal for rookie and Charlestown native Matt Grzelcyk that kept the B’s and Pens even through 40 minutes.

It was David Pastrnak that provided the B’s fourth goal on a breakaway kickstarted by a brilliant Riley Nash feed at the 5:06 mark of the third period, but Cassidy immediately went back to leaning on his young players to deliver the way he had for 45 minutes.

You saw that with Danton Heinen, a utility-type forward that’s provided a successful fill-in presence on the B’s first line, who finished the night with three hits and four blocked shots in over 22 minutes of time on ice. DeBrusk provided some similar jump, with two assists and four shots on goal in nearly 19 minutes of action. But it was the 19-year-old McAvoy delivered yet another 1B kind of night from the Boston backend, with a heavy 22:43 matched up against Pittsburgh’s top line, including 3:05 of time on ice in the final four minutes of game and the Bruins protecting a one-goal lead.

“I’ll tell you it’s an awesome feeling,” McAvoy said of his late-game usage. “To know that they trust you. I’ve tried to work on it on every team I have played for to be trusted and all facets of the game so you know the last minutes is something that I always wanted. It’s something I’ve worked for. We have a lot of great defensive players on this team, a lot of guys that I would trust to be out there in the last minute. I just try to do when they call my number to get out there to give my team the best chance to win.”

And their in-season progress is not lost on their veteran teammates.

“A little bit of natural maturing out of them. Hopefully that’s a step in the right direction we can use it as experience going forward. Figuring out how to win games, especially against very good teams,” Torey Krug said of the B’s young guns stepping up. “It’s not always going to be perfect, it going to get ugly out there. You’re playing in the NHL, you’re playing against some great players so for the young guys to respond the way they did, they were a big part of our team today. Blocking shots, a couple big plays, scoring goals getting assists. It’s good to see that we need them to win hockey games.”

Nor was it lost on one of the bigger stages that regular-season has to offer.

The Bruins return to the rink for a 5 p.m. head-to-head with the Oilers on Sunday.

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