Brett Connolly made a good first impression in his debut for the Boston Bruins on Thursday night.
The 22-year-old right winger, who was acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning at last month’s NHL trade deadline, tallied two assists in the third period to help the B’s complete a 3-2 comeback win over the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena.
“It’s a big win, down two goals with 15 minutes or so left in the game and we come back and win. It felt good to finally be out there and be a part of it,” Connolly said on NESN’s “Bruins Overtime Live.”
“It’s good for the confidence, I haven’t played that much in a long time. It feels really good to be out there a lot. It’s nice to see (B’s head coach Claude Julien) just throw me out there. I haven’t had that luxury in a long time. I’m very happy with the way I started and it was good to get the win.”
Connolly’s first assist came on Carl Soderberg’s power play at 5:05 of the third period, when he began the sequence with a successful zone entry. Connolly spent time on the first power-play unit in the “bumper” role when Patrice Bergeron was getting stitches in the second period, and then he moved to the second unit in the third period.
Connolly also earned an assist on Zach Trotman’s game-winning goal with 2:09 remaining in regulation. He won a puck battle along the boards and maintained possession behind the goal line before passing to Ryan Spooner, who picked up the primary assist on the goal.
Before coming to the Bruins, Connolly tallied just three assists in 50 games for the Lightning this season.
In addition to Connolly’s impact offensively, he also wasn’t shy about finishing his checks and bringing a physical game to the ice. He’s primarily a goal scorer, but at 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, he’s not afraid to go to the front of the net or the corners.
Connolly finished with 12:44 of ice time, including 2:52 of power-play TOI. The chart below is a breakdown of his TOI at even strength with the eight forwards he played alongside Thursday. One impressive part of Connolly’s debut was his ability to play on several different lines with a lot of different players. It gives Julien valuable versatility for when he needs to mix up his lines to spark the team.
Most of his 5-on-5 shifts were on the fourth line with Gregory Campbell and Chris Kelly, which is where he started the game. That said, he played with Ryan Spooner and Milan Lucic when it mattered in the third period.
Connolly won’t be a fourth-line player for the Bruins long-term, but that role helped him get acclimated to the speed of the game Thursday following a lengthy injury absence. Overall, it was an encouraging debut for a forward who could play an important role for the B’s to end the regular season and into the Stanley Cup playoffs.