As the old adage goes, “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”
The Boston Bruins felt that, in a sense, with the temporary absence of Jake DeBrusk. The second-line winger missed most of December with a concussion, but made his return to action Thursday against the New Jersey Devils.
While DeBrusk had an assist in Thursday’s loss, he stepped his game up in a big way in Saturday’s win over the Buffalo Sabres. Trailing 2-1 in the final minutes of the third period, DeBrusk redirected a Torey Krug wrister on the power play to equalize with 2:29 left in regulation. Boston ultimately won 3-2 on a Sean Kuraly winner in overtime.
“I think the first game I was back I had decent legs, I was just misreading things here and there,” DeBrusk told reporters after the game, as seen on NESN’s postgame coverage. “But tonight was definitely better, I thought my first period was good, I had a good start. I tried to skate as much as I could. Obviously, there’s still some things I need to work on, but definitely felt better my second game back. Kind of back to normal in a sense, but still two concrete hands out there, so need to work on that.”
Although just 22-years-old, DeBrusk has made his mark by showing some scoring prowess, but also a willingness to play a less-than-glamourous brand of hockey. He got into some shoving matches, threw his body around and when it mattered the most, he was right in front of the net and ready to make a play.
The Bruins’ road isn’t about to get any easier, so they need DeBrusk to keep playing the way he did Saturday night.
Here are some other notes from Saturday’s Bruins-Sabres game:
— While it was DeBrusk that forced overtime, Kuraly was the one who sealed the deal.
Kuraly acknowledged he originally went to the bench thinking Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy would want someone else on the ice. But Cassidy told him to stay on, and he (with Kevan Miller and Matt Grzelcyk rounding out a ragtag trio), made it count. The forward won the defensive zone draw and proceeded to get the puck into the attacking end. He fired a shot on Sabres goalie Carter Hutton, which was stopped, but he crashed in and buried the rebound.
On a night where the Bruins needed everybody to step up and make contributions to grind out a win, it was fitting a blue-collar player like Kuraly was the one to pot the game-winner.
— Tuukka Rask delivered a solid performance in the win, making some big saves down the stretch to give the Bruins an opportunity to mount a comeback.
While Jaroslav Halak has played well this season, Rask needs to earn his job back and start getting ice time like a starter. His performance against a tough Sabres team may be a step in the right direction, and him possibly proving it on a bigger stage like the Winter Classic may be another shot in the arm that he needs.
— Rask also appeared in his 468th game in a Bruins uniform, tying Cecil “Tiny” Thompson for most games by a goaltender in franchise history. And with the win, Rask now trails Thompson by just five games for most victories in Boston history.
— Danton Heinen started as the top-line winger with Brad Marchand sidelined, but it didn’t take long for him to lose that job.
Heinen was benched for a few shifts in the first period, and by the time the game ended, Kuraly, Joakim Nordstrom and Ryan Donato all had logged time on the top trio.
— With the win, the Bruins (46 points) maintain the top wild card spot.
That was in jeopardy at one point, because had the Bruins lost, they would have been on the outside of the playoff picture, trailing the Montreal Canadiens (45 points) and New York Islanders (44 points), that latter of whom would’ve jumped Boston after beating the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.
Thumbnail photo via Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports Images