BOSTON — Before the first body check was even thrown in this series, John Tortorella shared his main concern with the Blue Jackets’ long down period that preceded it.
It wasn’t rust. It wasn’t the almost guaranteed period or two it would take to get back up to speed in the playoffs. It was soreness, the kind that only playing intense, hard-hitting games generate.
“That’s where I think they have the advantage going into one here,” the Blue Jackets’ coach said of the Boston Bruins, who rolled into the first two games of a second-round series against Columbus two days after ousting the Toronto Maple Leafs. “We’re not in that state of mind. I think as the series gets going, yeah, we’ll get there — but we can’t wait.”
Well, they ought to be there now after a bone-crunching, teeth-rattling, pulse-pounding Game 2 Saturday night at TD Garden, where the Blue Jackets returned the favor to the Bruins by winning 3-2 in double overtime to split the first two games.
After many near-misses and great saves each way in the OTs, it was Matt Duchene who finally put an end to an exciting night of hockey in Beantown. Corralling the puck off the rebound of Artemi Panarin’s one-timer, the Jackets’ star center — acquired three days before the NHL’s trade deadline in late February — kicked it to his stick and poked it between Tuukka Rask’s pads at 3:42 of the second overtime.
Dropping to his knees to celebrate, Duchene sent the series to Columbus tied 1-1 with one of the biggest goals he’s ever scored.
“I hadn’t had many chances tonight and it was one of those games where it kind of felt like I had puck repellent on, kind of chasing the puck around,” said Duchene, who logged 22:40. “You’ve just got to stay ready mentally for your opportunity and I just tried to have faith that it was going to come. For me, it’s just about getting in front of the goalie and whacking one in.”
Duchene wasn’t the only one who whacked the puck past Rask.
Panarin scored twice in regulation — two huge goals — and finished with a three-point game that was his sixth straight postseason game with at least a point.
Seth Jones and Cam Atkinson added two assists each, the fourth line played another outstanding game and Sergei Bobrovsky pulled out some magic tricks to make a few of his 29 saves for the Blue Jackets, who won the second-longest playoff game in franchise history.
“It’s huge,” Duchene said. “We have a chance to go home and hold serve now. We’ve been good at home in the playoffs. We’ve played well and that’s a really good hockey team over there. We’re so evenly matched, I find, with the way we play ... I’m not surprised it went overtime back-to-back games.”
Boston won the first one in overtime of Game 1 Thursday, also by a 3-2 score. The Bruins, whose goals were scored by Matt Grzelcyk and David Pastrnak, came incredibly close to making it two OT wins in a row.
The first overtime was a non-stop thrill ride, both ways, from Rask’s diving glove save to deny Nick Foligno on a 2-on-1 early to Bobrovsky’s desperate right pad save to turn away Patrice Bergeon with 2:17 left.
In between, Bobrovsky saved the game at 6:25 of the first OT with a great snag with his glove off a bad hop that any shortstop would be proud to call their own. Grzelcyk sent a soft line-drive of a dump-in into the Blue Jackets’ zone and watched the puck take a sharp hop to the far side of the net as Bobrovsky slid over to the right — where the puck was supposed to bounce.
“His best save of the night was on a dump-in, which was insane,” Duchene said. “I looked at (Nick) Foligno and I said, ‘There’s not many goalies that stop that puck. It should’ve been over right there. Honestly.”
Ah, but it wasn’t.
In fact, it was just one of many memorable plays on a wild night.
The tenor of this game was set on the very first shift, when the Bruins came out hunting for body checks and landed a number of them.
Hulking 6-foot-8 defenseman Zdeno Chara sent Riley Nash flying — and then hobbling to the bench — just 27 seconds into the game with a huge shoulder to the chest. About four minutes later, Bruins defenseman Connor Clifton also hit his target, skating back into Oliver Bjorkstrand so hard that the Danish forward’s helmet popped off before he landed on his backside.
The Bruins landed more hits early, 20-18 in the first period, but the Blue Jackets fought back with several of their own.
“I think it was fun,” Foligno said. “I think it just got us into the game. We realized, ‘Alright, we’re going to get hit too.’ I think we had to take a step back and understand that, yeah, it’s part of the game.”
Scoring goals is too, which the Bruins have done first in the first two games. Grzelcyk’s power-play goal at 7:50 of the first period gave them a 1-0 lead, which happened with Josh Anderson stewing in the penalty box after an interference call he felt was bogus.
Fittingly, a period filled with hard hitting and other forms of unchecked aggression ended with a big scrum at the horn. Brad Marchand was assessed a cross-checking minor for his role in starting the scuffle.
Columbus began the second on the ensuing power play and Panarin scored his first goal of the game, tying it 1-1 at 1:03 of the second with a one-timer from the left circle.
Pastrnak stole the thunder back 58 seconds later, credited with a goal that Charlie Coyle shot off his skate blade for a 2-1 lead, but the Blue Jackets weren’t fazed.
Good thing, too.
Anderson’s stick came up off a face-off and clipped Sean Kuraly — his second penalty of the game — and it became a double minor when a trickle of blood streamed down Kuraly’s cheek.
Panarin tied it, 2-2, with his second goal during the ensuing 4-on-4 time and the Blue Jackets then killed the Bruins’ remaining power-play time — roughly three minutes.
It stayed scoreless in the third, only because of the goalies and blocked shots — including one by Boone Jenner with 7:51 left to help kill a Bruins power play with Atkinson in the box for tripping.
The overtimes were next, along with joy, relief and probably a little soreness for the visitors — who are headed home to Nationwide Arena to host the next two games.
“I mean, you don’t want to lose two in a row, but I’m not getting off the mind-set our team has, as far as just get ready to play the next game,” Tortorella said. “We win this game, I hope they have a ball tonight, and they should. They should feel really good about themselves, but when we get back to work on Monday it’s getting ready for the next game.”