FOXBOROUGH — The atmosphere was set at Gillette Stadium, with the days, weeks and months of build-up finally reaching puck drop on the 2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.
A crowd of nearly 67,000 packed into the stadium with a sea of Black & Gold reaching up to the lights and surrounding the field.
It was the perfect backdrop for a big stage like the Winter Classic.
For the home team, however, the game was anything but perfect, with Boston dropping a 5-1 loss to Montreal in the much anticipated New Year’s Day matchup.
Warmups came and went with the Bruins taking in their surroundings — the fans packing the stands, the music blasting — and making the long walk on to the field for introductions and anthems.
But when the puck dropped, the Black & Gold didn’t appear ready.
FOXBOROUGH — As the sun came up over Gillette Stadium on Thursday morning, the scene was perfectly set for a busy day in the lead-up to the 2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between Boston and Montreal.
The Bruins hit the ice for a team photo and full practice around 11:00 a.m., getting a feel before the puck drops on Friday’s game. Clad in their Black & Gold uniforms with the old-school Spoked-B on the front, the Bruins went to work for a hard skate, but also took in the scene one more time before the stands will be packed with fans.
“It was fun walking out for practice — they had music playing, you can see how big it is when you walk out, so I’m excited to get out there [on Friday],” said Matt Beleskey, who took in his first Patriots’ game at Gillette in the Fall. “It’s going to be a great experience.”
The setup has been taking Beleskey back to his youth days, spending time on his friend’s backyard rink and frequenting about 10 different rinks within a 15-mile radius of his house in Ontario.
This sheet of ice is much bigger, much more aesthetic, with much more meaning — but the atmosphere’s key ingredient is bred from the excitement of simply loving the game.
“It’s obviously one of the highlights of the season for the whole League, so it’s a privilege and honor to be playing in this game,” said Captain Zdeno Chara. “It’s one of those experiences you will always treasure and remember.”
BOSTON — The first one was fortuitous.
Jimmy Hayes pounced on the loose puck after a bounce off the endboards and stuffed it past Ottawa Senators netminder Craig Anderson, helping the Bruins strike first for the first time in four games. His fist bump to the air and arm raise to the fans was evidence of that.
“You get a bounce like that, there’s a nice little smile on your face,” said Hayes.
The second one was a beauty.
Up ice on a 2-on-1, Hayes one-timed a perfect saucer pass from Talbot over the defender’s stick to make it 5-3 Bruins in the third. Talbot grabbed his shoulders and shouted into his face.
“I know Jimmy’s got a good shot and he certainly put it where it needed to be,” said Talbot.
The third, well, that was a buzzer beater with 0.2 on the clock that sent the hats flying down on to the TD Garden, commemorating the first year Bruin’s first NHL career hat trick — and the Bruins’ 7-3 win over Ottawa. It snapped a three-game losing streak and set them up for a few relaxing days before Friday's Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium.
“I wasn’t sure how much time was left and I just put it on net,” said Hayes.
BOSTON — While roster decisions were up in the air for the Bruins on Tuesday morning as they prepared to host Ottawa at TD Garden, there was something for certain: the need to snap a three-game losing streak.
The Bruins are coming off a 3-1 loss in Ottawa on Sunday night that followed a 6-3 loss to Buffalo the day prior. Boston also fell 2-0 to St. Louis just before the holiday break.
Apart from the loss to the Sabres, in which the Bruins allowed five goals in 10 minutes in the third period, their game hasn’t taken a massive downturn, though.
“Last game, I thought as a whole and as a team, the game went pretty well — I think we can build off of that,” said Ryan Spooner. “We didn’t get the win, which is the most important thing, but I think the way that we played, it just kind of showed how we bounced back from the game before.”
The Bruins outshot the Senators 39-21 in Ottawa. They just need to crash the net for rebounds and capitalize on those opportunities they generated in front of Sens goaltender Craig Anderson.
BOSTON — David Pastrnak will be made available to join the Czech national team at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship, Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney told reporters during the first intermission of Saturday night’s game against the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden.
The NHL’s roster freeze, which began on Dec. 19, ends at midnight (local time) on Dec. 27.
“We are going to make him available to them at that particular time, unless we have injuries that would dictate otherwise,” Sweeney said.
The World Junior Championship began on Dec. 26 in Helsinki, Finland.
Pastrnak recently joined the Providence Bruins on a conditioning loan and suited up in two games, marking his first game action since Oct. 31.
“David’s played two games since being out for seven weeks. Obviously the injury took longer and it was in his best interest to make sure he was fully healthy,” said Sweeney. “He is fully healthy and now we need to get him back to where he would impact our lineup.”
BOSTON — The Bruins pegged Tuesday night’s matchup with the St. Louis Blues as a “measuring stick.”
Head Coach Claude Julien eyed it that way, and so did the players.
For most of the night, the Black & Gold were even with one of the top teams in the West. Both teams played disciplined. There wasn’t much time or space. Both sides had to go to battle.
But the Bruins came up just short, falling 2-0 to St. Louis, with two breakaway goals allowed in the third period. It marked the first time the League’s second-best offense had been shut out this season, in game No. 33.
With the loss, Boston wasn’t able to achieve their goal of jumping Montreal for first place in the Atlantic Division.
“We were ready to try to finish on a good note,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We did have a few good looks that we could have beared down a little better and that would have given us momentum, but yeah, I liked the way that I sensed the room before the game.”
BOSTON — The Bruins have won three games in a row and a fourth straight on Tuesday night at TD Garden against St. Louis could catapult them into first place in the Atlantic Division.
That would be a nice way to go into the NHL’s three-day break.
“Well, we do play against one of the best teams in the League so it’s going to be really tough,” said David Krejci. “But we’re one point behind Montreal, with three games in hand, so it would be nice to get a win tonight and enjoy the break.”
It won’t be an easy task against the Blues, who stand as one of the top teams in the West.
They’ll be coming into TD Garden on the second leg of a back-to-back after a 4-3 loss to Philadelphia on Monday night. It snapped a three-game winning streak. If anything, that will make the Blues even more motivated.
When both teams face each other, it’s always a physical, hard-nosed matchup.
“Well when you look at teams that are elite teams, you have to look at St. Louis as one of them, no doubt,” sid Julien. “They’re big, they’re strong, they’re well coached, they’ve got speed, they’ve got skill, guys that can score goals, goaltending’s been good this year, so they’ve got a lot of what a team aspiring for a Stanley Cup can have.”
WILMINGTON — With just one regulation loss in their past 15 games, the Bruins have found themselves one point out of first place in the Atlantic Division behind Montreal, with two games in hand.
Their most recent win — a 2-1 shootout victory over New Jersey on Sunday night — made that possible.
How have they stayed focused during their 11-1-3 run?
“Maybe by doing what I did today — barking at them a little bit,” Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said with a smirk following Monday’s skate at Ristuccia Arena. “Making sure we don’t get comfortable.”
“Part of a coach and coaching staff’s job is to make sure we keep the guys sharp. It’s also part of our job and their job to not get complacent or satisfied, and it’s also all of our jobs to remain hungry and that’s what we’re trying to do with this group.”
The Bruins will play three of their next four games at TD Garden. They host the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night in their final game before the three-day break around Christmas.
Pastrnak recently joined the Providence Bruins on a conditioning loan and suited up in their game against Springfield on Saturday — a 4-2 loss in which he notched a goal. It was Pastrnak’s first time playing in game action since Oct. 31.
The forward suffered a fracture in his left foot blocking a shot on Oct. 27 and ended up missing seven weeks in his recovery. His availability for the upcoming 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship in Finland is still in question, though the Czechs have expressed interest in wanting the winger on their squad.
“We’ve been in communication with the Czech national team — World Juniors team — and we have to wait and see where he’s at, as well as where our club is at, health-wise,” said Sweeney. “If we get to the 28th [of December]— when the [NHL] roster freeze is up, there’s still a chance for him to go [to Finland].”
PITTSBURGH — Hats scattered down for Frank Vatrano, as he smiled his way through a line of his teammates’ fist bumps on Friday night at the CONSOL Energy Center.
He had already done it twice on the night, as his first NHL hat trick propelled the Bruins to a 6-2 win over the Penguins.
It completed a home-and-home sweep, and gave Boston further road dominance with an 11-2-2 record away from and a 6-0-2 point streak.
The three-goal night came in Vatrano’s 17th NHL game. It marked the first time a Bruins rookie had notched a hat trick since Blake Wheeler in 2008.
There have been many smiles for Vatrano since making his debut on Nov. 7 in Montreal and scoring his first NHL goal. Vatrano also net an OT-winner in Detroit for his second career goal, before netting the hat trick in Pittsburgh.
“Yeah, it’s a little bit sooner than expected, obviously,” smiled Vatrano. “But I’m glad I was rewarded with that and it’s even better to celebrate a hat trick with a win.”