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Sean bleepin' Kuraly was one hell of a hunch by Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy

by: Ty Anderson on Sat, 04/22/2017 - 3:10am

Sean Kuraly's first two NHL goals saved the Bruins from elimination on Friday. (Marc DesRosiers/USA Today Sports)Sean Kuraly. Sean [expletive] Kuraly. [Expletive] Sean [expletive] Kuraly. 

Those were the first words that appeared to be shouted out by Bruins general manager Don Sweeney following the Kuraly goal that allowed the Bruins to simply survive a must-win, double-overtime affair and stave off elimination against Craig Anderson and the Senators on Friday night in Ottawa. All of Boston probably provided a chorus to Sweeney’s joyous screams, too. 

For Kuraly, who scored the game-tying goal in the third period and the aforementioned winner for the first goals of his NHL career, the road to trending on Twitter was as unlikely as it was poetic. 

First, he was a total hunch play from Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy. 

With the team facing elimination and with Ryan Spooner a non-factor at five-on-five, something needed to give. Given just the number of wings on the Bruins, and established ones at that in Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes, and combined with the number of natural centers playing on the wing in this series, it seemed as if Cassidy’s quick fix would have involved one of those players in Spooner’s spot and the meat-and-potatoes styles of a Kuraly parked in the press box as a healthy scratch. It’s not that Kuraly played poorly in the first two games of this series -- the 24-year-old had five hits, a blocked shot, and three shots on goal in just over 16 minutes of total ice time --  but it wasn’t anything that you thought definitively warranted him a spot over the high-ceiling Spooner. Especially when you factored in Spooner’s involvement on the club’s top power play unit, and the fact that he did have two points in this series, both of which came on that vaunted B’s man advantage. 

In a series that’s come without much in terms of legitimate skill chances and looks from the Bruins, the last thing you would have thought that they needed was another muck-it-up presence to win the battles that the Bruins could not get to in the first place because of Ottawa’s frustrating style.

“I liked his game early in the series, but we had guys that had been here. You know Krech came back in the lineup, he’s obviously going to play. So we liked him, we just kind of put guys ahead of him that have been here all year,” Cassidy said of Kuraly. “One door closes, another one opens, and he took advantage of his opportunities starting at the bottom of the lineup. Tonight we just needed him more.”

The Bruins needed him even more, too, when David Krejci was taken out of the game following a knee-on-knee hit from Chris Wideman late in the first period. From there, the Bruins played with 11 forwards, and down two of their top-nine centers in the injured Krejci and the scratched Spooner, somebody needed to absorb those minutes. That need became straight-up dire as this game extended beyond the normal 60 minutes, and then into its 80th and 90th minutes. 

Without Spooner’s struggles and without Cassidy’s gut feeling that this was a series built for Kuraly, he doesn’t get into action. And without Krejci’s departure, he doesn’t see the minutes he sees and is much closer to the eight-minute ‘impact’ he had in the opening two games of this series.

It’s the unreal set of circumstances that gave him this opportunity in the first place.

By the same token, that opportunity doesn’t come if Kuraly doesn’t earn it. And did he ever.

“He was buzzing,” Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask said when asked about Kuraly’s impact. “Hardworking guy. He does the right things. He chips the pucks in, goes out there and bangs bodies, and gets his nose dirty. It just goes to show that when you do that, you get rewarded.”

In what finished as a 18:03 night for the first-year pro, Kuraly skated against Ottawa captain and series superstar Erik Karlsson for over nine minutes of his Game 5 effort, or over half his ice time. That’s a tall task for anybody, and one that many Bruins have straight-up failed in this series. But Kuraly embraced the challenge, and really seemed to create several scoring chances for his line with the effort and style noted above by the man in the crease at the other end of the rink. 

He found goals, too, each scored with the penetration into the area of the offensive zone that’s been a ghost town for Boston forwards in Game 4 and for most of the club’s Game 5 opening two periods. He was on the forefront of the two botched calls in the first overtime frame, too, as his net-front drive led to a goal called off because of goaltender interference, and his line was on the ice when Jean-Gabriel Pageau illegally covered the puck in the crease. 

“Coaches and linemates just told me to stick with it, all of us to stick with it, and I think we did,” Kuraly, who was embraced by Bruins alternate captain David Backes with a hug and words of encouragement on the bench following his first goal, said. “I guess you don’t really know until you score your first goal, and it felt great, it’s been -- you know, you work a long time to do that.”

He and the Bruins both. 

One of the sneaky pickups of the Milan Lucic trade, Kuraly saving his impact for the biggest stage is something that the Bruins will happily take given the way that the trade Kuraly was directly involved with has beaten the Bruins up in the court of public opinion for five postseason rounds since the start of the 2016 playoffs. After all, it was in the Martin Jones, who guided the Sharks to their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance in franchise history a year ago, to San Jose trade that the Bruins nabbed Kuraly, originally a fifth-round pick by the Sharks in 2011, along with the first round pick. 

Kuraly is not the first hero in a year full of unexpected showings getting the B’s to this point. But to see it coming, both given his anticipated role for the night and where the Bruins were trending both before and even during this game, is something not even Cassidy could have predicted. 

Sean. [Expletive]. Kuraly.