BOSTON -- Seth Griffith’s game-winning goal was no doubt impressive, but it was his all-out effort to sacrifice his body that earned the respect of his teammates.
Griffith’s adrenaline-driven, relentless style of play helped extend the Boston Bruins’ winning streak to five games with a 4-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Monday night at TD Garden.
With the game tied at 2-2 late in the second period, the Devils had the Bruins hemmed in their zone when Griffith showed poise and determination, and was rewarded for his efforts.
The puck made its way back to the left point, where Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador was waiting. As he began to tee up his shot, Griffith came out with a purpose. He dropped his right knee to the ice and blocked the shot just inside Boston’s blue line. He quickly got back on his skates, regained his footing, won the race to the puck in the neutral zone, split two defenders and broke in on New Jersey goalie Cory Schneider.
Griffith was strong on the puck the entire time and never took his eyes off of it. Yes, luck is involved in a goal like that, as the puck was bouncing all over the place, but it settled at Griffith’s feet before he scored the highlight-reel, backwards between-the-legs goal to give the Bruins a 3-2 lead at 18:01 of the second period that proved to be the game winner.
“I think that the whole effort, from the time he blocked it to picking up some speed and really battling hard between the two D’s, and then staying on it," said head coach Claude Julien. "That last effort of using his stick between his legs there to bank that puck in, it was a great effort. It really motivated the whole bench. It was a nice effort from his part.”
It was a tough play for Schneider, who has been in the net for 15 consecutive games. The puck was bouncing, Griffith was turned away from the net, and the play was in close, which doesn’t give Schneider much time to react. In that situation, a goalie can only hope that the puck hits him, but the shot trickled through the 5-hole for the tally.
After the game, Schneider said he was trying to stay on his feet because he saw that his defenseman had Griffith’s stick tied up. The goaltender didn’t expect how it ended.
“Worst case, I just go down and steal the ice away,” he said. “I was a hair late getting down and that’s all it takes right now.”
Griffith’s effort gave the Bruins a little more jump.
“Any time somebody sacrifices their body, that always ripples through the team and creates a little bit of energy,” said Bruins veteran forward Gregory Campbell.
“To score a highlight goal like that, it originates with a simple, honest, hard-working play,” Campbell said. “Usually, when you sacrifice yourself, and you do the right thing, it pays off. In this case, it paid off right away for him. It was a big block.”
Every Bruins player agreed with Campbell’s assessment of the play.
“The block shot is the best part of that,” said Bruins assistant captain Chris Kelly. “That’s the one that takes most thought. The other part, maybe, was a reaction. [On the block] he got in the lane on purpose. There was some intent, some thought behind getting in that shooting lane to kill that play, and then to get his feet moving quickly and obviously score that nice goal.”
“He skates extremely well,” Kelly said. “He’s still learning the game and every game you see him getting better and better, and that’s what you want to see out of a young player, keep moving forward and keep gaining steps and realizing what it takes to play game in and game out. He’s looking more and more comfortable out there.”
Griffith, a second-year pro, began with Providence of the AHL last season. He started as a healthy scratch, moved to the fourth line and eventually was a key player for the P-Bruins by the end of the season. He finished second in team scoring with 20 goals and 30 assists for 50 points in 69 games.
Julien attended a few of the P-Bruins’ playoff games last spring and witnessed Griffith’s talents.
“I could see he had really good hockey sense and was in the right places and was shooting the puck well,” Julien said. “He had a knack for goal scoring.”
Upper management, hockey operations, the P-Bruins coaching staff and scouts have had nothing but positive things to say about Griffith’s development and contributions. It continued during training camp in September when Julien had Griffith on the second line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
Second-line winger Reilly Smith missed the first 11 days of camp without a contract, so Griffith was given the opportunity and played well. Once Smith signed his contract and returned, Griffith was soon assigned to Providence. He began the season with the P-Bruins, but after only two games, Boston recalled him.
Julien kept tweaking his lineup earlier in the year, mostly due to injuries, but Griffith found himself on the top line with Krejci and Lucic. Griffith has taken full advantage of his opportunity and now has four goals in 12 games for the Bruins.
Griffith appears to leave his energy and enthusiasm on the ice. When speaking with the media, he keeps his answers simple.
“Yeah, obviously I’m happy,” he said in a monotone voice. “But I realize there’s still a lot of work to be done. I’m just trying to come to the rink and get better every day.”