There’s coming home, and then there is being home, reacquainting with best pals, hitting your favorite eateries, seeing all the same old familiar faces.
Charlie Coyle has had a couple of months of all of that since returning here in a trade from Minnesota at the NHL trade deadline. But Thursday night, he really regained full Hub citizenship, banging home the tying and winning goals in the Bruins’ 3-2 series-opening playoff win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“I mean, you just try to stay in the moment, really,” said Coyle, who grew up in Weymouth and returned here in February when the Bruins flipped Ryan Donato to the Wild. “It’s hard to contain yourself sometimes. There’s a lot of outside noise that can kind of sway that, too. Just try to keep a level head.”
In the end, Coyle lived the best of the homecoming, rushing to a wide-open right side with 5:15 gone in overtime and knocking home a pinpoint feed from linemate Marcus Johansson, Boston’s other key deadline acquisition.
He also provided the tying knock, a quick rip from the left side with 4:35 remaining in regulation, this time off another sweet Johansson feed, a backhander through the slot by the former New Jersey winger that Coyle put away faster than a pickpocket grabs wallets in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
But earlier in the period, with the Bruins nursing a 1-0 lead, Coyle’s night was headed in the wrong direction when he was forced off the puck high in his defensive zone by ex-Bruin Riley Nash. A couple of quick passes later, Brandon Dubinsky tapped in the equalizing goal — the first of two quick strikes that suddenly had the Blue Jackets holding a 2-1 lead at 7:52 of the third period.
“Costly turnover,” recalled Coyle. “You can’t have that during the game . . . just glad we kept playing and got the goal to redeem ourselves. Just happy to get the win after that, to be honest.”
It could have been homeboy hell. Instead, it turned into a helluva night, Coyle finishing with the equalizer and the winner. All on a night when the Bruins’ top offensive producers were dormant (the same as the Game 7 clincher vs. Toronto), and on a night when they also lost No. 2 center David Krejci late in the third period on a check from Nash.
If Krejci isn’t ready in time for Game 2 here on Saturday, then guess who suddenly is the Boston’s No. 2 center. Yep, Coyle, whose promotion would have to include Johansson riding on his left side. If that’s the case, then the likely corresponding move would have Jake DeBrusk flipping back over to right wing, a spot where he has been a comfortable fit in the past.
Prior to the winning goal, coach Bruce Cassidy already had improvised his offensive order, in light of the Krejci injury. David Pastrnak (one shot on net, no points), who began as Krejci’s right winger, was back with Primo Trio linemates Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
Amid the reordering, Coyle inherited Danton Heinen on his right side, where Charlie Wagner began the night. It was Heinen, after keeping the puck in the offensive zone with a good play high above the right wing circle, who generated the winning play with his cross-ice feed to Johansson. The poised Swedish winger then saw Coyle breaking toward the right post, and set him up with the feed well ahead of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky shifting from his right to left cover the open acreage.
“That’s his vision, right? His hockey IQ,” said Cassidy, acknowledging the slick pass by Johansson, whose immersion here was slowed due to a lung contusion suffered soon after his arrival. “It’s what’s made him a good player . . . he has pace to his game, he can separate with a real good first stride. Actually can shoot the puck real well — hasn’t done a lot of it. But vision and passing, that’s his go-to.”
Coyle, in his years with the Wild, never convinced management where he truly fit in the order. By his own calculations, he spent 50 percent of his time as a pivot, and 50 percent of it as a winger.
Upon coming here in the Donato flip, he was pegged immediately for the No. 3C spot, which had remained an open wound after the departure of Nash to Columbus as a free agent in July. By midway through the third, Nash had recorded the key turnover for the equalizer and also registered the primary assist. The storyline was about the guy who left town — until Coyle made it about the local kid who returned.
“His buddies probably expect him to get a hat trick next time, that’s the problem,” kidded Cassidy. “Listen, he’s got to be excited. I think in Minnesota they didn’t have much luck in terms of getting to the second round, so he’s probably excited that he is advancing.
“Now you are home. Now you’re the hero. I think it’s awesome. Good for him. Hopefully, Wagner’s next.”
Wagner, hired on as a free agent last July, is from Walpole. Now 5/16th’s of the way to a Stanley Cup, the Bruins have a lineup with a couple of dudes who drop their r’s.
Before he left the Garden Thursday night, Coyle reminisced about playing street hockey on the cul de sac outside his folks’ house in Weymouth. Now some 20 years removed from those early days of yelling, “Car!”, he’s hollering for pucks and punching them home, with the local spoked B on his chest.
“I think most of the time you envision yourself in the future,” he said, conjuring up what he was thinking when out playing on the street, a tennis ball dangling at the end of his blade. “We’ve all done that . . . so . . . yeah . . . pretty cool feeling.”
Home. Where everybody knows your name. In Boston Thursday night, the Garden’s address was Coyleway Street.